When I watch a movie, there are two of me in the same seat. There’s that regular movie-going guy who likes blood and boobs and things that explode, rarely stopping to deeply consider what he’s seeing. We call the kind of movies that guy likes POPCORN MOVIES. But there’s another fellow who accompanies him. This guy likes some of the same things as his friend, but he is a seeker and connoisseur of SERIOUS CINEMA. This guy doesn’t just want to see a movie, he wants it to change his life.
CINEMA: I’m going to tell you a story that I’ve never told anyone before. It’s about love and sex and the end of the world. Prince plays a huge part in it, and you can’t judge me once you’ve heard it.
POPCORN: Sounds pretty heavy, dude. But sure.
CINEMA: No judging, I’m serious.
POPCORN: Dude, how could I hate you any more than I already do?
CINEMA: Well, then. The story begins, as some of the best ones do, with a boy and a girl. The boy was nothing out of the ordinary . . . fourteen years old, a high school freshman. If you asked his parents, they would have said he was a good kid. He was more into staying at home with his Star Wars toys than being out somewhere causing trouble.
POPCORN: Poor geeky bastard is obviously you.
CINEMA: Heh, yeah. You and I hadn’t really been friends since junior high –
POPCORN: I was deep in my Sabbath phase. Hangin’ in the park across from the school. You know, a cloud of smoke, all that.
CINEMA: Yeah, I know. My friends were not numerous then. But sometimes I hung out with a guy named Bobby, and Bobby had an older friend who had a car. On this particular morning, Bobby and his friend found me and invited me to skip with them.
POPCORN: You, skipping school?
CINEMA: Yeah. So, we went to the mall –
POPCORN: Nothin’ like keeping a low profile, dude.
CINEMA: I know, right. Well, Bobby was a DJ for the school’s radio station, so we ended up in the wrecka stow. He was checking out the new Van Halen album. His friend was over asking the salesperson about the Dead Kennedys or something. I was standing somewhere in R&B, and that’s when I saw her . . .
POPCORN: A chick that looked like Princess Leia.
CINEMA: No, she was African-American . . .
CINEMA: She didn’t look like any girl I’d ever seen. Her hair was this crazy explosion around her head. Years later, I would have said it looked very Robert Smith. She was in these combat boots and fishnet stockings, and had poured herself into this dark olive-colored dress. It was very form-fitting, and came all the way up to end in a turtle-neck. The color of the dress was amazing against her skin, like chocolate latte, heavy on the cream. To quote the Purple One, my brain was jackin’ all over the place.
CINEMA: She was with another girl, some white girl . . . Jen something, who lived a few houses up the street from me. But I barely realized that Jen was there. It was just this girl, this incredible vision . . . and any crush I had ever had, any Princess Leia, anyone at all, was nothing compared to the beautiful creature that had suddenly appeared in the wrecka stow that day.
POPCORN: So, this incredible vision talk to you?
CINEMA: Oh no. I doubt that she even noticed me then. She and Jen were digging pretty intently through a certain spot in the record bin. Bobby and his friend had come up behind me. They were saying something about her, about her and Jen, but I was like a deer frozen in the headlights. I must have asked what her name was, because one of them said Justine.
POPCORN: Wait, I think I remember her.
CINEMA: She and her friend walked out, sailing right past me, with my mouth hanging open. Justine was talking about how much she loved him . . . personal hero, gets her so hot, that kind of thing. So I went over to the record bin where they had been standing and looked down –
POPCORN: The Prince section?
CINEMA: Uh-huh. Of course, I had the 1999 album, everybody did. But, before we left the store, I also had a double cassette with DIRTY MIND and CONTROVERSY in my pocket.
POPCORN: You five-finger discounted that shit?
CINEMA: So PURPLE RAIN hit theaters that summer, and I knew that Justine would be there. I’d been keeping an eye on Jen’s house. It was just up the block, you know . . . and Justine was always over there. I would see her getting off the bus and coming up the street. Her wardrobe was getting more and more, what I could only call, Prince-like as the school year came to an end. There was silk and lace, feathers, a lot of outfits with a bare midriff. It drove me crazy.
POPCORN: Hey, stalker, ever try talkin’ to her at school?
CINEMA: It wasn’t that easy to approach a goddess. So I played all of the Prince albums, every note and every word saturated by the image of her. My own style had started to change, just a little at first. I wore a scarf every day for two months, then I got into the suit jackets. You know, the funkiest ones I could find at the Good Will . . .
POPCORN: Yeah, I remember seein’ you at some point. Thinkin’ what the hell, man.
CINEMA: My parents started wondering if I was gay, and half the guys at school suddenly wanted to kick my ass. Bobby stopped hanging around with me. It was a fairly blue-collar, Midwest town, after all. There was very little room for eccentricity. So most of the girls ignored me like they always had, except now it was because I was gay.
POPCORN: And your dream girl?
CINEMA: She noticed. Just a glance at first, then maybe a smile. Then, on the last day of school, she came all the way over at the end of the lunch period, to where I was sitting in the corner alone. She looked at me and said, “I love your blouse.”
POPCORN: Ha! Blouse?? No way, dude. Was she serious?
POPCORN: Blouse, dude?
CINEMA: Hey, don’t judge. It belonged to my grandma, so it was very antiquated and funky-looking. And it was purple. It was also the last time I was going to dress like a freak. I mean, it felt. . . well, it didn’t really feel like me, you know? Plus, apparently, it wasn’t working. I wanted to go back to being invisible.
POPCORN: She say anything else?
CINEMA: She said, “You’re pretty cool. You oughta join us in the purple rain.”
CINEMA: So, when she said join us, she meant her and Jen. The rumors I’d been hearing said they were lesbians, but then there were stories about me too. Despite the crazy spinning feeling in my stomach when I thought about Justine, I preferred to deal in facts. But I got dressed up for PURPLE RAIN –
POPCORN: Like Prince.
CINEMA: Uh-huh, one last time. I had dyed one of those Good Will jackets this dark purple color. Wore a low-brimmed hat and everything. It was Prince on a budget of about twenty bucks. My dad dropped me off at the theater, but he barely spoke to me the entire drive. I didn’t exactly look like the son he’d always wanted. But he did seem surprised when I got out of the car and there were two girls waiting for me.
POPCORN: Take that, old man.
CINEMA: The theater was packed and everyone saw me walk in with these hot young females. It felt a bit like vindication. We sat near the back, with Justine in the middle, and there were all kinds of things going through my head. Most of them would make a great Prince song. The movie started, and these girls were hyped.
POPCORN: Lot can happen in a darkened theater, dude.
CINEMA: Well, most of it was just on the screen this time. Prince was no great actor, but he had presence. The album had been released a month in advance of the film, so everyone was singing. Then there was that scene where Prince’s character tells Apollonia that he can help her singing career –
POPCORN: – but she has to purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.
CINEMA: So she strips down and dashes down to the lake. He’s yelling after her, “Hey, wait a minute!” But she plunges into the icy waters, coming back out shivering but hopeful. That’s when he tells her –
POPCORN CINEMA: That ain’t Lake Minnetonka!
CINEMA: We were all laughing . . . and, honestly, outside of the music, that’s probably the best scene in the movie. It’s the one I always think of now.
POPCORN: Only one I can remember, dude.
CINEMA: Then, during the onscreen rendition of “The Beautiful Ones”, I was overcome by a feeling of bravery. It was more like a feeling of now-or-never, really. I reached over and took Justine’s hand in mine. She turned to look at me in the dark, and I looked back at her. She smiled and turned back to watching Prince, larger than life up on the screen. But she left her hand in mine until the end of the movie.
POPCORN: Dude, that’s, like, third base or somethin’ for you.
CINEMA: Yeah, I had a pretty big grin on my face as we were leaving the theater. At least until I heard someone yelling faggot.
CINEMA: I responded in the best way that I could with two girls at my side, by trying to ignore the taunting. It must have been some other purple-clad homo that was getting called out. But then the guy was in my face, just to make sure I knew. It was my old friend Bobby, and a couple of his new friends. I said hello, but I was still in Prince-mode, so . . .
POPCORN: You got clocked.
CINEMA: Two or three times, yeah. Everything went black. When I came back, I was on the ground, looking at my own red blood all over the purple jacket. I was surprised that it stood out as well as it did. But there was something else –
POPCORN: Justine had kicked all those dudes asses.
CINEMA: I think her friend did, or maybe the ushers ran them off. But Justine was holding me.
POPCORN: Like a baby.
CINEMA: Like a big purple baby that’d gotten it’s ass kicked. But suddenly I didn’t care. Her arms were wrapped around me. I could feel her breasts pressing into me, and her face was in mine. Her breath brushed my eyelashes. And I could smell her. She was so close, and her scent was all around me. It was like cinnamon, sweat, and something I didn’t have a name for yet.Woke up the next morning Nikki wasn’t there Looked all over and all I found Was a phone number on the stairs . . .
CINEMA: Sadly, after we saw the movie, no great romance suddenly erupted. I barely even saw Justine, or Jen for that matter, the rest of the summer. Gradually I went back to dressing like I used to, a poor Star Wars geek. My dad started talking to me again. Then one day, Jen knocked on my door. She said that Justine wanted to see me and gave me an address. I ended up taking a bus downtown to the Northside.
POPCORN: Gangsta territory, dude. At least back then.
CINEMA: I was scared, but this was Justine. She was on the porch when I finally found the house. It didn’t make sense that this beautiful, almost otherworldly girl would just be sitting here, in this dilapidated, miserable neighborhood. But there she was. She asked me in, like we had been best friends forever. Let me tell you, this house . . . it made the house you grew up in look pretty good.
POPCORN: Damn, that’s some deep ghetto shit.
CINEMA: Uh-huh. She seemed to have a cold or something, and there wasn’t a parent or guardian to be found anywhere. Without a word, she started up these rickety stairs, to where I heard Prince playing low. As I climbed the stairs, I realized that it was “Do Me, Baby”, the part with all of the moaning and the sex sounds.
POPCORN: Oh yeah. Am I gonna need parental guidance here?
CINEMA: She said that she really needed a friend right now and that I seemed really sweet. She sat down on this mattress on the floor. I sat down beside her. She reached out and pulled me down beside her, our bodies stretched out and pressed together on the floor . . . and then she started to cry. I didn’t know what to do. She curled into my chest, with that cinnamon-sweat and those breasts and her bare legs . . . and she just cried.
CINEMA: The Prince songs ended and the needle just kept skipping, skipping at the end of the record. It went on like that for maybe an hour. Finally, I asked if I could at least flip the record. She got up, put on PURPLE RAIN, and started talking.
CINEMA: She told me all about her and Jen. They’d had a great thing, she said, but Justine screwed it all up. Not just once. She was into girls, but she’d been with guys too. She was a free spirit and a cheater and a desperately mournful creature. Black or white, straight or gay, she was a Prince song in the flesh. I wanted so badly to comfort her, but even worse I wanted to . . .
POPCORN: Yeah, I know. And you’d never been with anyone before.
CINEMA: Nope. Then she started asking what I thought the purple rain was supposed to be.
CINEMA: She said it was the end of the world. That everything was going out in a deluge of purple rain. “I know times are changing, it’s time we all reach out for something new . . .” She told me that this was how she wanted to die. Then, before I could think too much about it, she told me that she wanted to be a meteorologist.
CINEMA: I think she was, even in this way, looking for the purple rain. But then, before I could ask her about any of these things, she climbed off the mattress and cranked up the music. She took my hands and pulled me up, dancing around and around me. Every time we reached those final notes of “Purple Rain”, she’d flip the record over and we’d go right back into “Let’s Go Crazy”. We must have played that record ten times, singing together at the top of our lungs, until the light had gone out of the sky . . .Why do we scream at each other? This is what it sounds like When doves cry . . .
CINEMA: I didn’t see her for a while then. She kind of vanished, never letting me, Jen, or anyone else know where she was going. I had almost forced myself to forget about her, until the summer of my junior year. From out of nowhere she showed up and asked if I wanted to go see Prince’s new movie, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON.
POPCORN: So you went.
CINEMA: Of course I did. I was even dating someone at the time, not seriously, but she was completely forgotten with Justine standing in front of me again. She seemed a little less robust, like maybe she’d lost some weight or something, but she was just as funky and sexy as always. Bright red boots, black leather skirt. She was rockin’ the new Prince disc on the way to the theater –
POPCORN: “I just need your body, baby, from dusk ’til dawn – “
CINEMA: – and we were singing every song together, right out loud, just as we’d done in her bedroom over a year ago. It was like she’d never left and we had kept going. So we took our usual seats at the back of the theater, although this movie wasn’t nearly as packed as PURPLE RAIN had been.
POPCORN: Heard it was stupid.
CINEMA: It’s an acquired taste. Warner Bros. had assigned it to Mary Lambert, director of PET SEMATARY and numerous music videos, but Prince ultimately took the reins. If you could imagine possibly-gay characters from a Spike Lee movie dropped in the middle of a black-and-white French film . . . well, that might begin to cover it. Prince is this hustler in a bolero named Christopher Tracy, a fairly low-class guy in love with a woman way out of his league –
POPCORN: So it was you and Justine.
CINEMA: Kinda. So here we were in the dark again, and I reached for her hand. She looked at me and smiled, turned back to watch Prince on the big screen. A few minutes later, as Tracy and his high-class woman started making out, Justine put my hand on her leg. Right there, below the edge of the skirt. Her leg was so very soft and smooth, so warm. At this point I couldn’t tell you what was happening on the screen. I was telling myself that it means nothing. But then she moved my hand again, under the skirt . . .
CINEMA: She held it there for a long time, and I felt heaven. And then that damn song started playing. “Tracy died soon after a long-fought civil war, just after I wiped away his last tear.” That was the cue for her own tears to start falling.
POPCORN: Man, you really have a way with women.
CINEMA: I probably should have figured things out much sooner. She started talking about someone named Ryan White and telling me how those bastards had kicked her out. I didn’t understand any of it. The music swelled and the rest of her words were lost. “Sometimes it snows in April, sometimes I feel so bad. Sometimes I wish that Life was never-ending . . . but all good things, they say, never last.”
CINEMA: Years went by, and Justine had vanished again. I moved away. Then my parents got ahold of me, told me that Jen had been looking for me. I called the number they gave me and agreed to meet her, like she asked. Justine had finally resurfaced. She . . . had come home to die.
CINEMA: At first she thought it was just the flu. It went away, but then other things started to happen. She was getting sick all the time. Breathing was getting more difficult. She thought it was just some kind of respiratory infection, but . . . turns out it was HIV. Then it was AIDS. This was all still in the early days, so no one was really accustomed to looking for it.
POPCORN: Did her girlfriend have it?
CINEMA: Jen? No. It had come from a guy, a football player. Imagine that, the kind of person Justine was least likely to have sex with. Her parents had ditched her, her father a long time ago, then her mother when all the health problems started. As the end got closer now, all she really had was Jen . . . and me.
CINEMA: So there was another damn Prince movie in theaters. I still listened to his music, but had given up on the rest. But Justine really wanted to see it, that’s what Jen said. She wanted the both of us to be there. It was a sequel of sorts to PURPLE RAIN, which . . . had been a kind of highlight in her life. So I told Jen, yeah, I’ll see Justine one more time.I never meant to cause you any sorrow I never meant to cause you any pain I only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain . . .
CINEMA: Justine somehow managed to look beautiful even while she was dying. She was in a wheelchair and had to carry an oxygen tank. There were these sores on her face . . . but there was still a light in her eyes. She said that she was looking forward to her next adventure. But first, she had to see GRAFFITI BRIDGE with her two best friends.
POPCORN: Aw, man.
CINEMA: I don’t remember much about it. In a 1990 interview, Prince himself said it was a different kind of movie. It’s not violent, and no one gets laid. The very first lines in the film are his. “Are there really angels, or are they just in our minds? It all comes out in the wash . . . in time.” Justine seemed to consider this very intently, sitting there between me and Jen at the back of the theater. We had all heard the album, so we all sang along with the movie the best we could. Justine grew tired very quickly, but she never shed a single tear while Prince was up there on the screen.I never wanted to be your weekend lover I only wanted to be some kind of friend Baby, I could never steal you from another It’s such a shame our friendship had to end . . .
CINEMA: Back at Jen’s house, we all sang along to the Prince songs we loved. It was like a terrible but loving tribute concert. I never saw Justine laugh as much as she did that night.
POPCORN: Yeah, dude. I laugh when I hear you sing too.
CINEMA: I know, right. Well, not long before I left, Justine . . . reached out for my hand. Like she had done before. Without a word, she just held on, looking at me. There were a million things in her eyes, but she let the songs say it all. It was like Prince’s music, really. It was about love and sex . . .
POPCORN: And the end of the world.
CINEMA: But there was one more thing that happened . . .
Jen and I had set something up before we all went to the movie. The night had come and the sky was dark; that was our cue. I told Justine that we couldn’t say goodbye in the house, that . . . it had to be outside. So we moved her wheelchair to the door. Then, as I pushed her onto the lawn, Jen flipped a switch inside the house. It had been hooked up to an extension cord, with a sprinkler and a spotlight, one that had a deep purple filter . . .
Justine immediately saw what we had done, and the tears began to pour from her eyes. But they weren’t tears of sadness. No, they were of love . . . and of hope. Her song, you know which one, was serenading her from the windows of the house. Jen and I were there beside her, but she needed very little help to get out of that wheelchair one last time.
She rose, wobbly, and took one step, then another. And then she began to turn, slowly at first. Then she was spinning, as fast as she still could. She was spinning and dancing in the purple rain.Purple rain, purple rain I only want to see you Only want to see you In the purple rain . . .
PRINCE ROGERS NELSON June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016