Before the diminutive one preferred people to draw rather than spell his name, he made this 1984 film which is essentially an extended music video.
Its soundtrack album sold a million copies in the first week of release, and it topped the US charts for 24 weeks. Spawning three hit singles (two of them chart-toppers), including one of the biggest-selling singles of 1984, the album then went on to win an Oscar.
And Prince – the small, sexy, androgynous dandy with a taste for purple, ruffles, Edwardian tailcoats and minimalist underwear – its author, songwriter, producer, arranger and leading man became a megastar.
The movie was assumed to be an autobiography of Prince’s early days playing at Minneapolis music venue ‘First Avenue’ and focused on the struggles of the brooding and mopey musician as he tried to navigate his domestic abuse impulses and his love of frilly shirts.
The original screenplay was called Dreams, and Warners executive Mo Ostin had to loan $4 million of his own money to get the movie made since Warner Bros Pictures would not guarantee support.
Prince plays ‘The Kid’, and though his band The Revolution seems to have a loyal following, the club owner (Billy Sparks) thinks they aren’t drawing the crowds they should be.
He sides with The Kid’s chief rival, the zoot-suited Morris Day and his band The Time.
When a foxy new Russ Meyer-esqe babe, Apollonia, shows up on the scene, The Kid woos her with motorcycle rides and by ogling her from behind his oversized sunglasses. The lead role had originally been earmarked for Vanity (Denise Matthews) – Prince’s girlfriend at the time – but she left the project (or was dismissed by Prince).
Strangely The Kid still lives with his parents, where his washed-up musician father (Clarence Williams III) beats up his mother (Olga Karlatos) on a nightly basis – a habit The Kid seems to be picking up with Apollonia.
Meanwhile, his bandmates Wendy and Lisa (played by Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, natch) are peeved that The Kid won’t listen to the song they wrote – and there’s a dude in the band who always wears full surgical scrubs (including the mask).
Morris and his sidekick (Jerome Benton) talk Apollonia into fronting their sexy girl group, which sends The Kid on another hissy rampage. This is followed by his father killing himself.
Finally, The Kid must come up with one killer song to keep his job, win back the girl, and explain all his antisocial behaviour – that song is called Purple Rain.
Critics, who loved Prince and wanted to praise him but found the film narcissistic and plotless, latched on to the stunning concert footage as the reason to recommend it.
Not that people needed much persuading – The film took $60 million at the box office in its first two months of release in America and made more money in 1984 than the hugely popular Ghost Busters.
Patricia “Apollonia” Kotero
Clarence Williams III
Bobby ‘Z’ Rivkin
Garry ‘Jellybean ‘ Johnson
Gerald (Gerry) E. Hubbard Jr