As the world commemorates the 30th anniversary of Prince’s “Sign o’ the Times” – his ninth studio album, ranked as one of the greatest albums ever by several publications – I thought I’d revisit the well-received concert film of the same name that supported the album release; this is after all a film blog.
First here’s director Spike Lee’s Instagram remembrance of “Sign o’ the Times”.
Most fans would say that “Purple Rain” is their favorite Prince film, but I still say that, pound-for-pound, his best film is his 1987 concert film based on his album “Sign o’ the Times,” which captures the true essence of the genius of Prince.
It’s the great music legend at his most undistilled and powerful. No need for some lame storyline. “Times” is Prince in all his glory, at the apex of his creativity, undiluted and raw. If you’re not up and dancing out of your seat while watching the film, then you’re dead.
Well… that is if you could see it.
The film has basically been missing for decades – at least here in the US. It was financed and directed by Prince, and his original intention was to shoot live concert footage while on tour in Europe to promote his monumental album.
Unfortunately the footage that was shot was considered a disappointment and of poor quality, and the sound mix as well; so Prince decided to reshoot the entire concert at his Paisley Park studios, which was a brilliant and inspired move. The result is a film with a direct immediacy and power usually lacking in most concert films.
After he completed the film, Prince bypassed Warners Bros, who previously released “Purple Rain” (or perhaps they stupidly rejected it), and made a distribution deal with the Canadian based distributor Cineplex Odeon, one of the largest movie theater chains in North America at the time.
However, the company didn’t know what do to with the film, and gave it a poor release platform, only opening it on a paltry 230 screens across the country, with little to no publicity. Needless to say, the film was quickly pulled from theaters and hasn’t really seen the light of day since then.
Although it has been available on DVD in the UK, Canada and Australia, it’s never been given any kind of official DVD release in the States, which is where the story gets rather confusing.
Since the film was financed by Prince, featuring his songs, and directed by him as well, you would think that his estate currently holds rights to the film. Perhaps they do and are planning a major theatrical re-release of it, with a new remastered print, and an eventual blu-ray/DVD release to follow. That would be great, but it’s just wishful thinking on my part.
On the other hand, films that were distributed by Cineplex Odeon during the 1980’s (which went out of business in 1998) where all eventually taken over by Universal Pictures for home video distribution. But then Universal quickly turned around and sold off all their Odeon film assets to a Canadian film company named Alliance Atlantis, who went out of business in 2007. So the question is, who owns the American rights to “Times” right now? Perhaps the creditors who currently own the U.S. assets of Alliance Atlantis.
Your guess is as good as mine. The more time passes, the longer audiences will have to wait to see perhaps the greatest concert film ever made.