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!
Coming hot on the heels of Neil Young’s patchouli-scented stinker Human Highway, this debut feature from mononymic up-and-comer Prince is slightly more coherent, at least as far 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 the rock literati of Rolling Stone and the Village Voice, and his Controversy tour saw him playing arenas in some markets–including his native Minnesota, where The Second Coming’s concert sequences were shot. 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 the Led Zep vehicle The Song Remains the Same.
The saving grace is the music, which blessedly demonstrates that Prince is more than just his largely self-created hype. On stage, he channels Little Richard’s androgynous looks, Mick Jagger’s 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 idiosyncratic 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.