Untold stories of ‘Purple Rain’


Prince display at the Capri
Prince display at the Capri

It’s been about two weeks since the news broke of Prince’s unexpected and sudden death. Last weekend the MSR attended one of an estimated 700 screenings of the late musician’s iconic Purple Rain across the country.

The MSP Film Society hosted two free showings of Purple Rain at the Capri Theatre in North Minneapolis last Saturday, which according to a spokesman, was attended by at least 150 people each session.

The Capri Theater was one of several local venues Prince performed early in his soon-to-become legendary musical career. The North Minneapolis theater marks the spot of his first hometown concert after signing on with Warner Bros Jan. 5, 1979.

Craig Rice, assistant director on Purple Rain
Craig Rice,  Purple Rain assistant director

“He always performed here” including his time as a member of the band Grand Central “when he didn’t sing but played,” added Craig Rice to a diverse audience during a Q&A session after the film screening. “I haven’t seen it [Purple Rain] in 30 years,” admitted Rice. “It was emotional. I remember stuff that is not in it.”

Rice, who was an assistant director on the film, also clarified some long-standing myths, as well as shared some “untold stories” about the movie:

— The movie was not originally written  for Prince:  John Travolta was originally looked at for the lead character. “William Blinn [a co-writer] wanted to do a film about a live performer, an artist playing in a band,” explained Rice. “They were looking at a lot of different artists to play it.  They were smart to go with someone who actually could put a band together, or act like they can put a band together.

“Warner Bros. said they had this guy named Prince. Prince wasn’t Prince back then. He was not famous or well-known. Blinn came to Minnesota and watched [him] and then re-wrote the script.  It is not an autobiography,” noted Rice.

— The film’s nightclub scenes:  “Prince wanted the energy of a live performance, so we had all the live performances at First Avenue done back-to-back like a real concert.”

— Because the producer needed a song for “an emotional scene” in the movie, Prince wrote “When Doves Cry” in two hours during filming.

— A heating tent was put nearby for Apollonia to use during the ‘Lake Minnetonka’ scene due to the wintertime conditions.  Prince used a wet-suit under his clothes for warmth during the outdoor scenes.

— Prince’s motorcycle had an automatic transmission, and he did do some stunts, but not all of them: “We needed him for the whole movie,” quipped Rice.

Prince display at the Capri“We started filming on the first of November ’83” during one of the area’s coldest winters, remembers the St. Paul-born Rice.  Because of Prince’s unwavering insistence, most of the film was filmed in Minnesota, he told the audience.  “They [the producers] were going to make the whole thing in L.A. Prince insisted on shooting it here, and insisted that the majority of actors be [from] here.  Everybody had to move here. They adapted it to the environment here in Minnesota.”

Rukemma Jackson of West St. Paul with her daughter Tamarjane Smith represent two generations of Purple Rain fans. They have seen the movie numerous times over the years, including a screening at the Capri last weekend. Said Jackson, “It still the same — the music,” noted Jackson. “I’ve watched it a thousand times,” added Smith. “I loved it.”

Angel Brunner and her friend came to the Cities from San Francisco and visited various sites, including Paisley Park and First Avenue. A longtime Prince fan, Brunner told the MSR they “deliberately came here tonight to see the film, but we flew in just to pay our respects, try to deal with the grief, and try to appreciate Prince for everything he is.  I’ve been a fan since 1979 when I saw him performed on the [NBC-TV’s] “Midnight Special.”

Rice told the MSR afterwards, “The little things I can remember on Prince’s insistence upon doing it as a Minnesota story.  He believed Minneapolis was a musical capitol…but not necessarily for African Americans.  He was proud to be from Minnesota and thought this was a creative center and wanted people to see that.  I loved the amount of musical talent he put together that was in the movie.

“What he did early on was control his image,” noted Rice on Prince.  “But he realized that artists needed to be brands.  His death unfortunately has amplified his brand. Prince is a brand.  Prince was a musician, a performer, a songwriter, poet, business person, an entrepreneur and an impresario.”

“I wanted them to see the joy” from seeing Purple Rain last Saturday at the Capri, said Rice.  When Prince sang the climatic title song, the audience applauded, and some even sang along.

“Seeing him on screen and believing that he is gone, is hard.  Really, really hard,” said Brunner.

“I think that it has been so sorrowful in the last week.  This was fun.  You can’t take this film too seriously.  Morris [Day] is crazy, and what they are talking about is crazy.  That was fun and that is what I wanted people to get out of it,” concluded Rice.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

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