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Stop Making Sense (A Movie Review)


Featuring David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison, Steve Scales, Lynn Mabry, Ednah Holt, Alex Weir and Bernie Worrell.

Directed by Jonathan Demme.

Distributed by A24. 88 minutes. Rated PG.

“And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’”

How did the world get so lucky to see Stop Making Sense, the Talking Heads film that is arguably the best concert movie of all time – at the very least, it’s in the top handful – anew on an IMAX screen with spectacular remastered sound? Particularly after decades of having to watch it on small TVs or computers or pads or (shudder) cell phones?

Brought back into theaters in honor of the 40th anniversary of the film, seeing Stop Making Sense on the big screen again after so long is (once again) a revelation. We see the majesty of the vision of Talking Heads and director Jonathan Demme in which they make what can be the most static and dull of film genres – the concert film – suddenly come alive with magic and whimsy.

It doesn’t hurt that the music is jamming (this was from the tour for the band’s biggest hit album Speaking in Tongues), the playing is oh so tight, and the choreography is off the hook.

This is one of those rare concert films that not only makes you wish that you were there for the show – but it makes you feel like you were there.

And considering that this was from the last extended tour by Talking Heads – they released three albums over the next five years after this, but never again toured before sort of unofficially ceasing to be in 1989, (they never really officially broke up, but never got back together other than a few occasional one-offs over the decades) – this is about as good as it is going to get for people who want to watch this pioneering band live.

Which is good because Stop Making Sense is sort of a deconstruction of a traditional concert. The four band members come on one at a time, with each of the first four songs. The roadies and lighting and sound techs are still onstage building the sets as these early songs are being performed. This puncturing of the fourth wall is undeniably fascinating, not only enjoying the performances but seeing the magic behind the curtain.

Lead singer David Byrne starts things off with an unhinged acoustic guitar and boombox performance of their earliest single, “Psycho Killer.” Then bassist Tina Weymouth joins Byrne onstage for a gorgeous take on “Heaven.” Chris Frantz comes up with them for the third song, “Thank You For Sending Me an Angel.” Jerry Harrison comes up for song number four, “Found a Job.”

By the time the group hits the wildly soulful “Slippery People” and the band’s biggest hit “Burning Down the House,” all of the other live performers – including the legendary funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell and some shockingly good backing singers, are filling the stage, mixing wild choreography with some spectacular singing and playing.

And of course, you can’t forget David Byrne’s big suit.

The music and wild dancing slay, including the quirky jogging in place movements of “Life During Wartime” (Byrne actually eventually jogs around the stage multiple times) and the deep South blues of “Swamp.” There is the sweet romantic optimism of “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Medley)” and the neo-evangelical favorite “Once in a Lifetime” and even a throbbing version of Frantz and Weymouth’s side project Tom Tom Club’s hit single “Genius of Love.”

By the time the show climaxes with the spectacularly soulful “Girlfriend is Better” (the song that lends this film its title, the group’s quirky rethink of Al Green’s gospel favorite “Take Me To the River” and a wild “Crosseyed and Painless,” the band and the audience are in a sweaty fervor.

Sorry for the superlatives but Stop Making Sense is pretty much perfect.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: September 22, 2023.


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