Sunday, February 16, 2014

Movies I Grew Up With: Purple Rain

I had heard of Prince as early as 1979. I was only eight years old. My mother bought a lot of records back then. One of them was Prince's self-titled second album. I don't remember her playing it much except for the opening track, "I Wanna Be Your Lover." It's a song I still love. In '81, I really liked his hit "Controversy." Since much of his material was on the racy side, that was about all I heard of the album of the same name until I got older and bought it for myself. Like much of the world, I really began to get much more acquainted with this musical genius in late '82, through '83 thanks to his two massive hits "1999" and "Little Red Corvette." Even at twelve years old, I had pretty good grasp on what the former was about. I had no clue on the latter, but damn if it didn't sound good. With these songs, and the help of Vanity 6 and The Time, two acts he practically birthed and nursed, he began to take over the world. Then the big news broke. Prince was going to be starring in a movie. Needless to say, I had to be there when it opened. The only question was how.

Actually, the how was simply a matter of convincing Mom to take us. It opened in July of '84 and we were there opening weekend because I was fairly decent at persistently begging. There is one odd thing about this part of the story, though. By this time, Mom decided she wasn't much of a Prince fan. This little fact is the source of a constant rift in our relationship. Okay, I'm just kidding. There is no rift, but definitely a difference of opinion. Anyhoo, she made the blasphemous decision to not see Purple Rain. She took all of us, her, myself, and my three siblings, to one of what was then a new-fangled thing - the gigantic multiplex. Purple Rain was playing in one of the theaters. Back then, at this theater, you didn't just buy a ticket at one centralized booth and walk in. They actually had a huge interior lobby with a separate ticket booth set up for every movie showing in the theater - all 14 of them. The line for PR took up most of the lobby. She stood with me and the brother nearest me in age until we got to the front, paid for two tickets for us and then went and saw something else. To this day, I have no idea what she saw. For reference though, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, The Karate Kid, Revenge of the Nerds, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were all still playing on the big screen at the time. No matter, I was walking into the Prince movie. I was happy.

The theater was so packed, my brother and I wound up sitting practically on top of the screen. I remember watching much of the movie either with my head cocked to the side or with my head leaned back so far my nose was practically vertical trying to take in the whole screen. That said, what I saw blew my mind. And by the end, I almost shed a tear. Almost.

The quick story synopsis goes as such: a semi-autobiographical movie about Prince. Need more? Okay. Prince actually plays The Kid, the lead everything of The Revolution. They headline at the nightclub First Avenue, but seem to be waning in popularity. Another group that performs there, The Time (yes, the same group as in real life), led by Morris Day (playing himself, sort of), wants the top spot and begins a campaign to get The Kid out. The two rivals are also smitten with Appollonia (also sort of playing herself), the new girl in town who wants to be a star, giving us a love triangle. Honestly, by the time I left the theater that evening I was in love with her, too. Finally, The Kid also has some serious problems at home as his father is abusive toward his mother.

It is a very well done rock-n-roll movie that is lots of fun. Prince dominates on stage. His performance of "Darling Nikki" is one of the meanest moments in movie musical history. Off the stage, he's actually not a bad actor. And he rides a cool motorcycle. It helps that he is basically playing himself, but plenty of people have played themselves poorly. Appollonia is not very good, but she is gorgeous. That definitely earned her a pass from me when I was one of those piles of hormones known as a thirteen year old. Hell, the fact she had a couple of topless scenes and another where she performed on stage in some trashy lingerie elevated her to a goddess in my eyes. Still, the true star of the show is Morris Day closely followed by Jerome Benton. Day is the de facto villain, but with Benton forms a terrific comic duo. I still consistently laugh at their exchanges, many of which can only be described as Abbot and Costello like routines. If you've seen this movie, you'll likely remember their "password" scene. Better yet, even their on-stage antics are funny...and funky.

The movie went on become a huge success. It opened #1 at the box office the last week of July, 1984 and stayed in the top 4 every week through September. It was top 10 every week until mid October. For the entire year, it was the 11th highest grossing movie grossing a cool $68 million domestically back when buying tickets didn't require a loan and a co-signer (or about $156 million today). Besides all this stuff about the story, the actors and whatever other movie stuff you want to talk about, the soundtrack is one of the greatest albums of all time. Period. The two combined helped Prince complete his quest for world domination. Everything that year was Prince. I very shortly had a copy of the album...yes, the actual vinyl record...and I can't tell you how fast I had every word of every song committed to memory. I bought any magazine I came across that had him on the cover, including several that devoted entire issues to him. Oddly, I didn't have a poster of him. My walls were reserved for the multitude of women lucky enough to be named Jet Beauty of the Week.

Over the years, I've returned to the movie often. I'm pretty sure I've seen it more than twenty times. However, I hadn't watched it in a couple years until just recently. Again, it was one of my children who was the catalyst for my re-introduction to a movie. Unlike other such occasions, I watched it alone. I'm not quite ready for my girls to see this movie in its full glory. They've seen parts of it on commercial TV airings, but not the actual R-rated version. I'm pretty 'lax in what I let them watch but I'm a bit more strict than my own mother was with me. At 16, my son pretty much has the keys to the movie car. One day, I heard him singing, badly, "When Doves Cry." I didn't think anything of it, figuring he probably heard it on one of the oldies' radio stations I sometime play when we're all in the car together. The next day he was singing "I Would Die 4 U" and The Time's "Jungle Love." Even though I already knew the answer, I still asked if he had watched "Purple Rain." He got a pretty sizable grin and responded that he had. Several times. Glad he liked it. Later that night, I popped it in the DVD player and traveled back to the year in which we were all trying to figure out what George Orwell had right and what he had wrong. Even Prince opened the show on a philosophical and reflective note...

Dearly Beloved,
We r gathered here 2day 2 get through this thing called life.
Electric word life,
It means '4ever' and that's a mighty long time
But I'm here 2 tell u there's something else
The afterworld
A world of never ending happiness
Where u can always see the sun
Day or night...

Preach brother, preach.


  1. I'm currently working on my review of that film right now as I'm just bummed over what happened as I just love the man and still think the movie is awesome.

    1. I've been bummed all day. And it's still damn awesome.