Two pieces appeared on this site over the past 12 days which are central to what is going on with today’s post: one piece was about going to the movies and the other was about Prince. Going to the movies, while fun, is not what it used to be and some of the reasons why are highlighted in the piece. As it pertains to Prince, the theme was Prince being appreciated from afar, realizing the talent and gift he shared with the people, and realizing that joining the party late was near the top of a very short list of regrets.
One thing that never took place, until last Saturday night, was seeing Purple Rain. There were opportunities to watch the movie in the past, but those opportunities mostly consisted of the movie coming on television. When a movie is scaled down for television consumption, the result is usually an abbreviated, bastardized and compromised version of the authentically-told film that was in theatres or another medium that is not constrained by being on TV. As much as there was a desire to watch the movie, watching it on TV wasn’t going to work. Luckily, movie theatres around the country realize the magnitude of the loss of Prince and brought it back to the big screen. A local theatre in Dallas with some history of its own advertised a 9 P.M. showing for Purple Rain a week in advance, and plans were set in motion to make sure to be there.
When a highly-anticipated movie is released, the idea is, at the most, to buy tickets a day or two before, but as someone who loves the movies, it’s never been that serious. If a ticket can’t be purchased the night before, at the earliest, then there’s always another show that can be checked out. However, this was Purple Rain, and this was showing at the Texas Theatre in Dallas. The Texas Theatre has been in Dallas since the early-1930s and is known as the theatre Lee Harvey Oswald hid in while he was on the run after being named a suspect in the murder of a Dallas policeman and also the only suspect in the shooting of JFK in Dallas on November 22, 1963 (1). While that was something that wasn’t taken into account prior to buying the tickets, it’s still a cool tidbit of history while looking for a place to watch the movie.
However, the coolest thing was being able to go to see a classic movie in a classic theatre. While it’s normal to watch movies with surround sound while sitting in reclining seats, being able to watch the movie in its original film format while sitting in old-school movie theatre chairs in an old-school theatre added to the authenticity of the event. So not only was it going to be the first time seeing Purple Rain, it was going to be seen in a movie theatre with so much history behind it. After reaching to Wana, a good friend and fellow Prince enthusiast, two tickets were copped online in the span of about 76 seconds for a Saturday night showing of Purple Rain at The Texas Theatre.
One thing that was immediately obvious upon arriving to the theatre was the diversity of the audience. People of all races were in the place. While some folks were casual in their presentation, others were dressed head-to-toe in purple; tops, bottoms, scarves, everything which added to the upbeat mood. Prince videos played on the screen well before the start time which people sang along with jovially. If people weren’t singing along, they were talking with each other. There were literally no strangers in the movie theatre. It was like being at a memorial service and a family reunion at the same damn time.
Another thing that was obvious was the majority of the crowd had seen Purple Rain before. By her own admission, Wana had seen the movie at least 10 times, yet was oblivious that she was going to watch it with a first-timer since the admission of never seeing it was literally made as we walked up to the door. By then, it was too late for her to express surprise or disgust or get any jokes off since the movie was literally about to start which was the idea of sharing that tidbit of information at that particular time. From the opening scene of the movie, folks sang along to every line in every song and remained engaged in the movie, scene after scene. There were collective gasps and shared laughs throughout the movie. There were times when people danced in the aisles, took pictures of particular scenes in the movie with their phones and continued to sing along. The scene was surreal.
Toward the end when the title song begins to play, the mood of the theatre took on the memorial service vibe mentioned earlier. It’s one thing to know the words to the song, but now that the movie was nearly over, the lyrics, tone and setting took on an entirely new meaning and provided a level of depth that wasn’t present before the start of the movie two hours before. It became easy to see why the reactions of people after the loss of Prince across the world were so raw and vulnerable, and the packed house in the theatre provided a glimpse of some of those same emotions. People sang along, some held hands and tears flowed from quite a few folks as the scene played on the screen.
By the time the song ended, the mood went from somber to celebratory. It was as if we all mourned together, and even though the movie was over, people didn’t seem ready to leave. Something special was in the atmosphere in the Texas Theatre that night, and it wouldn’t be a shock to conclude that the atmosphere is similar in theatres across the country where Purple Rain is being shown. The elements that night made it one to remember, making it no better way to experience something for the first time.