The first time I saw Purple Rain, I was sitting in a café booth in South Minneapolis this year, facing a snowy residential street. I’d recently visited Paisley Park for the first time, and hearing fans marvel at film memorabilia there had gotten me curious; I had to see the movie.
Sitting in my tiny booth, I watched as Prince gave incredible performances on a stage I knew well. I played along with Morris Day’s exaggerated villainy. I finally understood Kanye West’s “Stronger” reference to Apollonia (Kotero, who spoke to Andrea Swensson about her experiences on-set)! But it disappointed me to see how Purple Rain showed distaste for women, presenting them as stripped-down and even helpless objects.
One of the most popular ways to honor Prince turned out to be at the cinema. Over 200 AMC screens played Purple Rain around the country. Several venues around town held showings — including the Fitzgerald Theater, where The Current hosted a screening that opened with live music by Nooky Jones. The Riverview Theater kicked off a whole week of Purple Rain on Friday. I went on Saturday night.
Getting into the theater, I saw streams of people leaving the 9:45 p.m. showing. I headed to the 11:45 p.m. screening, which drew a thinner crowd. Those of us who went, though, arrived excited and ready to chair-dance.
The movie wound through its 111-minute story, with Prince’s “The Kid” trying to make it at First Avenue, charm Apollonia, and endure family troubles (including, but not limited to, his father’s abuse of his mother).
I felt so much familiarity while watching Prince act. As Apollonia tried to hop on the Kid’s motorcycle, he lurched forward a couple times before letting her on. Just two years ago, Andrea Swensson told her story of Prince playing a similar trick on her: “[He] looked at me again. ‘Do you want to dance?’ he asked me, extending his hand. Before I had time to react, he pulled his arm back and said, ‘Just kidding!’ He walked away again, then turned back and said, ‘No really, do you want to dance?’ and ‘Just kidding!’ again.”
The Kid’s disappearing acts and attitude were pure Prince. His smirks matched the ones I witnessed at Paisley Park. Also, Prince’s on-screen father’s piano-playing matches up with the stories he told about his dad in real life; his father was a jazz pianist whose influence Prince acknowledged at what turned out to be his last local concert. The Piano & a Microphone shows were something of a personal challenge, with Prince working to escape his dad’s shadow.
The music impressed me all over again, and the audience cheered after “Let’s Go Crazy” and other favorites. “Your music makes sense to no one but yourself,” fictional First Ave owner (and actual Prince road manager) Billy Sparks told the Kid, but the decades have proven him wrong.
At the movie’s close, the screen went freeze-frame on Prince’s face, and we clapped as the credits began. “may u live 2 c the dawn,” read a message buried at the credits’ very end; at one point, The Dawn was going to be the title of a new Prince film, but we’ll never get another.
When I asked Riverview manager Nathan Smith why they showed Purple Rain, he said, “It’s just something we had to do. It was reinforced by the fact that we had a lot of people asking for it. We had people walking in; we had e-mails; we had Facebook requests.”
Purple Rain is a way to remember Prince’s personality: playful, controlling, brilliant, and entirely off the wall. Nostalgia shouldn’t mask Purple Rain’s issues, but it’s a worthwhile film, and my experience at the Riverview was the closure I needed after this sad couple of weeks. In fact, walking out of Purple Rain was the first time I’ve naturally talked about Prince in the past tense.
Minnesotans who’d like to see the movie in theaters have a few more chances; Purple Rain at the Riverview will run at least through Thursday. The Current’s Minnesota music stream is playing an hour of Prince music from 11 a.m. to noon every day through the end of this week, and tomorrow, radio stations across the country will simultaneously play “Nothing Compares 2 U” in Prince’s honor.