On Saturday night, I was flying solo. I was about to head to the Four Seasons d/bar when I noted that the local Bloor Street Hot Docs theatre was showing Prince’s iconic film "Purple Rain." The 10pm show was sold out, but not the 12:45 am screening.
Like most Prince fans, I was caught up with the sadness and tragedy of his sudden death and I wanted to share the experience of watching Prince at his peak in his best-known film, with fellow true believers.
You had to be a really hard-core Prince fan to wait in the friggin' cold outside the Bloor Street theatre for about one hour to cop one of the 700 seats for a show at almost one in the morning.
In line, I talked to aging 60ish rockers, 50ish Italian suburban types who'd made the long trek down from Woodbridge, hipster college dudes in hoodies, baseball caps and the requisite beard, a hot yuppie Annex couple, a whipsmart 40-something black woman, Lina, and her multi-ethnic friend, Riva.
Lina had been following Prince for years. She had been to multiple concerts, owned most of his records and CDs and could sing out all his top hits. She said Prince’s lyrics and music got her through some tough times in high school, in college and in life. Most of my fellow Prince lovers shared those same heartfelt sentiments.
The film itself, which is loosely based on Prince’s life, shows his character going through all kinds of shite with his family. At the movie's climax, his father, a songwriter and pianist, frustrated by his failed dreams, is physically abusive to Prince’s mom and to Prince himself.
Prince, in turn, upset that his girlfriend, Apollonia, is joining a rival girl group, hits her (shades of his abusive father) and thoroughly alienates her. Prince also alienates his own band and refuses to consider their own material.
After his father’s attempted suicide, Prince seeks redemption and adapts his band members’ work. Hence the song "Purple Rain," whose lyrics deal astutely and sensitively with his father, Apollonia and his band mates.
This song and the whole score won the Academy Award for best original score that year. And rightfully so.
It is powerful. It is moving. It is timeless. And its lyrics resonate. It became Prince’s signature song.
That said, my major beef with the film is the boring and derivative writing. As well, Prince was a brilliant composer, singer, musician, and performer, but his screen acting is mediocre. And Apollonia’s is worse. The love and sex scenes between these two are cringe worthy.
Prince was a unique genre-bending and gender-bending phenomenon. More Michael Jackson than Action Jackson, his slight 5’2” frame did not lend itself to leading man/romantic/lover status. Or perhaps that's just me.
I don’t mean to purple rain on Prince’s eulogy parade. But Prince should be remembered for his great music and his amazing talent. His actual film career? Not so much.