Laughter, Tears & Apollonia: The Night I Saw "Purple Rain"

It took me 24 years to watch Prince's "Purple Rain" movie and the experience was life changing.
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She made a left turn into the parking area and immediately our eyes were greeted by the red illumination of brake lights. There were enough cars sitting stagnant to form a line the length of an anaconda but there was patience - no honking horns, no raging drivers, the only sound that could be heard vibrating alongside the engine's hum was Prince. Not only could you hear purple but you could see it, almost everyone in the plaza was clothed in the color or Prince memorabilia. As a red Corvette sped away an obvious but awesome cliche boomed from its speakers, almost completely tuning out my aunt’s favorite part of “Raspberry Beret.” The song played for most of the drive, she mused over the lyrics and reflected when the song first graced her teenage years. I imagined each person in each car was also reminiscing. That’s why they were here, to remember Prince by once again viewing Purple Rain in the movie theater.

Plaza Theatre, an Atlanta landmark that has sat on Ponce De Leon Avenue since 1939. It has seen many different eras - from roadshow releases to X-Rated adult cinema. Business has boomed and declined, new owners have bought and altered the theatre throughout the years, so it’s fitting that natives flocked to this theatre for Prince’s return to the big screen. He wasn’t around quite as long but much like the Plaza Theatre, in his lifetime he saw the dawn of the new and the end of the old while aging with an unprecedented grace. Standing in the line I noticed that age was obvious, almost everyone that stood waiting for the midnight showing was well into their thirties, forties and fifties. There was a sprinkle of young adults in their twenties but mostly you could tell that these were people who was listening to Prince when they were my age, a few probably saw Purple Rain when it debuted in 1984. As we entered the theater my phone wouldn’t stop vibrating with text messages and tweets. As I was about to watch Purple Rain for the first time, the world was on their first listen of Views. I liked the juxtaposition that while I was getting acquainted with a piece of history Drake was releasing an album that could potentially end up in the history books.  

I sat wedged between my mother’s two youngest sisters, who invited me out after discovering that I somehow went my entire short life without seeing this cult classic. As the seats slowly filled pictures of Prince were projected onto the movie screen, the murmurs were at a whisper that was suitable for a library, a calmness that I didn’t expect, a calmness that wouldn’t last. After getting most of the people inside, a white woman with a microphone appeared and stood at the very front, receiving everyone’s attention. She speaks soft but passionately about why we are here, the man we are honoring, and how during the first showing she cried and would likely cry again. She encouraged everyone in the audience to cry, to laugh, to sing, and to get up and dance - she stressed that this wasn’t just a movie viewing but a celebration. The crowd clapped, a sign that they understood her grievance, that they accepted her invitation to party, but I didn’t expect much from the fairly timid crowd. They continued to clap as the lights dimmed, it was well past midnight, I knew Twitter had already decided if Views was a classic or not, the urge to check was strong. Before the movie, the first ever televised Prince interview aired, an archive from a distant 1985, an age when MTV actually showed music videos on television. From that moment on we were enchanted, enamored, and transfixed by the one who was no longer with us.

When the interview ends and the movie starts, just hearing Prince say, “Dearly beloveded” the applause that followed was at a magnitude that made you believe Prince himself had descended from heaven and decided to join us. It was the loudest that I heard thus far, a thunderous, booming, passionate ovation. Singing - loud, unified singing followed the applause - I could see the movie but I couldn’t hear Prince, he was completely drowned out. It went from a movie viewing to karaoke night, every word of “Let's Go Crazy” was sung back to the screen. The only thing that was louder than the singing was the hooting, hollering, and whistling that erupted the moment Apollonia appeared. She deserved every whistle and cat call, Apollonia was gorgeous; even by today's standards she would be an Instagram honey, a Tumblr goddess. We were barely a minute in and there was nothing but electricity in the air.

They cheered for Morris Day, they cheered for Prince’s purple motorcycle, they cheered and cheered until “Let's Go Crazy” was no longer being performed. I’ve been to concerts where artists couldn’t buy this kind of crowd reaction. You could see dancing silhouettes all around, the liveliness was only growing, I thought the song would never end. A hilarious gasp filled the air as Prince is lamely smacked by his father. I found it funny how a room full of adults could still be so childish and not be named Gambino. When it switched to the next scene, the dialogue between Morris Day and Billy Sparks, I hear a man’s voice behind me. He knows the entire scene word for word, reciting their entire conversation. I went from hearing nothing to everything twice. I found myself more impressed than annoyed, coming to terms that this wouldn’t be a traditional movie viewing and accepting that these are fans, true fans who are want nothing more but to display their undying affection for an untraditional artist.

For the entire length of the film there were raucous reactions - some scenes more than others. The building shook as everyone recited, “You have to purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka” that was followed by hyena howls of laughter as the kid tells the soaking Apollonia that’s not the lake. As Prince slapped Apollonia across the face, from behind someone yelled, “That was before OJ!” I thought it was a strange reference until I realize how big both Purple Rain and the OJ Trial both were for anyone alive between ‘84 and ‘94. “When Doves Cry” received the same if not a bigger reaction than “Let's Go Crazy,” singing that came from the soul even if it didn’t sound so soulful, but it was the raunchy “Darling Nikki” that took the roof off: “Comeback Nikki, come back!” was screamed at the top of their voices. If the opening scene was the earthquake than there were two hours worth of aftershocks that followed, the floor trembled under the stomping feet, clapping hands, and boisterous voices. They were having the time of their lives and you couldn’t help but feel the contagious energy of their happiness.

That happiness shifted to sorrow the moment “Purple Rain” begun to play. This wave of sadness, the final performance, it was all coming to an end. They had danced, sung, and celebrated as the opening host encouraged and here was the moment for tears. My aunts, who didn’t participate like the other fanatics, were patting their eyes and sniffing their noses as they mouthed every word. The guy who had been echoing every word was silent, stone silent, all that could be heard was soft singing and softer sniffling. By the third and final verse the boo-hooing had started, ugly criers who felt the emotion in his voice, in his guitar, there was nothing left for them but to let that swelling emotion pour out of their tear ducts. When Prince asked for hands to go up, hands shot to the ceiling, shot to the heavens, waving back and forth as if we were inside First Avenue - I felt as if I was witnessing the grand finale, one that meant more than a movie coming to an end.

I remember right before Prince died, a friend stressed to me the importance of watching Purple Rain. He stressed that it was the best-worst movie I will ever see, a prestige that was currently held by Hype Williams' Belly. There was no rush to see it and for once I’m glad that my procrastination caused me to wait. It wasn’t a great movie, I knew that walking out of the theater, but I could feel in my bones that I just witnessed something unforgettable. Seeing Purple Rain in that capacity, surrounded by adoring fans, I could feel the affect that Prince left behind. For someone who didn’t grow up during the height of his reign, you miss out on something that you can’t relive - you can hear the albums, read the tributes, but unless you connect, truly connect with the artist you will be left missing why he was so important. That night I felt his importance, I felt his impact, I felt the weight of what the world just lost that ran so deep I carried that electricity home with me.

It’s an electricity that I still carry, an electricity that I memorized, a feeling I hope to push through my fingertips when I write. If I can write, if I can create, any kind of art that can leave people with that feeling, my art will live forever. Immortality is obtainable for anyone who can make it rain purple and bring snowfall in April. 

By Yoh, aka Immortal Yoh aka @Yoh31

Photo Creditanimatedfighter

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