Saturday, November 17, 2012

Stop Making Sense (1984) Review

Stop Making Sense posterDirector: Johnathan Demme
Stars: Talking Heads
Genre: Concert, Music

A Talking Heads concert film.

The film begins with the opening credits, very reminiscent to the opening credits in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. It is silent. We can hear the slight commotion and cheering of an audience in the background. The shadow of a guitar appears, as if in a German Expressionist film, the audience screams. We watch David Byrne's feet walk to the front of the stage. "Hi, I got a tape I want to play," he says. We see he is only armed with an acoustic guitar and a cassette player. He plays "Psycho Killer", just him, an acoustic, and a cassette player on a completely empty stage, ladders and miscellaneous stage equipment in the back can be seen. The song ends.


Tina Weymouth joins David Byrne on stage wielding her bass guitar. Together they play "Heaven". While the song is progressing we see men in the background dressed in all black wheeling a drum set onto the stage. The song ends.

Chris Frantz gets on the stage and takes his position at the drums. The stage is a canvas and it is being painted by the band members. Each song adds a new member, a new instrument. They play "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel". The band begins to feel more complete. The song ends.

Jerry Harrison and his guitar walk on stage. Three songs into the concert and we finally get to see the four members of the Talking Heads all on stage together. But their portrait is not complete. They play "Found a Job". While they are playing a keyboard is wheeled onto the stage. A set of hand drums are also added. The song ends.

Bernie Worrell enters the stages and takes his post at the keyboard; Steve Scales takes the hand drums; two back-up vocalists also join the stage, Ednah Holt and Lynn Mabry. A black curtain falls down behind the band blocking the ugliness of the stage equipment--their painting is nearly complete--and they begin to play "Slippery People". The concert feels much more alive. A set of percussion instruments are added to the stage. The song ends.

David Byrne on an empty stage in Stop Making Sense

Alex Weir joins the rest on stage. From an empty, shanty stage we now have a complete, energetic, and lively stage. From one man and an acoustic guitar we now have a full band with drums, keyboard, vocalists, guitars, and percussion. They begin to play "Burning Down the House" when the lights shine as bright as they can and the once dim stage is now bright as ever. Their painting is complete. Everyone on stage is lively, dancing, smiling. The song ends.

No one else joins the stage for this last song. David Byrne puts down his guitar, his paintbrush is not needed now. They play "Life During Wartime". David Byrne has been on stage the longest and his face is completely drenched with sweat, but his vocals show no sign of slowing down. He jogs in place while singing--he is unstoppable. He lies down on the stage floor while he sings; is he tired? No. He gets up and runs laps around the stage--he is a god. "My chest is aching, and it burns like a furnace. The burning keeps me alive!" The song ends. Byrne takes the microphone and looks at the audience, "Thank you. Does anyone have any questions?" and then walks off stage. The concert ends.

David Byrne playing with Talking Heads in Stop Making Sense

And that was only the first concert. This film contains two more, and they're both as good, if not better, than the first one. David Byrne's energy and showmanship is present throughout, all accompanied by fantastic visuals. We also get to see David's 'big suit' in here, which is awesome. David Byrne, the hippest square the world has ever seen.

The first concert, as I described, has wonderful pacing and as each song gets more complex than the last one, more members are added to the stage. The second concert has big screens in the background that display different images; then at one point the only light on stage is coming from a small lamp in the middle, which the entire band huddles around while they play. The third concert makes great use of shadows and features the big suit. 

David Byrne in his big suit in Stop Making Sense

Any great band can get on stage and just stand there and play everyone's favorite songs. But it is the bands that go beyond that, adding visuals and personality to it, that are truly the masters. When cinema developed the technology to add sound to films, did filmmakers continue adding intertitles to display dialogue? No, they took advantage of the technology and added actual talking. So if visuals can benefit from sound then surely sound can benefit from visuals, as Talking Heads and countless other great bands have proved. Talking Heads perhaps proved better than anyone that watching them perform for an hour and a half could be even more entertaining than most movies are. 

Of course there had to be someone willing to film it all. And Johnathan Demme was that man, and he should be applauded for his excellent job directing. He could have easily pointed a camera at the stage and made money off it, but he went the extra mile and it payed off. The film has great cinematography and really puts you right there on the stage with the band. The film's stylishness is largely due to the Talking Heads' choreography and showmanship, but Johnathan Demme certainly did a great job capturing it all and translating it flawlessly to film. 

David Byrne in Stop Making Sense

The film was shot over the course of three nights, three different concerts, at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood in 1983. The concerts were held to promote Talking Heads' new album, Speaking in Tongues.

I may be a little biased when it comes to this film. Talking Heads are one of my favorite bands ever and Speaking in Tongues just happens to be one of my favorite albums from them. So it was enjoyable simply for the music alone. But, the whole film is very well filmed and put together, and David Byrne is such a great performer that this would be a charm to watch even without the music. 

Talking Heads in Stop Making Sense

Anyone who enjoys music should watch this film. Anyone who likes Talking Heads should go watch this right now; seriously, what are you waiting for!? Anyone who dislikes Talking Heads should watch this and maybe your mind will be changed. I can't see how anyone could dislike Talking Heads after watching this. Some of the best music of all-time. 

5/5 stars

Purchase Stop Making Sense on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD- VHS
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