There was a twinge of sadness that briefly washed over me while watching Sign O’ the Times for the first time. As Prince broke into James Brown style splits and his band feverishly played like they were trying to kindle a fire with their sheer energy, it hit me in that joyous moment the magnitude of Prince’s greatness. He was a musician who not only strived to push the boundaries of music, but was also one hell of a performer. One who knew how to bring out the magic of each story his songs told on stage.
Seeing him strut his stuff in a glorious 35 mm print, whether simulating carnal desires with the microphone stand or being moved with emotion while singing “Forever in My Life,” I could not help but wish that I had been a bigger Prince fan in my younger days. One who would have made a greater effort to snag concert tickets when given the chance. While I enjoyed his numerous hits, and found films like Purple Rain and Graffiti Bridge entertaining, I was far from a diehard disciple. Frankly, I was experiencing much of the music in the film, outside of “Little Red Corvette,” for the first time. Thankfully I was surrounded by enough of the Purple One’s faithful to give me a scrumptious taste of the concert experience I had missed out on all these years.
Hailed as one of the greatest concert films ever made, Sign O’ the Times is pretty hard to find in most parts of the world. Tangled in rights issues, the 1987 film did not even get released on DVD in the United States. Since global DVD versions of the film have gone out of print, fans have no choice but to pay an arm and a leg if they want to legally acquire a copy. Fortunately, thanks to the duo behind Musicale, a monthly screening series that celebrates all music-centric films, for one rare Sunday afternoon, folks in Toronto got to experience the film the way Prince intended.
Though the rawness of Prince’s recent death was on the minds of many in attendance, the screening was one of the best celebrations any artist could hope for. The audience was comprised of a mixture of hardcore fans, newbies, and everything else in between. However, for a few hours we were all caught in the mesmerizing allure of the performance in front of us. By the time the third song had started, the people in the row behind me were singing and clapping along at all the right cues. While I resisted the urge to dance in the aisles, no one needed to see that horrific sight, though I am positive the folks behind me would be there dancing right beside me, it was impossible not to tap along to the infectious beat.
Conveying tales of love, lust and the hardships of life in the big city, the stage is adorned with neon signs to provide a red-light district feel, Sign O’ the Times was every bit the rapturous experience it was hyped to be. Offering a funk filled experience that exuded creativity and sensuality, both of which frequently displayed in his band’s energetic choreographed moments, Prince had our audience eating out of the palm of his hands. The screening served as a wonderful final encore to a man whose music still manages to remain timeless.