But wait a minute ... can we get back to the clothes?
Fashion was a big part of Purple Rain’s influence, but it also sharply defined the characters in the film. Let’s face it. Both The Kid and Morris are 80s neo-fops. They both possess feminine attributes in spite of their undeniable virility. The Kid sports a mixture of modern, Edwardian, Louis XIV style, defining his character as both regal, yet fragile. On the flipside, Morris rocks the flashy, 30s gangster-style suits and matching Stacy Adams shoes. When we’re introduced to them in the film, Morris wears a gold lamé and zebra print suit, draped in a long, white coat cashmere coat (which we later find out costs $400). The Kid is shown wearing his white, ruffled shirt and purple satin Edwardian jacket. Intentional or not, there may be some sartorial symbolism at play pitting Morris’ golden, worldly royalty against The Kid’s spiritually regal purple. If the clothes make the man, the message they send is one of The Kid’s music coming from a pure place—doing it for the music as opposed to the money. As evidenced by his frequent primping in front of the mirror and ostentatious displays on-stage and off, Morris has much more in mind than just his art.
Sure, he loves to have a good time and spends the duration of Purple Rain in the pursuit of women and cash, but whereas The Kid is merely selfish, Morris is calculating.
Business remains business and is separate from Morris’ performance onstage. Conversely, The Kid uses his pulpit to hurl thinly veiled insults in the form of songs directed at those in his life. He is passive-aggressive, where Morris, by contrast, leaves his personal business out of his music, preferring face-to-face confrontations off-stage.
Along with his trusted friend/attendant, Jerome, he plots to knock The Kid from the top of the club scene. Morris E. Day does not like to share the limelight. He talks in the ear of club owner, Billie, planting the seed that The Kid isn’t pulling in crowds like he used to. Rather than appeal to any emotional level, Morris operates purely from a business standpoint to make his case. By that token, he isn’t really malicious in his intent – just Machiavellian. In fact, there’s a sort of joyful glee about Morris when he’s outlining his unscrupulous plans and giggling to himself and with Jerome. He’s unabashedly materialistic and derives pleasure from business, as well as his artistic pursuits.
He also makes pleasure his business when he attempts to wrest The Kid’s girlfriend, Apollonia from him. It’s not so much that he desperately wants Apollonia: she’s just another conquest and another potential notch on the bedpost. He uses her ambition and goals to further his own agenda. She’s a pawn with possible “benefits” in Morris’ attempt to demoralize The Kid and get him out of the picture. By corrupting his already tumultuous relationship with the one person he can truly claim as his, Morris disrupts The Kid’s precarious sense of balance.
In order to chip away at The Kid’s relationship, Morris plays the charming devil by dangling a star spot in the all-girl group he’s formed in front of Apollonia. Notably, at one point during the film, she tells him “Your horns are showing, Morris.” This further touts his status as the designated villain in this musical morality play. With his mirror and manservant in tow, Morris Day (the character, not the actor playing the role of the same name) embodies the venial sins of greed, lust, and vanity.
Ah! Vanity! More than just the Prince-given name of his one-time muse, Denise Matthews; it’s a key component of Purple Rain, as are some of the other seven deadly sins. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe that even during his Purple period, Prince had a strong sense of polarizing forces of light and darkness as evidenced by his later work and spiritual epiphany.
This sentiment and Prince’s conversion was further underscored in Purple Rain‘s unofficial sequel, 1990’s Graffiti Bridge. Following an epiphany in 1988 surrounding his Black Album which was yanked after a limited run of 500,000 copies by Prince himself who believed the album to be “evil”, Prince’s music took on a much different direction. While still somewhat sexual in nature, he much more favored hymns of praise than odes to girls “in a hotel lobby / masturbating with a magazine”.
Graffiti Bridge, like its predecessor Purple Rain, was an album that was also an accompanying soundtrack to a Prince-crafted concept. This time around, Albert Magnoli’s slick, visual direction was replaced with Prince at the helm in addition to screenwriting and acting duties within the film.
In its original incarnation, Graffiti Bridge was to shed more light on Morris and The Time. Although it’s not nearly as cohesive (or coherent, at times) a film as Purple Rain, Graffiti Bridge picks up where Rain left off. While present in Purple Rain the concept of duality as it pertains to Morris and The Kid is amped up even further. The film’s narrator notes that “Two souls fight. One wants money. One wants light.”
Setting the plot in motion, club owner Billie passes away and leaves his empire to both Morris and The Kid. In the years elapsed, The Kid has found himself to be somewhat more spiritually grounded, although still struggling with his inner demons. As he writes in letters to his now-deceased father, “Sometimes I feel cursed to make the same mistakes you made.” Morris, on the other hand, has given in completely to his darker, more “business-like” side. He doesn’t see the value of The Kid’s more uplifting, spiritual direction to his music and sees him as bringing down the club’s profit margin. He retreads over familiar territory by trying to gain complete ownership of their shared scene. Morris’ symbolic vilification is further underscored in a musical sequence in which he’s singing and dancing surrounded by fire (it couldn’t be more obvious than if he was given a pitchfork and a tail!).
The film reneges on its promise to flesh out Morris’ back story. Very little is revealed of his perspective except that in a telling line, he mentions that his “family never had anything and I intend to keep what I got.” Like The Kid, his upbringing and family colors who he has become and what he values. He cryptically alludes to having taken in The Kid and given him money and guidance years ago.
As both films allude, “deep down, there’s good in Morris.” Since not much is ever explicitly revealed about the character, one can only assume that Morris values not only discipline, but loyalty, exhibiting both in his personal and business relationships. As evidenced in both films, he treats Jerome as more of an equal than The Kid (initially) treats Wendy, Lisa, and the rest of his band, The Revolution (who are all gone and replaced with a new crew by the time Graffiti Bridge rolls around, while Morris’ group remains somewhat intact).
In the end of both films, tragedy that befalls the scene brings about a rare show of emotion from Morris, ultimately finding him redeemed by the transformative power of music. He may value “the finer things” and take pleasure in asserting his authority, but he does value friendship and human life. It just takes a bit more to awaken this aspect of Morris’ persona, buried beneath his own defense mechanisms and drive for success. Playing off of these brief glimpses into the character’s soul, Morris isn’t without a heart. It’s there, he just does not wear it on his sleeve as The Kid does (after all, it might clash with his Stacy Adams shoes!).