(Featured Image: Warner Bros. press photo, 1982; stolen from Lansure’s Music Paraphernalia.)

Note: As we embark on another new year, I thought it was about time to check in on one of the many alternate realities in our vast multiverse. If you’re new to the blog, yes, this is totally made up: just a way of thinking about a particular moment in Prince’s career from a different angle by exploring the possibilities of what might have been. This time, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the idea–discussed in a previous post–of how Chuck Statler’s unfinished concert film The Second Coming might have been received had it, and not Purple Rain, been Prince’s feature film debut. What you’re about to read is my best impression of the kind of review that might have appeared in a mainstream magazine or newspaper circa late 1982. As always, this exercise in speculative fiction is not to be taken seriously. And if these posts aren’t your thing, don’t fret: I’ll have something more conventional for you next week!

Lobby card for The Second Coming, 1982; © Warner Bros.

Coming hot on the heels of Neil Young’s patchouli-scented stinker Human Highway, this debut feature from up-and-comer Prince is slightly more coherent, at least as rock’n’roll vanity projects go. Part concert movie, part onanistic daydream, the film splits its authorial credit between music video director Chuck Statler and the preening star–and frankly, it shows. An unconscionable amount of screen time is devoured by the 22-year-old singer, frequently in closeup and almost always in some state of undress, smoldering at the camera. One especially interminable shot pans slowly up his stockinged legs–a simple enough feat, given that Prince reportedly stands about five feet tall in high heels–with the kind of awestruck reverence that might typically be reserved for the frescos of the Sistine Chapel. The frame settles on a close-up of his face. He blows some bubblegum into the camera. It is, if nothing else, a fine opportunity for a bathroom break.

Prince’s star has been on the rise for a while now: his 1980 album Dirty Mind earned rapturous reviews from Rolling Stone and the Village Voice, and his Controversy tour–a Minnesota date from which provides the concert scenes in The Second Coming–saw him playing arenas in some markets. It’s doubtful, however, that any of this justifies the film’s self-obsession, from its bluntly messianic title to the endless footage of Prince cavorting with exotic lingerie-clad beauties. The “narrative” sequences lack even the modest wit and surrealist flair of Statler’s work for Devo’s “Whip It” video, coming across instead as low-budget and peurile renditions of the self-indulgent “fantasies” from Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same.

The film’s saving grace is its music, which amply demonstrates that Prince is more than just his largely self-created hype. On stage, he channels Little Richard’s androgynous style, Mick Jaggers peacock strut, and Jimi Hendrix’s guitar pyrotechnics. Not every moment is quite so arresting: the sequence where he interrupts a solo to do something unprintable to his guitar neck feels like yet another indulgence too far. But based on the reactions of the largely-female audience, both on screen and in the movie theater, he had his intended effect. The Second Coming is, overall, too weird and excessive a product to create any new converts; but for existing members of Prince’s growing cult, it’s further evidence of his deep-seated charisma.

9 thoughts on “Prince’s Film Debut, The Second Coming: A Review from an Alternate Timeline

  1. p.s.. I’ve had “Human Highway” on laserdisc since 1995 so I know whereof you speak. I still find it amazing and not just as a DEVO fan. The whole Elliot Roberts connections there were obviously DEVO and Young, but Gerry Casale of DEVO was involved with Toni Basil whose earlier paramour was… Dean Stockwell, so the film probably represented a perfect storm of it’s key players and the relationships between them lit by the spark of Young’s idea to make a film.

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    1. I really need to watch it–I’ve seen clips here and there (the performance of “Hey Hey, My My” with DEVO obviously) but haven’t committed to the whole thing. I feel like I’d find something to like about it, as a fan of Neil Young and self-indulgence generally…it was just too perfect not to mention when I realized it came out at just around the same time The Second Coming would have.

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      1. Zachary Hoskins – It feels like it might have been an influence on the goofy side of Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” 90s version. The scene of “Lionel Trayne” [a hicked-up Young] making an extended double/triple/quadruple/quintuple take at a gorgeous female lasts for what seem like long minutes and are redolent of no other director.

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        1. Yeah this sounds right up my alley, LOL. And the influence is totally believable given Lynch’s interest in that whole Topanga Canyon scene (e.g., Stockwell in Blue Velvet, Russ Tamblyn in Twin Peaks)

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