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Happy Birthday to Prince!

Prince is 52 years old today. To celebrate his birthday, enjoy an excerpt from Purple Rain by John Kenneth Muir. The passage deals with Albert Magnoli’s first encounter with Prince before agreeing to direct the rock musical drama film Purple Rain.

Then Magnoli was taken to actually meet with Prince. In a hotel lobby, Magnoli first met Chick, Prince’s legendary, Nordic bodyguard, whom Magnoli described as a very “tall, Viking-looking person,” and then went off to a corner to observe the dynamics of the situation.

“To my right were the elevator doors,” Magnoli explains. “To my left, across the lobby, was the front door of the building, where Steve [Fargnoli] and Chick were positioned. Then the doors opened at the crack of midnight sharp and out walks Prince by himself.

“Because he didn’t know who I was, he didn’t see me. He saw Chick and Steve at the end of the hall and walked to them, which allowed me to do a right-to-left pan with Prince, unencumbered by him knowing I was looking at him. As a result, I ended up filling [in] the whole story based on him walking across the lobby. Because what I saw was extreme vulnerability, in spite all of the bluster and the costume and the music. This was a vulnerable young man. I saw all the heart and soul. I saw all the emotional stuff. I saw the tragedy of his upbringing. I just saw stuff and felt stuff that filled in the three-act story.”

Together, Prince, Magnoli, Cavallo, Farnoli, and Chick went to a working dinner. “I was looking at Prince and I could tell he didn’t like being looked at,” Magnoli says. “He’s very shy. Everybody ordered food, and as soon as the waitress left, Prince looked at me sand said, ‘Okay, how did you like my script?’

“I realized a few things there. One, he said, ‘my script,’ which meant he had personally invested himself in whatever it was that William Blinn had written. And two, he hadn’t been told anything that I felt about it.”

“The words that came out of my mouth were the following: ‘Well, I think it sucked.’”

Magnoli pauses for dramatic effect. “At that moment, Steve dropped his head, Chick leaned closer to me, and Prince looked startled. Then I could see him thinking and what he was thinking was: ‘I wasn’t told this before this meeting was to take place. Why wasn’t I told? Then he looked toward Steve, because obviously Steve had told him nothing. That look to Steve took about three seconds, but it was telling to me, because I saw now how the operation worked. He had been kept in the dark about this.”

“So then Prince looked back to me and said, ‘Why does it suck?’ And I said, ‘You know what, it’s not important why, but here’s what we can do about it. Let me tell you the story.’ So now, with even more passion, because I have more information now that I’m looking at this kid, I told this story.

“There was five seconds of silence. Then he looked at Steve and said, ‘Why don’t you take Chick and go home.’ Then he looked at me and said, ‘Why don’t you come with me?’ ‘I’m just going to take Al for a ride.’”

Not knowing exactly what was going to happen, Magnoli remembers feeling a little uncertain. Had he offended Prince? Had he made him angry?

“We got in his car; he got behind the wheel, I got into the passenger’s seat, and he took off fast,” Magnoli notes. “The next thing I knew, we were driving in pitch-black darkness, [with] not a light in sight. I had no idea where we were. It looked like we were driving in a black tube. A day later I realized we were in horizon-to-horizon farmland, but there were no lights. So I was thinking, he didn’t like the story…and now I’m dead. I can die right now. And no one will know…”

This nighttime ride was not the beginning of a murder plot, however, but the start of a very fruitful working relationship for Magnoli and Prince. Even though the story Magnoli had recounted involved the lead character (Prince himself, hereafter called “The Kid”) being at odds with his parents, his bandmates, and even his girlfriend, Prince never once flinched from a warts-and-all, three-dimensional presentation.

Purple Rain

In the summer of 1984, a small, low-budget film came out of nowhere and unexpectedly debuted at the number one slot at the box office, unseating reigning champion Ghostbusters and making its star, Prince, a household name. By the end of the year, the film was a multiple-award winner, a trend setter in terms of fashion, and recognized on many prominent critical “top ten” lists. Purple Rain: Music on Film explores in detail the behind-the-scenes struggles and triumphs of the film’s making, from the trouble casting a female lead to star opposite Prince, to concerns that the movie’s urban vibe and sound wouldn’t play in Peoria. Featuring extensive new interviews with the film’s director, producer, and assistant editor, Purple Rain reveals a 1980s cult-classic as you’ve never seen, heard or experienced it before. Let’s go crazy…

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Prince’s Birthday: A Celebration of Purple Rain

John Kenneth Muir is the author of Purple Rain: Music on Film. Below is an excerpt as posted on Movieline.com.

Meeting His Majesty, Prince

The next task at hand was to introduce Magnoli to Prince, and simultaneously, for Magnoli to further familiarize himself with the artist, his background, and his works. Magnoli knew and had liked the 1982 Prince hit singles “1999” and “Little Red Corvette.” He held a powerful image of the artist as “a loner” and “iconoclastic,” but more research was still necessary to get an authentic feel for the man and the performer.

So, while he finished an editing job on a Wednesday and Thursday and prepared for a flight to Minneapolis on Friday to meet his movie’s star, Magnoli wanted to learn everything he could about the musician. “I didn’t know his early career,” Magnoli acknowledged.

“‘Send to the editing room every video and any foot¬age you have on Prince, so I can see the visuals,’” Magnoli remembers saying to Cavallo on the phone. “So he sent me all of this video of Prince in concert in Minneapolis, and it was during his bikini-wearing, high-heel wearing, long coat days. This was prior to the 1999 album, where I think he had his self-titled album Prince . . . I think that’s what it was called. He was wearing a jacket on the cover [of the album] with a bikini bottom, with his chest sticking out, looking very androgynous.

Keep reading on Movieline.com

Purple Rain: Music on Film

In the summer of 1984, a small, low-budget film came out of nowhere and unexpectedly debuted at the number one slot at the box office, unseating reigning champion Ghostbusters and making its star, Prince, a household name. By the end of the year, the film was a multiple-award winner, a trend setter in terms of fashion, and recognized on many prominent critical “top ten” lists. Purple Rain: Music on Film explores in detail the behind-the-scenes struggles and triumphs of the film’s making, from the trouble casting a female lead to star opposite Prince, to concerns that the movie’s urban vibe and sound wouldn’t play in Peoria. Featuring extensive new interviews with the film’s director, producer, and assistant editor, Purple Rain reveals a 1980s cult-classic as you’ve never seen, heard or experienced it before. Let’s go crazy…

If You Like The Terminator: Five More Surprise Hits of 1984

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Guest Blogger: Scott Von Doviak, author of If You Like The Terminator… (Limelight Editions, June 2012)

“Not much was expected of The Terminator when it was released in theaters on October 26, 1984,” begins the introduction to my new book, If You Like The Terminator (due June 1st from Limelight Editions). “Perceived as a B-movie that might enjoy a week or two of success at malls and drive-ins before being consigned to late-night television purgatory, the low-budget sci-fi thriller shocked industry pundits by debuting to generally positive reviews and the number one spot on the box office charts.” The movie went on to outgross the holiday season’s higher-profile sci-fi releases like Dune and 2010—but of course, The Terminator was not the only surprise hit that year.  Here are five more sleepers that made an impression on the 1984 box office.

Purple Rain — By the summer of 1984, Prince had achieved some success on the pop charts, but he was far from a household name. That all changed with the release of the best-selling soundtrack to this semi-autobiographical film, starring the purple pop star as up-and-coming Minneapolis musician “The Kid.” The movie’s story was hackneyed, and its acting passable at best, but the musical performances of hits like “Let’s Go Crazy” and “I Would Die 4 U” propelled it to the top of the box office.

Repo Man — A cult movie like no other, Alex Cox’s directorial debut fused science fiction concepts with punk rock style and absurdist humor, proving that “the life of a repo man is always intense.” Emilio Estevez stars as Otto, a young punk mentored in the repo code by Harry Dean Stanton’s grizzled Bud. It’s hard to imagine another time Repo Man could have been made, much less become a theatrical success; it had to happen in the ‘80s.

A Nightmare on Elm Street — Talk about a “sleeper” hit—horrormeister Wes Craven’s original Nightmare introduced audiences to Freddy Krueger, the “bastard son of a thousand maniacs” who haunts the children of Elm Street in their dreams. Although its originality would be diluted by an endless string of sequels, the first Nightmare remains a clever creepshow.

Red Dawn — The Cold War paranoia of the Reagan era served as subtext for a number of memorable ‘80s films (The Terminator included), none more blunt and jingoistic than this far-fetched tale of a Soviet invasion of the United States. A sort of cross between a Brat Pack movie and an ultra-violent Rambo adventure, this action flick directed by the always over-the-top John Milius proved to be a surprise summer hit. A remake shot in 2009 has been gathering dust ever since, but is finally scheduled for release later this year.

Starman The Terminator was not the only sleeper sci-fi hit of the 1984 holiday season. John Carpenter, one of James Cameron’s early influences, scored with a much kinder and gentler take on the alien-among-us genre than his 1982 remake of The Thing. Although it was described in some quarters as an E.T. ripoff (both scripts had actually been in development at the same time), Starman soared to success on the strength of Jeff Bridges’ offbeat but winning portrayal of the space visitor, and his undeniable romantic chemistry with co-star Karen Allen.

If You Like The Terminator

Here is the first book to explore the spectacular array of films, television shows, and other works that helped inspire The Terminator, as well as those that have drawn inspiration from it. If You Like The Terminator… delves into the history of science-fiction cinema, from its earliest days to the golden age of the 1950s and beyond, encountering killer robots, time travelers and postapocalyptic wastelands along the way. This turbo-charged journey through time also reviews the improbable career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, revisits the action heroes of the 1980s, and reevaluates the films of James Cameron, before touching down in the computer-dominated realm of today’s science fiction cinema and projecting the future of the Terminator franchise.

Listen to Scott Von Doviak talk with Leonard Pierce (author of If You Like The Sopranos…) on the Onstage and Backstage podcast.

Purple Rain Excerpt

The following is an excerpt posted by Bookgasm from Purple Rain: Music on Film by John Kenneth Muir.

“I saw a movie called Reckless (1984), in a screening room, which was done by Jamie Foley,” Robert Cavallo explains. That cult film was a rebellious rock ’n’ roll anthem featuring Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah as star-crossed lovers in an American steel town, and it featured a pulsing, hard-rock soundtrack from the likes of INXS, Bob Seger, and Romeo Void.

“I was alone in the screening room, other than a young man sitting in the back,” Cavallo says. “As I walked out, the young man said to me, ‘Well, what did you think?’ And I said, ‘It was pretty good … but I especially enjoyed the editing.’ I wasn’t kidding. It was good. I thought it was really well edited,” Cavallo emphasizes. “And he said, ‘Oh, I did that. Jamie’s my friend; he made the movie, and I was the editor. We went to USC film school.’”

That young man was Albert Magnoli, a native of Connecticut and a recent graduate of USC School of Cinematic Arts (until 2006 named the School of Cinema-Television). He had discovered his interest in film during undergraduate school, and almost unexpectedly.

“I grew up in New England, in Connecticut, and in undergraduate school, I took a course—I was a literature major—that pretty much changed my life,” Mr. Magnoli remembered. “It was a course that dealt with the films of Ingmar Bergman and how they related to literature; Bergman in relation to stories and novels. The professor was extremely good at finding comparisons between Ingmar Bergman’s philosophies and the philosophies of Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, etc.

“We tracked Ingmar Bergman from the 1950s all the way to, at that time, the 1970s, and that was an extremely rich time for Ingmar Bergman,” Magnoli reminisces. “He started off doing romantic comedies and then concentrated on films that dealt with his background and religious philosophy. We watched The Seventh Seal (1957), Persona (1966), Shame (1968), and Cries and Whispers (1972) and they just had an enormous impact on me.

“What ended up happening was, there was a film course being offered in the school. I wasn’t part of it, but someone in the course came to me and asked if I had any short stories that could be turned into a short film,” the director says. “At the time I was writing short stories, and said I had one, and gave it to him. The location of that story needed a factory, and I had worked in a factory during the summer months, so I said, ‘I have a factory, and it’s down in Newington. I’ll talk to the manager and see if he’ll let us film in there.’ And sure enough, he did. He let us film from midnight till six a.m.

“We had one night to do it,” Magnoli details. “So I brought my friend and his crew to this factory. We were all juniors in college at the time. And when we got there, he looked at me and said, ‘Where should the camera go?’”

“I said, ‘I thought this was your film class!’ And he said, ‘I’m just the choreographer, not the director. You know the factory—just tell me where to put the camera.’ I said, ‘Well, let me see what the camera looks like.’ It was a little Super 8 camera on a tripod. I looked through the viewfinder, and at that point I knew where the camera should go. And then I started setting up shots. Essentially, we filmed for the next five or six hours. We had our actors, we finished, and as I was riding back to college, I said to my friend, ‘This is very interesting.’”

Keep reading this excerpt on Bookgasm

Purple Rain: Music on Film

In the summer of 1984, a small, low-budget film came out of nowhere and unexpectedly debuted at the number one slot at the box office, unseating reigning champion Ghostbusters and making its star, Prince, a household name. By the end of the year, the film was a multiple-award winner, a trend setter in terms of fashion, and recognized on many prominent critical “top ten” lists. Purple Rain: Music on Film explores in detail the behind-the-scenes struggles and triumphs of the film’s making, from the trouble casting a female lead to star opposite Prince, to concerns that the movie’s urban vibe and sound wouldn’t play in Peoria. Featuring extensive new interviews with the film’s director, producer, and assistant editor, Purple Rain reveals a 1980s cult-classic as you’ve never seen, heard or experienced it before. Let’s go crazy…

Four Reasons Why Purple Rain (1984) Endures

Guest Blogger: John Kenneth Muir, author of Purple Rain: Music on Film

Just past the quarter-century mark, director Albert Magnoli’s Purple Rain (1984) continues to fascinate and intrigue global audiences.  An MTV-era update of the classic back-stage musical format, Purple Rain introduced a wide audience to Prince and his world in the Minneapolis music scene.

Although the Reagan decade is long since over — as is the Prince fashion craze of ruffled collars — Purple Rain continues to gain enthusiastic new fans the world around. Here are four reasons why:

1. Purple Rain is as close to getting “to know” the real Prince as we’re likely to get.

The artist who changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and declared the Internet “dead” in 2010 is an enigmatic, mysterious fellow.  What makes him tick?  From what inner turmoil does his creative genius derive?

Although featuring a heavily fictionalized account of his life, Purple Rain remains the closest we are likely to get to an authentic Prince screen biography.  The film reveals the turmoil in his home life among his parents, and the relationships roiling Prince’s band mates in the Revolution.

At the start of Purple Rain, Prince emerges from smog and fog in silhouette and finally becomes visible…at least for the duration of the movie. This is as clearly as we have ever viewed the man, and his later films, including Under the Cherry Moon (1985) and Graffiti Bridge (1990) assiduously steered away from offering any further biographical detail.

2. The film is multi-faceted in its depiction of an icon. 

We’ve all seen big-screen musical biographies, and most often, they gloss over warts to forge a heroic, larger-than-life portrait of a talent we’ve come to love.  Consider Cool as Ice (1990), or even 8 Mile (2002), both of which failed to capture the real life experience or apparent rage driving performers such as Vanilla Ice or Eminem.

Or consider the superficial, bubble gum Rick Springfield vehicle, Hard to Hold (1984).  By contrast, Purple Rain reveals Prince in all his flawed and human dimensions.  He’s a genius, but he’s difficult.  He’s talented, but he’s demanding.  He’s an iconoclast and a perfectionist, and he’s anchored by nagging self-doubt.

In one of the film’s most famous scene, Prince sits back-stage — sulking in his tent as it were — making funny voices with a hand-puppet.  He comes off as angst-ridden, self-centered, and isolated.  Purple Rain is willing to reveal Prince in all his human shades, even the unflattering ones, and that’s why some critics (including Roger Ebert) listed it as one of the top ten films of 1984.

3. Purple Rain is the perfect fusion of music and meaning.

While prepping Purple Rain, director Magnoli had the opportunity to choose a wide array of tunes from Prince’s (largely) unpublished music catalog.  Selecting from over a hundred such pieces, Magnoli was able to tailor the music directly to the film’s biographical content.

“Let’s Go Crazy,” the opening anthem, played as an introduction to Prince’s world.

“Take me with U” concerns the open road, and the burgeoning of a romance between Prince and Apollonia.

The song’s opposite, “Darling Nikki” is about betrayal and rage in a romantic relationship…a humiliating song for Apollonia to endure.

The climactic tune “Purple Rain” concerns forgiveness and love, and has been called a celebration of women, or what critic David Denby termed “both an apology for bad behavior and a promise of sexual ecstasy.”

Finally, “Baby I’m a Star” is valediction, heroic triumph after challenges external and internal are beaten back.

Even the song written expressly for the film, “When Doves Cry,” reflects beautifully the film’s thematic content.  It’s re-states the film’s central conflict: that Prince may be “just like his father,” a failure in love and in music.

4. Morris Day and Jerome.

How many back-stage or biographical musicals expend the time and energy to create competitors for their heroes, especially competitors that serve so adroitly as comic relief?

Morris Day and Jerome Benton lighten up Purple Rain tremendously, and give the film a jaunty, humorous bent.

Morris Day and Jerome proved so intensely popular as foils for Prince that Purple Rain producer Robert Cavallo wanted to make a sequel to Purple Rain…about the duo making further mischief in Las Vegas.

Purple Rain: Music on Film

In the summer of 1984, a small, low-budget film came out of nowhere and unexpectedly debuted at the number one slot at the box office, unseating reigning champion Ghostbusters and making its star, Prince, a household name. By the end of the year, the film was a multiple-award winner, a trend setter in terms of fashion, and recognized on many prominent critical “top ten” lists. Purple Rain: Music on Film explores in detail the behind-the-scenes struggles and triumphs of the film’s making, from the trouble casting a female lead to star opposite Prince, to concerns that the movie’s urban vibe and sound wouldn’t play in Peoria. Featuring extensive new interviews with the film’s director, producer, and assistant editor, Purple Rain reveals a 1980s cult-classic as you’ve never seen, heard or experienced it before. Let’s go crazy…

Visit John Kenneth Muir’s blog, Reflections on Film/TV