Sign o' the Times (styled Sign "☮" the Times) is a 1987 American concert film written and directed by Prince.
In 1987, to capitalize on his growing success in Europe, Prince toured extensively to promote the album of the same name and sales increased accordingly. However, the United States remained resistant to his latest album, and sales began to drop; it was at this point that Prince decided to film a live concert promoting the new material, for eventual distribution to theaters in America.
Featuring the band that accompanied Prince on his 1987 Sign o' the Times Tour, including dancer Cat Glover, keyboardist Boni Boyer, bassist Levi Seacer, Jr., guitarist Miko Weaver, drummer Sheila E. and former member of The Revolution keyboardist Dr. Fink, the film sees the group perform live on stage (although "U Got the Look" is represented by its promotional music video).
The film was originally intended to consist of live material filmed in the Ahoy in Rotterdam, The Netherlands on June 26-28 and in the Sportpaleis in Antwerp, Belgium on June 29. However, the footage from these concerts was deemed unsatisfactory, partly due to the film being grainy and unusable, but also because some of the sound had been recorded on different channels and was virtually inaudible. Consequently, the live performance was reshot at Prince's Paisley Park Studios (where the between-song segues were also filmed). According to saxophonist Eric Leeds, around 80% of the final film was drawn from the Paisley Park reshoot.
Most of the songs are linked by a themed narrative and many film critics were quick to praise Prince as being a better actor live than in the previous year's unsuccessful romantic comedy Under the Cherry Moon. In total, 13 songs appear on the video - 11 from Sign o' the Times and two others - a brief piano version of "Little Red Corvette" and a cover version of Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time" (performed without Prince and showcasing each member of the band). Initially, there had been plans to include the full concert which featured many other non-Sign o' the Times songs (including "Kiss", "1999", "Purple Rain", "When Doves Cry", "Girls & Boys", and "Let's Go Crazy") but these songs were eventually dropped.
In the musical coda for "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man", the horn section, Eric Leeds, and trumpeter Atlanta Bliss lifts a section from "Rockhard In a Funky Place", a Camille track, also on the Crystal Ball track listing, but lost when the 3-LP set was trimmed down. It would later be heard on The Black Album.Set list
- "Sign o' the Times"
- "Play in the Sunshine"
- "Little Red Corvette"/"Housequake"
- "Slow Love"
- "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"
- "Hot Thing"
- "Now's the Time" (Charlie Parker cover by the band excluding Prince)
- Drum solo by Sheila E.
- "U Got the Look"
- "If I Was Your Girlfriend"
- "Forever in My Life"/"It"
- "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night"
- "The Cross"
Release and reception
Sign o' the Times premiered in Detroit on October 29, 1987 and released nationwide on the November 20 in 234 key locations. Despite critical praise for Prince as a live performer, the film did not perform very well commercially and quickly slipped out of theaters; the sales of the album were not really boosted by the film and it quickly slid out of view in the United States. Nonetheless, when the film was released on VHS the following year, it became extremely popular and received positive reviews, particularly in the United Kingdom. Q magazine gave it four stars, whilst SKY Magazine suggested that it "was the greatest concert movie ever made". The film holds an 85% rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 13 critics, with an average rating of 6/10.
The film was released in early 2005 on DVD in Canada by Alliance Atlantis, although the cut songs still failed to appear with the rest of the footage.
The Blu-ray version was released in Australia by Via Vision Entertainment and Madman Entertainment on May 9, 2012. The film has yet to be released on DVD and/or Blu-ray in the United States.