Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense ★★★★★


This was the first movie I ever reviewed, for my high school newspaper at the time of its release. (Alas, the text has been lost.) Wonder which would surprise my 16-year-old self more: that I'd one day become a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, or that I'd one day weep tears of joy ever time I watch Stop Making Sense? Because Talking Heads were a super-cerebral band with a seemingly borderline-autistic frontman, the show's sense of community and its nonstop joie de vivre now seem "unexpected" (given that I've seen the movie like 15 or 20 times) and uniquely thrilling; as Byrne notes on the commentary track, there's a weird little narrative in which an uptight white dude gradually loosens up and frees himself, but what he (understandably) doesn't mention is that he managed to pull this off without making the additional musicians, who are all black, seem either Magical or second-class. It's an extended family up there. And I can't explain why I get weepy when the camera cuts from Harrison doing a goofy little dance with Holt and Mabry to Byrne running in place with Weir (at the climax of "Burning Down the House," which is not exactly poignancy central—even the song's lyrics are basically random gibberish), but I always do these days.

Also, of course, it's the greatest concert movie ever made—perhaps the only one that qualifies as a carefully constructed work of art rather than merely a filmed documentation of an event (à la Woodstock, Monterey Pop, The Last Waltz, etc.). I only learned just now that e.g. the opening shot of Byrne's white Keds walking onstage, which continues into the opening of "Psycho Killer," was shot completely separate from the actual concerts. (I'm reminded of the caveat Peter Gabriel included on the back cover of Plays Live: "Although this album was compiled from four concerts in the mid-west of the United States, some additional recording took place not a thousand miles away from the home of the artiste. The generic term of this process is "cheating".) My only quibble is that image and sound are occasionally incompatible, especially if you're looking closely at Frantz on the drums. But those errors are a small price to pay for near-perfection.

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