On a blustery Sunday night in New York City’s Times Square, the mood is bittersweet as devoted fans flock to a special weekend screening of Purple Rain. While many here are still trying to come unstuck from the notion of a world without Prince tearing up a stage or dropping another uniquely multihued album, there’s also a sizzle of expectation in the air, almost as though a full-blown concert, and not just a movie, is about to jump off.
After all, this was the film that, more than 30 years ago (in the summer of ’84), established Prince, playing a character known simply as the Kid, as an explosive musical talent to be reckoned with. Maybe his acting chops didn’t quite set the world on fire, but that’s yet another of the saving graces of Purple Rain; as campy as the film is, the story it tells is straight-ahead, timeless, romantic, and familiar. Sacrificing himself for his art, the Kid fights through family strife, ridicule (from his rivals Morris Day and the Time), and his own demons to realize his lifelong dream. And naturally, he gets the girl in the end.
One scene in particular sends a knowing murmur through the theater crowd. The Kid is wooing his love interest, Apollonia, when he stops in front of a shop window to admire a guitar. “Do you see something you like?” she asks him. He answers only “Let’s go,” and the camera cuts and pans slowly over Apollonia’s shoulder to reveal a white, curvy, alien-looking axe, slung upside-down (for a lefty—like Jimi Hendrix, let’s say) from a black mannequin’s neck. It’s foreshadowing that hits you over the head, but the statement is clear: This is the Kid’s totem, the staff of Moses, his ticket to the big time. And one day soon, it’ll be his to play…
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Prince – Purple Rain (Live At Paisley Park, 1999)