It is a story well known in Kenn State University: In 2002, as part of his one-man show, An Evening with Kevin Smith, director Kevin Smith completely opened up about his experience with singer-songwriter Prince.
It all began in 2001, when Mr. Smith was trying to obtain a Prince song, “The Most Beautiful Girl in The World”, for a scene in his film Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back. Soon enough, the management team for Prince contacted Mr. Smith, but informed him that the singer would rather first speak to him directly over the phone.
As the two speak, Prince reveals that he was a fan of one of Mr. Smith’s films, Dogma, and, after a lengthy monologue from Prince dealing with various subjects, chiefly his objection to curse language, his devotion to Jesus Christ, and the importance of knowing, “who your father is” by way of a metaphor involving large and little snakes, he confesses to Mr. Smith that he wants him to shoot a video for him taking place in a music festival in Minnesota.
Undaunted, Mr. Smith agrees, yet is completely in the dark about the nature of what he was being asked to direct. A woman by the name of Stephanie, who reveals herself to be a producer for Prince, provides even less clarity, and encourages him to speak to the celebrated musician face to face as soon as he gets off stage. Prince, according to Mr. Smith, begins by saying that, “anyone could take a song that I’ve written, and record it.” Because, presumably, Prince believes that any of us can record an exact replica of “Purple Rain” on a whim. The man lacks not faith in humanity.
He then proceeds to inform a considerably bewildered Mr. Smith that he intends for him to direct a documentary in which music in general is first addressed, then the music business, then radio, then lead to the subject of Jesus Christ, race, and then, in his words, to “change the world” by the end of the week. Following this conversation, a near hysterical Mr. Smith informs Ms. Stephanie, in private, that Prince is probably not entirely aware of the coarse films he has made in the past, and that he is not the man for the job. Ms. Stephanie, in turn, informs Mr. Smith that she is unable to tell Prince that he can’t shoot the documentary, given that Prince, “doesn’t comprehend things the way you and I do”, and because he has, “been living in Prince Land for quite some time now.”
Looking to clarify the situation once and for all, Mr. Smith seeks a word with Prince, and demands… to know, respectfully, how Prince would like for him to shoot the documentary. A stoical Prince informs him to shoot it as Mr. Smith sees it fit. This does not bode well with Mr. Smith’s increasing feelings that perhaps he is in a dream. And yet, he can not bring himself to leave town, board a plane, and return to Los Angeles, where he has a major motion picture sitting in an editing room. This to the extent that he finds himself now with crew members mounting cameras inside an atrium that has been converted into a landscape right out of Prince’s sexual fantasies, the most astonishing of all props being cages hanging from the ceiling filled with doves.
Mr. Smith then finds himself acting as something of a Master of Ceremonies, as the people who have filled the atrium are rather keen to discuss religion, this being the subject of the album that was being played at the festival. Mr. Smith agrees and begins to moderate the arguments between the various factions congregated inside the atrium, but soon finds himself out of his depth as the arguments between the factions begin to escalate. The situation then reaches near Kafkaesque levels of absurdity as an assistant to Prince informs Mr. Smith, as the arguments unraveled, that Prince would like for him to stop talking about religion, and that although Prince was nowhere near the atrium, he was aware of what Mr. Smith was speaking about. How exactly did Prince knew Mr. Smith was still attempting to moderate a talk about religion? Why, because Prince had wired each and every single room for sound inside the premises.
Things seem to take a turn for normalcy when Prince “materialized at the back of the room”, in the words of Mr. Smith. He then invites Prince unto the stage, and gradually makes his way out of the picture as Prince begins to manifest genuine interest in what was being discussed. His spirits rise even further when he feels comfortable enough to assume he was hired in the first place, and allows for Prince to lead the discussions and play parlor games with the audience. Soon enough, Mr. Smith feels comfortable, confident.
Yet, the following day, Mr. Smith is informed by Prince that he would not be able to attend one of the sessions because of a show and an injury in his knee. Mr. Smith is again unable to disagree with the musician who has, for all intents and purposes, taken over his life. And so he once again finds himself in a room, this time a rather small one filled with about 75 people, speaking about the album and religion. Three tortuous hours go by and then Mr. Smith is informed that a very, very late Prince wants to speak to him in his office. Mr. Smith informs an absent-minded Prince that there is an individual in that room who maintains that he harbors ill feelings towards the white population because he sings about “the devil” in his album.
Prince is unmoved, and tells Mr. Smith he feels that correcting the young man in question would be useless as people believe whatever they want to believe. Mr. Smith desperately encourages Prince to go on stage and address the audience. He agrees, but only for ten minutes. Mr. Smith is relieved, as it just happened to be Father’s Day, and wants to be with his family. Prince takes to the stage… and proceeds to speak for four hours. The crew, all the while, continue filming until they inform Mr. Smith that they were out of tapes. They had blown through their entire stock for the day. Horrified, Mr. Smith informs the crew to pretend like they are filming, and pretend they do for another hour.
Once the session has ended, Mr. Smith goes over to Ms. Stephanie and asks her what he is to do with the material he has filmed. To which Ms. Stephanie informs him that Prince has already used some of the footage in a few concerts already. Furthermore, he is told that the documentary would probably never see the light of day, as Prince is in the habit of amassing a material inside a vault. Everything from music videos, to audio clips, to fully-produced songs, and even albums.
Exhausted, deeply perplexed, and rightfully angered, Mr. Smith informs another woman in the staff that he much prefers to head back home now. But Mr. Smith’s wife believes that he should try to find Prince in order to say goodbye, as he has been there working on this project for a week and some sort of closure would probably benefit both parties. Yet, he is told that Prince can not speak to him now as he is, “working on some music”. When Mr. Smith presses the staff member on the nature of this activity, he is once again told that Prince is, “working on some music.”
And with that, Mr. Smith finally realized what it meant to be in Prince Land: hours spent filming a documentary that would never be seen by anyone, talking to people on subjects he had no expertise on, dealing with a completely subdued staff, and, of course, trying to work with a musician who has absolutely no qualms with asking that a camel be brought to him at 3 in the morning to Minnesota.
The video for An Evening with Kevin Smith dealing with the subject of Prince can be found here.
By: Archibald Conway
Image: Kodak No. 1 Circular Snapshots via The Public Domain Review