MIFF Review: Sign O’ the Times

Prince’s 1987 concert film gets the 4K digital experience at Melbourne’s iconic Astor Theatre and it’s a thunderous, ebullient, sexy revival. A bombastic, thumping reminder of the immeasurable talent of the Purple One lovingly restored. What a Sign O’ the Times it is.

I, dear reader, am a self confessed, unapologetic, enthusiastically flag waving Prince tragic.  He first wandered into my ear sockets, as I genuinely remember, around 1982 when his anthemic hit 1999 hit the charts. Shortly thereafter came the legendary Purple Rain and this budding 5 year old was hooked. As years became decades, Prince was always there, sometimes front and centre, sometimes in the background, but always present. As I sit here looking at my 141 discography of albums, singles, compilations, remasters and special editions which amount to 1,385 tracks (Yeah, I told you, I’m a fan), this was the first time that I had seen Sign O’ the Times in a cinema – I was chomping at the bit!

Beginning with a staged scene of a girl running away from some unwanted suitors, Prince’s watches from around a corner and then pursues the girl amidst the flashing neon haze of 80s New York club & hotel signs. We dissolve into a concert hall, the screams of thousands of adoring fans cacophonous as the stage, shrouded in haze, begins to thunder with the opening beats of title track Sign O’ The Times.

A fusion of pure concert film and dalliances with opaque narrative, Sign O’ the Times showcases the huge jazz/funk roots in his music whilst ne’er stopping the evolution of his straight up pop sensibilities. From the thumping Play in the Sunshine, Housequake, Hot Thing, It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night, The Cross, U Got The Look, to the fave If I Was Your Girlfriend, and I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man – this is a high energy, sexually charged, foot stomping good time.

On it’s visceral edge, Prince is one helluva showman and, if you take into consideration the time and place of this, he deconstructed masculinity, turned materialism into sexual currency and delivered some of the most incredible wardrobe a performer wore.

Added to that, Sign O’ the Times works as a showreel of his collaborators, Sheila E. on the drums, and Cat on the backing vocals get special focus, but this is a hugely big band experience, frequently engaging the audience with nods to gospel and choir.

If you’re going in expecting a rehash of Purple Rain, you’ll be sorely disappointed. This is not a greatest hits show, there’s only one small refrain for his staple hit Little Red Corvette, the rest of the content is all from Sign O’ the Times.

Sign O’ the Times is a cracking concert film experience, a time capsule of 1987’s style & sass, and a wild showcase of the creativity and musicianship of Prince. This ain’t just for the fans, this is for everyone who has an interest in the evolution of pop music through the years and want to see the unstoppable force that Prince was.