How Purple Rain Took Over Pop Culture But Shouldn't Have Been Made
by Elizabeth Smithe
If you were between the ages of 12 and 30 in the '80’s, you likely saw Purple Rain, several times. Before the movie (and let’s face it, by Hollywood's rules, the movie should’ve never been made), Prince was hardly a house-hold name. But it was undeniably Purple Rain, with its love story, music, and the unrestrained sex -appeal of Prince that shot him into the stratosphere, and into our lives, forever.
Before Purple Rain, almost no musician/artist movies worked. Even the great, mystical, God-like Led Zeppelin made a movie that flopped. Legends like The Beatles (think of their whole film output after A Hard Day's Night), Pink Floyd (remember The Wall?), and The Who (does Tommy really hold up?) all had movies that didn’t work, and we won’t even speak of the disaster that KISS made (cringe-worthy). Even The Monkees gave it a go- the only problem being they wrote the script with Jack Nicholson while they were all baked on weed and dope. And the resulting movie only makes sense... well, if you’re baked on weed or dope.
Purple Rain is the movie that shouldn’t have been. Minnesota was light years away from Hollywood, the music he did was overtly sexual (for the conservative '80’s) and it was to be done with an all-Black cast (back then, few “Black” movies crossed over). Even Prince himself had yet to cross-over. There was White Radio and Black Radio in the early '80’s- most cities didn’t even have an FM station that played Black music. The studio who agreed to make Purple Rain even wanted John Travolta to play “The Kid.” But it could only ever be Prince.
Then in 1982, things started to change happened. In November, Michael Jackson’s Thriller hit, crossing over and becoming the cultural touchstone that it is cracking MTV's race barrier with "Billy Jean," which helped to put Black artists into White households across the U.S.. Just before Jackson's blockbuster, Prince's "Little Red Corvette" was released. But Michael Jackson and Prince were two different artists- when Michael touched his crotch, it was just seemed part of his performance. When Prince did it, he made you tingle.
Prince carefully cultivated his image. He had a raw, animal sexuality on stage. He gave interviews saying he was mixed-race and never talked about his own sexuality. Prince didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a “Black Artist,” so he supposedly borrowed the mix of 'Italian and Black’ from Jill Jones, a former back-up singer for Teena Marie that he met and worked with (she appeared in Purple Rain as the blonde club waitress).
Then came Purple Rain. Made in the late in Minnesota's fall season, production problems abound. The leading-lady Vanity backed out, Morris Day (supposedly high on cocaine) sometimes didn’t show up for filming (which lead to his on-screen valet Jerome to fill in on the scene where Prince is offered tickets to Apollonia’s show). They had a director with no experience, actors with no experience (save for Clarence Williams III, Olga Karlatos and Patricia Kotero, re-named “Apollonia”). It had a 7-million-dollar budget and too many risque scenes to be suitable for mass-consumption.
But the film-makers pushed on, a few scenes cut (including a Wendy & Lisa love scene). Purple Rain saw a wide release after test-audiences raved and marked it the best numbers ever seen for a test screening. The numbers were SO high, that the producers were accused of faking the score cards (pieces of paper give to test-audiences to grade a film).
Prince gave NO interviews to promote the film (something that is unheard of in the movie industry). Today, that would be impossible to get a movie green-lit with no promotion. Incredibly, it worked. It added to the mystique and mystery of his very being- so much so that he rarely gave interviews throughout his career.
So Purple Rain was released and we were mesmerized, excited, thrilled and our young bodies tuned to high sexual degree by the time we left the theater. Prince represented sex- even if (like me), you hadn’t yet experienced it. Guitars were always phallic symbols, even between a woman's legs, but Prince went a step further- grinding, licking his fingers, using his whole body in a song. No one had seen anything so sexually-daring as “Darling Nikki,” (which helped spawn the Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) non-sense that Dee Snider all but crushed as only Dee could.
The movie was all things a movie could be- a love story with the breath-taking Apollonia, who was perfect in every way, the comedic breaks by Morris and Jerome and the dark inside story of domestic violence, giving it an edge that hit close to home for so many.
And then there was Prince. His style, his music, his performance gave it what it needed.
Now that Prince is gone, his legacy is, and always be Purple Rain (he went on to do more movies, but none would live up his first). He would do many more albums, but none as perfect and so decade-defining. He will always be a legend, always live in our hearts. And though he’s gone too soon, we somehow know the day he left us- heaven was bathed in Purple then. And heaven really is what Prince said it was in the opening lines of “Let’s Go Crazy”:
A world of never ending happiness.
You can always see the sun... day or night.
- A love scene involving Prince and Apollonia in a barn was cut from the movie- a shot from the scene appears in the trailer and in the 'When Doves Cry' montage during the film.
- A love scene between Wendy and Lisa was also cut. In real life, the 2 women were romantically involved, but eventually married other women, remaining friends and musical collaborators.
- A scene where Prince gives Jill Jones (the blonde waitress) a puppy was cut from the final film.
- Originally, the film was written so that Prince's on-screen father died from the suicide-attempt, but audience reaction to the murder-suicide in the Dorothy Stratten film Star 80 was negative, so it was changed so have the 'Father' character live.
- Vanity supposedly left the film because they refused to pay her enough, and she was offered a role in a Martin Scorsese film (the film was never made).
- Another love scene (supposedly an actual illusion of purple rain falling) was cut. A snippet is in the trailer.
- The scene where Apollonia leaves Morris after her performance and rides off with Prince- only to have them fight over her drinking- was originally much more violent, almost a rape-scene.
- The name “Apollonia” was given to her by Prince, borrowed from a minor character in The Godfather (she would later claim this was her middle name, but her birth certificate shows no such name (though it's also been said that it was her confirmation name)).
- Prince's initial concept for the film was that his parents were dead, victims of a murder-suicide and his inner-fight would be to embrace life or embrace death.
- The scenes with Prince's on-screen parents fighting are noticeably darker in the final film. The negatives were lost- the shots in the final edit had to be used from the work print of the film.
- A scene was cut where Prince walks down a hallway with a girlfriend, making each room he passes an emotion (love, hate, lust). It was borrowed from The Doors' song “The End.”
- Apollonia went into hypothermia after her third jump into the freezing Minnesota lake. Most of the scenes of her talking to Prince were filmed in L.A., making a noticeable difference in her hair and also leaving a palm-tree in the final cut.
- Three different motorcycles were used to portray Prince’s bike. An early incarnation of the symbol Prince would become to be known by is seen on the front of the bike, on the left-hand side.
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