In the summer of 2009, my girlfriend and I became abruptly obsessed with Prince. I honestly can’t say precisely how we landed there – probably it started with us riffing on something purple – but for a couple of months, we did very little but listen to Prince, theorize about Prince, and respond to any external stimulus with a clipped “Shut up already! Damn!” long past the point of amusement to anyone but ourselves (this fixation took a strange dimension that June, with the death of that other elfin pop giant). We effectively became supporting characters in a particularly dated sitcom from the ’80s.
The centerpiece of this phase, however, was the used DVD of PURPLE RAIN I picked up for $2.00 in the cavernous basement of CEX. This became our fallback source of entertainment anytime we were bored and within striking distance of a TV. We began casually reciting dialog. Our mix discs became peppered with Morris Day album cuts. Any given body of water would inevitably be declared Not Lake Minnetonka. What started out as a semi-ironic devotion became increasingly indistinguishable from the real thing. We were, in short, hooked.
None of this is surprising. We were simply the victims of residual fallout from Prince’s world domination scheme.
PURPLE RAIN ranks alongside JAILHOUSE ROCK, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, and ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL as one of rock’s most successful myth-building devices. Before the film’s release (and, just as importantly, its monster-selling companion album), Prince was simply a pervy, radically eccentric funk mastermind, a sort of cartoon parody of Rick James. Afterward, he became an icon, simultaneously a hero and a punchline – the music was good enough that the distinction didn’t matter.
The plot is, of course, negligible. Prince plays The Kid, a young, ridiculously dressed singer who is for some reason not named Prince (curiously, all of Prince’s bandmates and fellow musicians use their real names). The Kid’s band, The Revolution, has a friendly rivalry with Morris Day and his band, The Time. The Kid woos aspiring singer/model Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero, replacing Prince’s ex-girlfriend Vanity), and struggles with his alcoholic pianist father (THE MOD SQUAD‘s Clarence Williams III). Drama ensues when the local nightclub owner reveals that he’ll have to cut one of the bands from his line-up. Will it be The Revolution? The Time? Apollonia 6? The fourth band whose name we never learn? I certainly won’t spoil it here!
PURPLE RAIN kicks off the Coolidge’s new CINEMA JUKEBOX series, which will present over the coming months an impressively diverse assortment of music-oriented movies, from iconic soundtracks (DIRTY DANCING) to warped musicals (HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH) to sprawling takes on the music industry (NASHVILLE), as well as the aforementioned HARD DAY’S NIGHT. PURPLE RAIN may not be the best of those movies, but it’s great for what it is: a brilliant advertisement for a strange, addictive product.
PURPLE RAIN (1984) dir. Albert Magnoli
Part of the CINEMA JUKEBOX series
Monday, April 28, 7:00 PM
Coolidge Corner Theatre (290 Harvard St, Brookline, MA 02446)