Book Review: Music on Film: Purple Rain by John Kenneth Muir

Purple Rain was the first R-rated film I watched as a kid. It was also the first movie I ever got in trouble for watching. My parents didn’t really know why I should be in trouble; they had not seen the film. It may have had to to with the fact that I was only six at the time and I was not ready for the purifying waters of Lake Minnetonka. But regardless of age, I knew Purple Rain was a great film, I just didn’t know how great it was as the time.

Author John Kenneth Muir’s new book, Music on Film: Purple Rain is a great history of the film. The music in it influenced a generation and introduced many people to Prince, the little purple genius.

Purple Rain leaves its mark on the cinematic world because it did more than just take a pop star and put him in a movie. Most times that idea fails horribly. Muir explains that the film came about when Prince’s contract was up with his management and they asked what he needed to re-up his contract for another five years. He told them he wanted to reach the same heights as Elvis and The Beatles and so he wanted, like those legends, to do a movie. There was no script, no money for a movie, just the desire of Prince to become a legend. So it begun, the contract got singed and what would eventually become Purple Rain began to take shape.

For this book, Muir collected some amazing interviews with the film’s director Albert Magnoli, producer Robert Cavallo, and film editor Ken Robinson. Muir also gathers great references from former band mates of the Revolution and many articles from the time the film was being made and released. He has definitely done his homework on this film.

The book moves from the initial desire of Prince to star in a film through the entire filmmaking process without being heavy or too weighty. Muir also writes very well about how Prince’s music and the music of Morris Day and the Time conveys different thematic and symbolic elements of the film.

Purple Rain was not a music film that was made half-assed or done on a whim. Muir really covers all the bases from the fact that the film itself went through two sets of writers, directors turning it down, to most of the majors studios shutting their doors on the project. The book also discusses the controversy that surrounded Prince and Purple Rain for scenes of abuse and the false accusations that Prince and that his film was misogynistic. It also dispels some of the myths surrounding Prince and his character “The Kid.”

This book is not just for fans of Prince or Purple Rain. It is a great companion to a film that changed music and the film industry. Reading it makes you want to watch Purple Rain with a new set of eyes. One in a series, this is a book to keep and read over again. It had so many great little facts as well as bigger ones that you won’t get them all in the first read through.

John Kennth Muir writes with accesibility to a wide audience and does not come across as a horrible heady movie geek. I will definitely be reading other works by him.

So with summer on the horizon, Muir’s book makes me ready to get in trouble all over again. I think I am finally ready for the purifying waters of Lake Minnetonka.

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Darcy Staniforth

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