I'm not sure if there has ever been a more inexplicable musician than Prince. His talent is incontestable and his concert performances are not of this Earth. That being said, due to his irritation with the state of the music industry, it appears he has gone on a permanent hiatus from recording and releasing new music. While this appears to be a loss to everyone, I've felt that his reluctance to revisit his past equally devastating. His music catalog is in great disrepair as his catalog has never been remastered. Further, he has not dug into his deep vaults for archive releases or participated in commentaries and documentaries for his films or documentaries about his music. While most artists prefer to leave the past behind them, it's a part of their soul and I personally find that when they get back in touch with that inner child, the flame of inspiration can be reignited. However, no matter what Prince does for the remainder of his career, people, will forever associate him with Purple Rain. Up until now, the film has largely been viewed as a product of its time but author John Kenneth Muir with his new book Purple Rain: Music on Film reminds us that Purple Rain is more than a late night guilty pleasure but one of the definitive musicals of the 20th Century.
John Kenneth Muir has written a few books on movies in recent years (including Spinal Tap, Kevin Smith and Horror Films of the 1970s) so he knows how to write, but could he crawl into the belly of the beast of a movie whose genesis was three decades back? The good news is even with the reluctant Prince offering no new insight or interviews, Muir successfully navigates the waters of the past pulling the story of the film into scope encompassing its whole history, its impact and several key bits of information I had never know before. By not having the star of the film and its key composer of the musical sequences available for insight should be a major road block, but Muir has proven himself to be an equipped journalist as he did his homework before investigating and getting several other key individuals on-the-record for the book.
What gives Purple Rain: Music on Film weight are the insights of producer (and Prince manager) Robert Cavallo and director Albert Magnoli. Both help frame the story of their struggles through the unexpected success and ultimately to their attempts to create a proper sequel. Muir's text is straight and to the point and he packs a lot of punch and unbelievable information in 132-pages. Most other writers would flesh the book out to a few hundred pages for the sake of their ego, but even if Muir had done this, the book wouldn't have been any better. Once you pick it up, you will probably read it in no more than two sittings and revel at the luster of the film. The music from the film has gone into the stratosphere as possibly the supreme record of the last three decades (it was number two on Rolling Stone's "100 Best Album's of the 80's" and number one on Entertainment Weekly's "Greatest Albums of the Last 25 Years" in 2008). The music is so timeless and faultless that the film is often forgotten about. But reading Muir's book we're reminded that Purple Rain was more than an album, but a cinematic event.
Some particularly interesting revelations Muir's book reveals include how the inspiration of the opening credit sequence (cued to "Let's Go Crazy") was inspired by the final montage in The Godfather. Prince's then protégé Vanity was originally cast in the role that eventually went to Apollonia but she left for a role in Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ which was cancelled and not filmed for another five years with another actress. Cavallo reveals Prince would only sign another five year contract with his management team if they secured him a film with a major studio which also had his name above the film title. Lastly, in something I don't think anyone could imagine the film studio wanted John Travolta for the role of The Kid. There are dozens of intriguing anecdotes like this throughout Muir's book that will make you smile and shake your head with disbelief. Purple Rain was the right movie at the right time where all of the key players fell into place something that would not happen for his next few features. This is where Muir's book goes into overtime and provides some invaluable stories of potential sequels that never came to light. He also covers his other forays into film including the box office failures of Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge along with his concert film Sign 'o' the Times and his soundtrack work on 1989's Batman
Muir perfectly outline how the decisions for the story, casting and above all else, the editing by Magnoli and Ken Robinson engrained the images in our head of Prince for all time. Whether you were old enough to see the R-rated film in 1984 or were born in 1984, most people associate Prince with this album, his look and his music from this time. It's a reminder of the potency of the silver screen and how in the era of MTV, Prince took his career one step further. I firmly believe that acknowledging your past and embracing it often allows one to forge forward. As Muir hints at in the book, the ultimate resurrection for Prince could be another collaboration with director Albert Magnoli resulting in Purple Rain 2 taking the viewer into the world of The Kid thirty years later. Did he stay true to himself or lose himself in the process? Reunite with the Revolution and compose nine killer songs that are unforgettable. Purple Rain: Music on Film is a paperback, 132-pages and a little larger than a cell phone, however, don't let its size deter you from picking it up. Until his purple-holiness decides to go on film or put pen to paper, this may be the definitive tale of one of the most musically invigorating and memorable films of the 1980's.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter