176 – Writing Long-Form Criticism


After almost six months of writing reviews (seven really, if you include my movie-watching project from last December), I still don’t have very much confidence in my abilities. I understand that I’ll need to write regularly for years before I’m even half as good as the great Roger Ebert or the staff at The Dissolve, but I’m doing my best. My latest attempt at pushing my personal boundaries is in writing long-form analysis. Basically, why is a movie good or bad, instead of just a value judgment.

Over at The Dissolve, the website’s commenters are currently in the midst of an event called “Lovefest,” wherein each participant selects a film that is not held in high regard, and argues its merits. You can find links to the already-written articles here. There is some really great writing in those comments. Not wanting to be left in the dust, I jumped on the chance to write about one of my new favorite bad movies – Purple Rain. Well, tomorrow is my moment to shine.

Purple Rain is not good, mostly thanks to awful performances by Prince and his love interest Apollonia. It holds cult status because of its amazing soundtrack and deeply ingrained misogyny, but I believe there is more to Purple Rain than that. I won’t spoil my essay (you can read it on this website tomorrow), but I did put no small amount of work into it.

It has been a long time since I’ve written an academic analysis. The last time was probably in Ms. Peckham’s AP English Literature class during senior year of high school. We got to choose a novel to critique, and being a pseudo-intellectual at the time, I chose Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Great book. At least the first chunk of it was. I never actually finished Catch-22. I still managed to write a paper on it. And get an “A.” And receive the English medal at our senior awards assembly. If this all sounds like bragging… well, I guess it is. I think the point I was trying to make was that I barely put any effort into that Catch-22 paper. Purple Rain? Quite the opposite.

In the days leading up to the composition of my essay I rewatched Purple Rain multiple times, I listened to the soundtrack endlessly, and I even ran from library to library searching for a copy of the DVD, in order to listen to a commentary track by director Albert Magnoli, producer Robert Cavallo, and cinematographer Donald E. Thorin. Enlightening. None of my research, however, could prepare me for my biggest discovery: back in 1984, Purple Rain may not have been as poorly received as I thought it was.

Upon further examination, most of the original reviews are kind to the music and not much else. I can work with that.  I can definitely work with that.

The Purple Rain essay is the next great test of my writing abilities. An experiment. I don’t expect it to be great, but I do expect it to be readable. And you can do just that when I post it here tomorrow. Read it, I mean. Anyway, how are you?

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