SOTT day 24: Filming Sign “O” The Times by @EdgarKruize

Day 24 of part 1 of the Sign “O” The Times themed #PrinceTwitterThread series: Filming Sign “O” The Times by @EdgarKruize.

‘Hello Uptown, and welcome!’ This is the final day of the “Sign O’ The Times” #PrinceTwitterThread series that focused on the original album and the era in which it was recorded.

Like that original “Sign O’ The Times” era, we will finish with the project that came at the tail end. The “Sign O’ The Times” movie.

The movie somewhat is the elephant in the room in the current “Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Edition”. It is mentioned here and there, but its whereabouts are never addressed.

I was going to mention about the rights hell the movie is in (and actually always has been) but @peach_and_black posted a very cool unboxing video yesterday in which @dnaplaya explains those rights exactly:

The rights hell goes way back though. As the “Under The Cherry Moon” movie had performed poorly at the box office and “Sign O’ The Times” album was not too big of a success in the States, Warner did not feel like releasing yet another Prince movie.

So Prince started shopping around the movie and eventually making deals with movie distributors in different territories (kinda like seven years later with “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” release), basically creating a rights hell from the very start.

But the rights hell it is currently in is somewhat fitting with the ‘let’s make this up as we go along’ approach that defines the way the movie was made. So let’s step into a time machine and head back to the rainy summer of 1987.

Prince is touring “Sign O’ The Times” and European audiences are going wild. Most shows are indoor concerts and even though Prince is quite a huge star at that time, he had hardly played outdoor stadium shows.

The shows in Utrecht, The Netherlands (one of which you can hear in the “Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Edition”) are the first open air concerts this tour. Others are still planned in the United Kingdom and Italy. But the weather forecasts don’t look too good.

The Utrecht shows are all marred with at least the thread of rain. During the third show on June 21st, 1987 when the rain truly hinders the performance, Prince comes running backstage and informs his crew that they have to cancel all remaining open air concerts.

“We were just glad he did not cancel the remaining shows in the Netherlands as well”, said John Mulder of Dutch show promoter Mojo Concerts in a recent interview in @volkskrant. Mulder was there backstage when this happened.

Mojo Concerts had been anticipating replacement shows due to the bad weather and had already booked the Ahoy’ venue in Rotterdam ‘just in case’. The venue therefore was in stand-by mode when Prince decided to have all remaining 1987 outdoor shows moved indoors.

Prince was scheduled to perform at Wembley Stadium in London, on June 25th and 26th and on June 21st decided he did not want to do these outdoor shows anymore. The UK promoter had to search for an alternative indoor venue, as did the Italian promoters for subsequent concerts.

The two Wembley Stadium shows were tentatively moved to four shows in Earls Court on July 1st-4th, creating chaos in the remaining tour itinerary.

With a gap now appearing in the tour itinerary between the last show in Utrecht (June 22nd) and next indoor show (Antwerp, June 29th) it was decided to put the already stand-by Ahoy’ venue to use.

And thus three more shows were booked in the Netherlands (June 26th-28th), while the UK promoters had trouble moving the Wembley shows to Earls Court. The latter venue is in a different borough and they could not get a permit for the shows in time.

When it was clear that the London shows were becoming a bit of a problem, Prince decided to cancel not only those UK shows, but also the remainder of the European tour. Around the same time he also decided this concert could very well be a movie.

On June 25th, 1987 (one day before the start of the first Ahoy’ show) Daniel Kleinman, who had previously worked on the filming of Prince’s birthday concert in Detroit (June 7th, 1986) and Sheila E’s Romance 1600 video, was contacted and asked to helm the filming.

The task of recording the audio was made the responsibility of his technician Susan Rogers. She remembers it like this (audio courtesy of @peach_and_black)

Eventually she managed to track down a recording truck and crew around 11 o’clock in the morning, on the day of the first show. Somehow they manage to set up everything, so that they can hit ‘record’ literally minutes before the show starts.

In the movie you can hear the intros for "Little Red Corvette" and "Slow Love" from that first day of recording. Rogers: “We actually did the recording without any form of pre-production.” While the audio on that first day was recorded, the film crew was not yet operational.

On June 26th a British tv crew was there to do a report on ‘what could have been’. Here’s a clip of that Network 7 broadcast.

The film crew was operational on June 27th, but they also had to go in without any form of pre-production. They had brought four 35mm cameras that were set up at fixed locations in the venue.

Each camera worked with film that could either record for four or ten minutes. Each cameraman was assigned a runner, whose job it was to take the film rolls to a central collection point. There they had to write down what exactly was on it.

Director Daniel Kleinman had a clear vision on how he wanted to proceed, but carrying out his vision suffered from a lack of direct communication between Prince and him. “He only ever communicated with me through notes he sent by way of one of his minders.”

Kleinman wanted to shoot with an audience to capture the atmosphere. He wanted to shoot the close-ups at a later point in time. “I never got to the point where I could communicate that I’d filmed all the wide shots with the intention of shooting close-ups later.”

The audio for "Sign O’ The Times", "Play In The Sunshine", "I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man", "Now’s The Time" (and Sheila’s drum solo), "If I Was Your Girlfriend" and "The Cross" from June 27th were used as the basis of what can be heard in the movie.

Just for fun I put the bootleg (audience) recording under some of the movie segments. It really fits like a glove. Some overdubs were done though. For instance ‘Hello Holland’ became ‘Hello Uptown’.

After seeing the first dailies of the June 27th performance, Prince was not pleased. The footage was too dark and grainy, and there weren’t any close-ups. He therefore deemed the footage unusable. At that point he instructed to have the Antwerp show filmed as well.

Eventually the footage from June 28th and 29th proved to be too dark and grainy as well. Which was to be expected as the film crew went in without any pre-production and the set was not properly lit for a movie shoot.

The audio was fine though. In the movie “Housequake”, “Hot Thing”, “Forever In My Life” and “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night” feature audio from those two concerts.

Although Kleinman did shoot some close-ups during soundchecks, it was too little, too late. “So then, I arrived in Minneapolis and I found out that Prince was outraged that I had not shot any close-ups of him, so he sacked me. So I have no credit on that film at all.”

Prince then decided to reshoot and to direct further filming himself, although Albert Magnoli was actually assigned the day-to-day directing duties. The “Sign O’ The Times” tour stage was set up on the sound stage of the then brand new (yet unopened) Paisley Park Studios.

In mid July 1987 extensive reshooting was done. In these reshoots Prince and the band are lip-syncing their way through the set, using the audio recorded in Rotterdam as a basis. On the final day of reshoots an audience was brought in for pickup shots.

In some leaked outtake you can clearly hear the audio footage is actually from Holland. I’m showing you another one though as I find this one I find particularly fun. It is ‘that’ scene in “Hot Thing” and it takes them forever to get it right.

Only a few wide shots in the movie (for instance during the guitar solo in "I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man" and flickering lighters during "Forever In My Life") are the actual result of filming done in Rotterdam and Antwerp. The rest was shot at Paisley Park.

The movie has a very strict focus on the material from the “Sign O’ The Times” double album. Almost all non-SOTT songs that were performed during the actual concert (the exception being "Little Red Corvette" and “Now’s The Time”) have been cut from the movie.

To enhance the “Sign O’ The Times” theme, the music video for "U Got The Look" was incorporated integrally in the film. Although the song itself was never actually performed during the tour.

In the movie a scene was added with Prince in his dressing room ‘dreaming’ the entire "U Got The Look" sequence. This music video featured Sheena Easton and was recorded on the “Sign O’ The Times” stage in Paris, on June 16th. Ten days before the movie production would start.

David Hogan directed this segment. Although it works really well as a stand alone video, within the movie it is an unprepossessing break of style. As it was filmed on video equipment instead of the 35mm film used for the rest of the footage, the difference in quality is apparent.

“Sign O’ The Times” premiered on October 29th 1987 in Detroit and was released in the rest of the United States on November 20th. “If you go to only one concert this year… the Prince movie is the one,” was the tagline used to promote the movie.

Here is a tv report from the New York premiere night.

In European countries the movie premiered mid-1988, in most countries coinciding with the Lovesexy concerts in the same weeks. Here’s a pic from London’s Dominion Theatre where my co-host @deejayumb saw the movie in July 1988.

Filmed outside the Dominion Theatre British fans had the following to say, with the last person in the shot making what is probably the only correct observation.

He sees the movie for what it is, not a strict concert movie but more like an enhancement of the ‘stage play’ that was the performance. So the concert footage is intertwined with a very thinly acted script about a love triangle between Cat, Greg Brooks and Prince.

A love triangle is a common theme in Prince’s movies. Either with him and Morris competing for the same woman (“Purple Rain”, “Graffiti Bridge”), or a woman becoming a ‘third party’ within the strong friendship of two men (“Under The Cherry Moon”).

But what is actually happening here? In the opening scene we see Cat arguing in an alley with Brooks about their relationship. But he’s with another woman (played by Leisl AuVante), who is not acknowledged at all in the scene. We never see her again in the movie.

Prince follows Cat as she runs away and then the concert starts, in which he is constantly flirting with her. Then there is the acted segment in “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”, which actually sees them acting out the story from that song, not the earlier narrative.

“Hot Thing” follows and suddenly it is like everything that has been acted out before never happened. “Brooks, tell me what that is…,” Prince says when looking at Cat. “A sweet stickin’ thing,” Brooks replies. But hasn’t he just left her with a baby? And another one on the way?

Brooks wants her. So does Prince. And he goes after her. Eventually we get to “U Got The Look”, with Prince (dressed like Camille) dreaming of pursuing another woman (Sheena Easton) and eventually getting his ass dragged home by his actual, fictional woman (Cat).

Another acted segment follows, with Cat writing in her diary, wanting to know why a wolf is dressed up like a lamb. So Prince suddenly is the wolf? Because of that dream scene with Sheena? And why does it take one song (“If I Was Your Girlfriend”) to fix the relationship?

From there on it is a happily ever after scenario (“Forever In My Life”, followed by a jubilant “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night”), before switching gear again and ending with "The Cross", closing movie in a more introverted fashion, completely sidestepping the already thin plot.

The otherwise unreleased instrumental version of "Sign O’ The Times" brings it full circle. Basically the movie ends where it had begun. It even features some reversed shots, seemingly implying that everything starts all over again. What is the story here? Seriously, I’m lost!

Interesting to me is that the actual concert finale has been reversed for the movie. "It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night" closed all 1987 concerts in a euphoric mood. In the movie this song has been brought forward in the film, so that “The Cross” can close it.

Two days ago @polishedsolid did a thread on “Beautiful Night” in which she compares it with “Baby I’m A Star”. A very interesting (and very plausible) observation which underscores two things.

One, the 1987-1989 ‘band with no name’ truly was the superior band for stretching out these jam-like songs.

The Revolution was tight, but long jams were not their strongest feature. The “Baby I’m A Star” jams (as well as their original “Beautiful Night”) feel somewhat forced.

Two, Prince has more or less used the “Purple Rain” movie experience as a musical template for the “Sign O’ The Times” film and decided to turn it upside down.

Apparently there were some unused configurations of the “Purple Rain” album in which “Baby I’m A Star” is the closing song (like in the movie) and the title track is moved earlier in the track list. That way the album would have ended on just a triumphant note as the movie.

But by placing the title track at the very end of the album, the dynamics have changed. The ‘triumphant superstar’ has come down from the high that is fame and fortune and realizes there is more.

As @bobbyfriction pointed out in his thread three days ago, “The Cross” on the SOTT album is Prince himself speaking to us, not the characters or alter ego’s he uses as smoke screens. He speaks directly to us the listener, urging us to put our trust in a higher power.

During “The Cross” in the movie we see 'story flashbacks' how these have an impact on the down to earth Prince that is now singing that final song. Basically the message is that the party (“Beautiful Night”) is fun while it lasts, but it is not what matters.

And that is the total opposite of how “Purple Rain” ended. Imagine him closing that movie with the title track, wouldn’t that have been powerful?

The “Purple Rain” era concerts have more or less acted out the storyline of that movie, but made this essential (and powerful) switch in the concert’s finale. And that’s what he’s more or less doing in the "Sign O' The Times" movie as well.

Makes you wonder why he just did not change the actual concert setlist to achieve the same effect, but hey… it’s Prince we’re talking about here. His ways were always inscrutable.

Speaking of, if you are interested in learning (much) more about those inscrutable ways and the making of this movie, be sure to check out the “Sign O’ The Times” blu-ray/dvd set from @turbinemedien. It is a perfect companion piece to "Sign O' The Times Super Deluxe Edition"

All versions feature a very cool documentary called The Peach And Black Times, made by @CalumKirkcaldy and @NaomiHolwill, produced by @phil_turbine, in which Cat, Levi Seacer, Dr. Fink, Susan Rogers and many more tell about the creation of the movie.

Spoiler: The best parts feature stage and lightning designer LeRoy Bennett and movie editor Steve Purcell, the latter telling how Prince was editing while calling from a car, without actually seeing the movie footage. He just knew the images by hearing the music. Amazing stuff!

The best thing about the release is the amazing remastered sound (Dolby Atmos). I concur with @dnaplaya, this audio with a potential 4K remaster of the original (concert) footage is any fan’s wet dream.

Anyway… this thread is way too long. This was supposed to be a short and sweet outro for this first part of the ‘Sign O’ The Times” era series. An impossible task, so let’s just wind it up here before I add another 70 tweets.

Thanks for your interest, thanks to all Purple Avengers that have contributed, thanks to my co-host @deejayumb for the many hours of work he puts in running these #PrinceTwitterThread series. We’ll see you all soon!


Originally tweeted by Edgar Kruize (@EdgarKruize) on 2 November 2020.

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