Flashback Film Friday: Purple Rain (1984)

It’s a dark day of mourning at my house today.

I woke up this morning to a text message from a friend saying ‘I’m so sorry about Prince. Are you okay?

What about Prince?

I’m sorry Hunny, but he died last night.

Prince 2
Every song on the iPod shuffle will be from his back catalogue today

Honestly, it was like everything stopped. Like the very musical fabric of the universe had come apart. I’ve never been upset over a celebrity death before, but Prince was different. See, I have loved Prince, in all his forms, since I was about 8 years old and, over the last 24 years, he has been a constant part of my life, a little purple magician, dancing suggestively on the edge of the landscape of who I understand myself to be.

When I was 10, one of my best friends had a copy of Diamonds and Pearls on cassette tape and every afternoon we would listen to it on repeat, arguing over whether Diamonds and Pearls was the best song, or whether it was in fact Cream. (I still say Cream by the way, despite the fact that I actually understand, in my adulthood, what it is about). This went on for months, until finally her mother had enough and implored us, ‘Please girls, no Prince today, I don’t think I could bear it’. Many years have passed since then and my friend and I are still close, although we have had periods of drifting apart. Still, Prince is a common bond between us. If we ever need to mend fences, or feel inclined to reminisce about the past, we can start with Prince.

Prince 1

In 2011 the Brisbane Art Gallery was playing retro films and one Friday night they showed Purple Rain. I had been too young to remember it being in cinemas, and it had been years since I’d watched it on video, so I eagerly rushed off with some of the girls I worked with and got tickets to the session. It’s the only film I have ever been to where the whole audience was dressed up, where we all sang along and quoted lines from the film, where we all laughed at the comical 80’s fashions, mannerisms and slang. It wasn’t a mean laughing, it was funny because we had been alive in that period, it was funny because we were all seeing parts of our previous selves. Prince has a way of reminding people about who they used to be. He constantly changes, but then never really changes at all. It’s probably the most intimate film experience I have ever had and when I was home alone the following New Year and Purple Rain was playing on cable, I watched it again, alone in my living room, and didn’t feel so bad about welcoming the impending New Year on my own. I felt that Prince, as always, was with me.

In 2012, Prince toured Australia for the first time in over a decade. It was one of those spur of the moment tours that just materialized out of nowhere. I heard about it on breakfast television and, upon walking into work that morning, heard my desk-buddy call out from across the office in glee ‘He’s coming! He’s coming!’ Of course, I knew instantly what she was talking about and that she was equally as excited as me. In fact, it was her constant repetition of Thieves in the Temple that helped me reclaim my status as a Prince fan after a decade of feeling obligated to hide it. (‘You like Prince?’People would say, with something akin to a huff and an eye roll, ‘He’s weird or gay or past his prime, that’s so lame.’ What would they know? Well nothing, but youth makes us afraid to be ourselves sometimes).

Anyway, news of the Welcome to Australia Prince tour was better than Christmas morning has ever been. It was also the only time in my life that I’ve said to my sister, ‘we need to get tickets to this concert. I don’t care if you sleep outside the venue, we have to get tickets or there will be just no living with me‘. She knew I wasn’t lying too. We still laugh about it to this day because I even went so far as buying her a camping chair so that she didn’t have to sleep outside Ticketek on the pavement and indeed, she was ready to go and camp outside and all, but at the last moment I relented and let her sleep in front of the computer instead, so we could both get online as soon as tickets went on sale (it was the dead of winter and I’m not Satan).

I was lucky enough to see Prince twice in Brisbane. If the first time changed my life and prompted me to add his face to the collection of men that I have tattooed on my body, the second time cemented him as some kind of personal saint in my life. Prince was better in real life than he ever was on film, better even than he was on his albums. Prince was electric. The way he danced, the way he sang, the instruments he seemed capable of producing from nowhere, the way he managed to connect with every single member of the audience, regardless of their age, was like a kind of modern magic. Seeing Prince in concert was like a private bonding experience between you and him, but more than that, it was like a bonding moment for you and the people you were there with. No matter what happens in your lives together from now on, there will always be that magical moment and at the centre of it, will be Prince.

So, it seems only fair that this flashback Friday we look at Purple Rain, which was in my opinion is the finest of the three films which Prince made (the other two being Graffiti Bridge and Under the Cherry Moon).

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Set in Minneapolis, the home town of Prince, this film is best described as an extended music video with some curious dialogue interspersed between epic songs by both The Time and The Revolution. Prince plays ‘the kid’ the lead singer of a local band (the Revolution – his real life band in that era) that seems to be losing their groove and their audience. It’s pointed out that the kid has lost his ability to connect with the very people who come to see him and, unless he stops writing music that only he understands, he is doomed to end up just like his alcoholic father, who was once a great musician but is now just a bitter old man. The friction between the kid and his father provides one of the emotional backdrops for the film and ultimately for the title song.**

There is of course a rival band on the scene, and that is Morris Day and The Time (which was another real life musical vehicle for Prince) and, unlike the kid, Morris has no trouble what so ever keeping his audience entertained. With the shift in loyalties, the owner of the bar where the bands regularly battle it out is doubtful that he really needs two bands on the roster. Things are looking poorly for the kid.

morris and jerome
(I don’t know how Morris can feel so confident in those shoulder pads)

Enter Apollonia, a small town girl who has just arrived in the mean city, with dreams of making it big and sporting the best hairstyle you have ever seen. She encounters the kid in the bar, when she is trying to get a job and as soon as their eyes meet, you can see that there’s going to be fireworks (and some amazing, tortured music) from their union. But… Morris Day also sees Apollonia and he decides he wants her, no matter what he has to do, even if it means starting a girl band (Apollonia 6, which was also one of Prince’s real life musical vehicles) and making her the singer. This plan will of course serve two functions for Morris, it will get him the girl and it will shit the kid to tears. As you can imagine, Morris is feeling pretty chuffed with himself.


If you haven’t seen this movie, you probably guess how it plays out – that is, with an epic love triangle, amazing music, a surprisingly unsettling sex scene, suicide attempts, arguments, tears and of course the most heart stopping musical showdown of all time.

prince 5
(Let’s be real. Only Prince is going to try and pull off the full-ruffle pirate shirt, the perm and the puppet. Is he talking to himself through the puppet? Is he talking to the puppet? It’s the 80’s, it doesn’t matter)

In fairness, I am going to say that there are two heart stopping musical interludes in this film. Of course, the final scene in which they play Purple Rain and the kid dedicates it to his father, but before that, the scene in which Apollonia is being wined and dined by Morris and the kid takes the stage in front of them and belts out The Beautiful Ones. Personally, The Beautiful Ones has always been one of my favourite Prince songs, more so than Purple Rain and I think it often gets over looked in favour of some of the other phenomenal songs on the Purple Rain Soundtrack, like the title song, Let’s Go Crazy, Darling Nikki (which is the reason we have parental advisory stickers on CD’s, friends) and When Doves Cry. Anyway, the moment in the movie when Prince delivers The Beautiful Ones is one of the strongest moments in the entire film, one of those moments where, as a viewer, you almost stop breathing until the very end of the song and then wonder why you’re about to pass out from oxygen deprivation.

I’m not going to pretend that Purple Rain has any Oscar worthy acting in it (the soundtrack was obviously another story) because no one is a particularly good actor, but if you go into it for the music you are sure to not be disappointed. As I said before, it is more like a prolonged music video with interludes of talking than a cohesive film. In any case, in memory of the Purple One, I hope you’ll make an effort to put this on tonight and give it a watch. When you’re done, you should go and purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, and then raise a glass to the memory of Prince Rogers Nelson. He was truly a giant of the musical landscape and I hope that we continue to feel his presence long into the future.

end note: I was crying when I wrote this, so forgive me if the grammar or spelling goes astray

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Prince, when we’re both on the other side of this life, where ever that may be, I only hope to see you laughing in the Purple Rain. Until then, if the elevator tries to bring me down, I’m just gonna go crazy. I feel like it’s what you’d want.

Thank you, for the music and the joy it it gave. As you said in the title song from your debut album

All of this and more
Is for you
With love, sincerity and deepest care
My life with you I share…

You meant it too.

Requiescat in Pace

prince 6

** The other inspiration for the song is Bob Seger. Apparently Prince was touring a lot of the same areas as Bob Seger on the back of his album 1999. Although he did not identify as a Bob Seger fan himself (we would have disagreed on that point), he was curious as to what it was about Seger that attracted such a large audience. After attending one of Seger’s shows, Prince was inspired to write something of a rock-n-roll balland – Purple Rain is the result.


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