The moment Prince inspired the making of 'Purple Rain'

Editor's note: The original version of this story was posted April 23, 2004:

Original post:  In 1983, the powers-that-be at Warner Bros. approached veteran television writer William Blinn about becoming involved in a new movie project - a musically infused, semi-autobiography based on a young Minneapolis musician.

At first, Blinn wasn't sure what to make of it.

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"I said, 'How are you going to make an autobiography on someone who is roughly 22 years old?' " said Blinn, whose credits range from the Barbara Stanwyck family western The Big Valley to Starsky and Hutch to the television version of Fame.

Still, Blinn agreed to meet the musician, a guy his teenage kids were fans of, at an Italian restaurant in Hollywood. After they'd talked, Blinn admits that "I still couldn't see it" - that is, until they went out to his car and the young artist switched on When Doves Cry, a song he'd written for the movie.

"He played the song for me, and he had the speaker system from heaven. Who knows how many speakers were in that car?" Blinn remembers. "For someone my age, I like rock music, but I don't like a lot of it. Nevertheless (the song) was melodic, and played with great intensity. I said 'Man, you've certainly got a foundation. This can pay off at the end.' "

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At that moment, Blinn says, he knew that Prince had something.

And it was then that the Hollywood vet decided to write what would become Purple Rain, the now 20-year-old musical/video/drama hybrid that made Minneapolis a rock-funk mecca and Prince Rogers Nelson a controversial, innovative, international superstar.

"It was something different. We were talking about a drama whose music is interwoven through the picture and that music is rock - fairly hard rock," Blinn says. "Prince was not a traditional leading man. . . . I remember saying, 'This is either gonna be really interesting and worthwhile, or really be laughable and awful. But it's nothing safe, nothing in the middle.' "

Viewed 20 years after its release - and just before Prince's highly publicized comeback tour stops at Office Depot Center on Sunday - Purple Rain still comes across as innovative.

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While the topiary-like sculpted hairdos, crazy makeup and frilly girly pants are firmly cemented in '80s fashion, the hyper-kinetic hybrid of classic musicals, MTV-style performance video and good, old-fashioned melodrama have aged surprisingly well. It's certainly better than such contemporaries as Footloose and Flashdance.

"I watched it about a year ago, and for a 20-year-old movie it's held up pretty well. Sometimes when you go back, you think 'That wasn't a good idea,' " Blinn says. "For (young people) it was seminal. It took their music and said, 'We can do a musical, just like the big boys.' When their mothers said, 'No one's like Fred and Ginger,' you see that Prince and Apollonia weren't Fred and Ginger, but they were the picture of male and female sexuality in that context. The movie could've been more edgy, but for what it was, we came up with a very good picture."

Purple Rain follows the story of The Kid (Prince), the talented but ego-driven front man of a band called The Revolution that has regular gigs at the influential Minneapolis club First Avenue and 7th Street Entry. But all is not well with The Kid - his band is increasingly irritated with his grandstanding, lateness and refusal to play the music they write. And rival band The Time, led by flamboyantly evil frontman Morris Day, is stealing The Revolution's thunder.

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And at home, The Kid withstands the abusive rages directed at his mother (Olga Karlatos) by his formerly brilliant musician father (Clarence Williams III).

His dad's talent, and his anger, have rubbed off on The Kid, who must control his tendency to lash out at his girlfriend (Apollonia), herself an aspiring singer and dancer.

When writer Blinn became involved in the project, the story was little more than a concept. Blinn says he believes he was chosen for Purple Rain because of his work on Fame - "one of the things we took some pride in was integrating the musical numbers in with the story," he remembers.

Blinn said he was impressed not only with Prince's "willingness to collaborate and find new ideas," but with his insistence that the other performers involved, most of them Prince's own band and musical cohorts, were professionally prepared for the movie.

"He had taken all of them to the Guthrie Theater (Minneapolis' famous arts center) and had them in dance classes and movement classes," Blinn says. "He didn't know who was going to be used, but he wanted them as prepared as humanly possible."

The writer says he was also impressed with Prince himself, finding that the man belied his own difficult reputation.

"I've worked around a lot of people in the music business, and often times they're fairly full of ego and full of themselves," Blinn says. "What I liked about Prince is that he is eccentric, but he isn't playing eccentric to impress you. He marches to his own drummer, and it's not a pose. He's the real deal, very disciplined. You see someone that off beat, and you're pretty sure they're going to show up at two in the afternoon. That was not the deal with Prince. His work is certainly key to his life, and there's pretty solid evidence."

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