Classic Sidewalks of the Silver Screen #97: The Los Angeles / Minneapolis Streetscapes of Purple Rain

To be honest, I was never a huge Prince fan. Even back in the 1990s, after brief pop and rock phases, I was getting into jazz. But that's more on me than on Prince, who, just to be clear, also loved Miles Davis.

But I did love the fact that Prince grew up and lived in Minneapolis. I love the story he told about the city, and how it made our city so much richer and more interesting. I love what he reflected.

In a way,  Prince was to Minneapolis as Garrison Keillor is to Saint Paul, and I know which one of the two I'd rather hang out with! (Though if pressed, I'd probably choose to "have a beer" with Garrison, simply because Prince was a weird Jehovah's Witness teetotaler or something and wouldn't drink a beer anyway.)

(Bonus: the top three Prince stories: Charlie Murphy, Kevin Smith, and Questlove.)

For some reason, I didn't watch Purple Rain until about four years ago, but I was captivated by the lost landscape of the film, the downtown Minneapolis full of streetlife, diversity, and edgy art.

But then I looked at the film again, and realized that almost all of the street scenes in Purple Rain are actually downtown Los Angeles, not downtown Minneapolis. I guess I'm pretty naive.

Here are the screen caps from a post I was going to write on this year ago, and never got around to.

And here's the one exception, obviously:

All in all, downtown Los Angeles does a surprisingly decent job at looking like downtown Minneapolis in the 70s/80s. But today, there's almost nothing left of the landscape that Prince was trying to capture in Purple Rain.

Other than First Avenue, that is.

That's what's sad about watching Purple Rain. The very things that the movie celebrate -- the vibrant street life, the mix of black and white, the gritty charm, the sense of open-ness -- are the very things that city policies have spent decades trying to erase. It's less likely that a fateful Prince + First Avenue intersection could take place in today's downtown, where so much of the socially and cultural porous landscape has been solidified in favor of big business and failed attempts to suburbanize the downtown retail landscape.

Block E is the textbook example of this, the block right next to First Avenue. But there are plenty of other spots in the city where the wrecking ball cleared away the downtown's gritty arts scene in favor of "modern" parking, office, and shopping complexes. And there's a good chance that if Prince and others hadn't made it famous, First Avenue might  have been one of the victims of downtown "progress" too.

Just something to think about as Minneapolis celebrates the life of Prince...


Ed Kohler said...

In case you haven't seen Into Temptation, it's probably one of the best modern downtown Minneapolis street scene movies you're going to find:


Adam said...

I have to admit that I've never seen the entire movie. We do still have some alleys that are a bit like that, between 1st & 2nd Avenues in the blocks between Washington and 4th St, for example. You might even find a ghost sign or two: http://ghostsignsmpls.blogspot.com/2011/06/tidying-up.html