Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense ★★★★

Long-time listener, first-time viewer. I had been waiting to see a proper 35mm screening of this for a while (and have sadly missed a couple, particularly right after Demme passed away), but then felt compelled to make it my first film of 2020. Almost all of it is extraordinary - Byrne's relentless energy and lithe physicality, the inventive staging and camera choreography, and the incredible contributions of the extra musicians that joined the band for these shows. Having listened to this album for many years, I was never quite sure who was doing what, but it was a joy to see the additional players/singers integrate seamlessly into the performance. That element also made for a fascinating evocation of the backstage drama within this band; it's clear that Byrne has significantly more chemistry with all five of the new players than with any of the three other core members, and that trend would of course continue in most of the years since this tour, as the other Heads would openly bemoan Byrne's contentment with hiring session musicians to play their songs. Meanwhile, this film includes a performance by Tom Tom Club, the band Weymouth and Franz started during an early (and thankfully, ultimately finite) Talking Heads hiatus.

Ironically, the one part of this film that doesn't work for me is "Once In a Lifetime". This is unequivocally my favorite Talking Heads song, and on many days, I'd put it forward as a candidate for my favorite song by anyone; I would also submit that this is its best-possible rendition, elevating the original mix with a heightened tempo, more dynamic instrumentals, and an extended climax. But Demme and/or Byrne choose to leave most of that out of frame, opting to play the song entirely (minus one brief cutaway) on a closeup of the vocal performance. There's really no way I can reconcile this decision; whether the intent was to keep a subjective focus on Byrne's lyrics, or to highlight the enormity of their existential angst with an intentionally microscopic perspective, there are simply too many other strengths on stage that are omitted as a result.

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