Eula Biss on the Wild Machismo of Prince in Purple Rain
In Conversation with Mychal Denzel Smith on the Open Form Podcast
Welcome to Open Form, a new weekly film podcast hosted by award-winning writer Mychal Denzel Smith. Each week, a different author chooses a movie: a movie they love, a movie they hate, a movie they hate to love. Something nostalgic from their childhood. A brand-new obsession. Something they’ve been dying to talk about for ages and their friends are constantly annoyed by them bringing it up.
In this episode, Mychal talks to Eula Biss about the 1984 film Purple Rain, starring Prince, Apollonia Kotero, and Morris Day, and directed by Albert Magnoli.
From the episode:
Eula Biss: It is an unusual sexy. His whole kind of masculinity is a very femme-y masculinity. But he’s also like a total weirdo. I think that’s part of what was magnetizing about him for me. I was like, here’s a weirdo who’s embracing his weirdness fully and strutting it around. That was also deeply appealing to me. But I think the whole reason that my students got me a Prince mug, I think they find it really quite funny that I’m into Prince. I don’t think my students think of him as sexy either.
Mychal Denzel Smith: He’s very sexual. I definitely registered that. And I knew to put on some Prince for someone that I was courting; that was going to be a good move. But I just never attached to him as sexy for myself to be like, oh, yeah, I read that as sexy. I didn’t have the same draw to him. You talk about the playing with gender presentation and the mix of all of these things, but like you’re saying in the movie, the machismo just jumps off the screen.
Eula Biss: Crazy machsimo. He’s so cocky. I’m worried that my younger self, maybe I was just swimming in that kind of male cockiness so much that I just assumed that all men came with that. Or maybe that was attractive to me. But I would be appalled by that now, being drawn to that degree of cockiness. Though I don’t know, I can kind of imagine maybe somebody who was as shy and reserved and nervous as I was found that other extreme totally attractive. But he flirts like someone in junior high with Apollonia; it’s ridiculous. He doesn’t say or do a single nice thing for Apollonia in the entire movie. When he hits her, it’s it’s bad, but he’s already done some really bad things by the time he hits her.
Eula Biss is the author of four books, including the New York Times bestseller On Immunity: An Inoculation, which was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2014 by The New York Times Book Review, and Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. Her work has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, The Believer, and elsewhere, and has been supported by an NEA Literature Fellowship, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.