Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It (Christopher Kirkley, 2015)

Drafthouse Films LogoPrince goes sub-Saharan in this colorful homage to Purple Rain.  Resplendent in a purple robe and matching motorcycle, smoking hot guitarist Mdou Moctar arrives in a music-mad Niger town of Agadez and sets about wooing a local beauty, clashing with his pious father, and fencing with the jealous king of the local scene (Kader Tanoutanoute, as wily and dapper as Morris day) until their climactic six-string duel.  Set among the Tuareg people and reputedly the first feature film in their Tamasheq language (which has no word for “purple”), self-proclaimed “guerrilla ethnomusicologist” and first-time director Christopher Kirkley playfully borrows from rock-u-drama classics like Purple Rain and The Harder They Come to present this universal story of a musician’s struggle and provide a window into the guitar-based musical culture specific to the Sahel region of Africa.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director Christopher Kirkley and producer Jerome Fino
  • New interview with star Mdou Moctar
  • The Making of Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It, featuring behind the scenes footage and performances from the film’s production
  • I Sing the Desert Electric, a 19-minute short film by Kirkley collecting public performances in the Western Sahel
  • A 16-page booklet featuring production photos and a new interview with Kirkley

Saharan Cellphone Edition – Package Includes:

Let’s begin at the beginning, where most discussions of Christopher Kirkley’s Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It (2015) begin, with the joke that inspired the film.  Kirkley is a “gentleman explorer/music archivist/artist/curator/and occasional dj” from Portland, Oregon, who has made a name for himself and his label, Sahel Sounds, by traveling the West African Sahara to discover, record, and distribute its specific brands of popular music, particularly a style of electric guitar music called Tichumaren having roots in Hausa music, Middle Eastern sounds, and African blues.  Kirkley and a friend amused themselves with ideas of adapting films to the Sahara – a buddy cop film in the capital of Mauritania, an alien invasion in the Western Sahara, a remake of Prince’s 1984 showcase Purple Rain (Albert Magnoli).  It was a lark, but a few years later Kirkley had begun working with Tuareg guitar wizard Mdou Moctar and Jerome Fino of the French collective L’improbable and found himself filming his Purple Rain inspired movie over a 3 week period in Niger.

Kirkley’s film spotlights the Western Sahara’s vibrant music scene, focusing less on the often-discussed political origins of the music (created by the difficult conditions experienced by the nomadic Tuareg people in the post-colonial context) and instead depicting its contemporary vibrancy and its interpersonal distribution through peer-to-peer transfer by cellphone (a necessity in a region where radio and internet are hard to come by).  Rain the Color of Blue broadly models itself after Purple Rain, Prince’s already thinly plotted, feature-length music video.  Tuareg guitarist extraordinaire Mdou Moctar plays Mdou Moctar, a popular musician who arrives in Agadez, Niger, to take the guitar scene by storm, hitting Purple Rain‘s main story points by courting a local beauty, inspiring a rivalry with Agadez’s musical kingpin, and leading his new band with absolute artistic authority.

Perhaps the biggest impediment to Rain the Color of Blue finding a Drafthouse Films spine number is its reserved nature.  Drafthouse has become a label of transgressively dark films and Kirkley’s film exhibits an understated, even sedate, tone that marks the film production’s needed collaboration and support by the local community preoccupied with representing their culture accurately and positively.  As such, there are no naked dips in Minnesotan lakes, no violent exchanges with the main character’s father, and no lewd sexual stage performances.  Instead, there are overly innocent tricks about being stranded in the desert, paternal exchanges spoken in modest tones of disappointment, and closed-eyed, guitar-shredding bliss.  To some extent, Rain the Color of Blue seems overly restrained, even conservative, struggling to build motivation and narrative tension against the demands of founding texts like Purple Rain and The Harder They Come.  Still, Rain the Color of Blue offers the same unprofessional charisma found in Italian neo-realism or the ethnographic tradition of African cinema found in the work of Jean Rouch and others.

Rain the Color of Blue has two major components of appeal to Drafthouse Films.  First, it merges the familiar, in the American rock-u-drama generally and Purple Rain specifically, with the unfamiliar, the fascinatingly exotic world of music-obsessed Niger’s dusty desert architectures and gently billowing fabrics.  Drafthouse Films has exhibited itself as something of a globe-trotter, moving confidently between far-flung and unlikely cinematic sources like Iceland, the Philippines, Ukraine, and Indonesia, and Kirkley’s film would support that character.  Through the fascinating recontextualization of Prince’s prickly musician, Kirkley is able to portray the unique music scene of the Western Sahara while also describing the universal need for acceptance, acknowledgment, and love.  The kinship of Rain the Color of Blue with Purple Rain is most pronounced in the film’s opening performance, where Kirkley reproduces comparable cutaway shots of the concert audience, trading the glam-punk ostentatiousness of Magnoli’s film with the fascinating blend of African tradition and interpolated Western pop culture.

Most importantly, Rain the Color of Blue rocks.  The film is filled with the expansive sounds of Tuareg guitar music, an ornate and foreign sound made quite familiar to Western ears by the recognizable tones and timbres of electric guitar.  Droning and spacey, the music feels nearly transcendental, originating from somewhere even more distant than the Sahara desert, emanating through its musicians rather from them.  It spreads across the film’s open spaces, conforming to the undulating shape of the desert and filling the wide gaps between Agadez’s simple, blocky buildings.  Yet listeners need not have familiarity with Ethio-jazz or African blues to appreciate the resplendent sound of Moctar’s music or feel his presence throughout Rain the Color of Blue.  Himself a stranger in a strange land, Moctar’s songs explore his new town, seeking out connection and recognition in his absence and even when his ego otherwise denies those around him.  Moctar’s riffs unify the film both sonically and narratively, casting its spell on the audience early on and eventually working as the movie’s mechanism for its synthesis and catharsis.

Rain the Color Blue PosterWhile not as grimly edgy as much of the Drafthouse Films catalogue, Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It is a special film, one with a lot of indie credibility and positive press already surrounding it.  Kirkley has carved out a popular niche with his Sahel Sounds label and his unusual musical journey.  With origins from a modest but successful Kickstarter campaign and a meagre $12,000 budget, the film very much conforms to the kind of outsider vision that Drafthouse supports.  With its audacious rock-cinema connection, Rain the Color of Blue could find its own humble claim to cult status with a little help from the right label.  Drafthouse’s affinity for original poster art for its cover treatments is well suited here, as Kirkley’s film’s poster pays tribute to its Purple Rain origins by its font and its backlit image of a guitar-weilding Moctor in his purple robes, standing over the clay red city of Agadez.

Credits:  We understand that Kirkley will be releasing a DVD in the fall.  It’d be nice to see the film get some more exposure.  Pairing the film with Kirkley’s short film I Sing the Desert Electric would bump the running time to something more expected, allowing Drafthouse to promote the film potentially beyond the limited festival runs it currently is making.  We’ve included that short along with the usual coterie of filmmaker- and production-focused special features (we note photos associated with various articles are often credited to producer Fino), and leveraged Sahel Sounds’ soundtrack products to fill out one of Drafthouse’s premium packages.  Kirkley’s accounts of the filming – the conservative nature of the Tuareg community, the frequent need to replace cast members, the dangers of the project and the risk of kidnapping – are engrossing and only adds to the film’s notoriety.

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