Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense ★★★★★

Happiness is... this fucking movie.

I'm not sure if you guys know this (possibly you do if you've read my Montage of Heck article here on Letterboxd) but the only thing, apart from my fiancé of course, that I love just as much as film is music. Certain bands mean more to me than any filmmaker ever could. Groups like Deafheaven, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr., Slowdive, and The Flaming Lips certainly fall in that distinguished category (suck on that, Fellini!). Another group I've always loved are the Talking Heads. An artist I've always admired wholesale is David Byrne. Stop Making Sense sums up everything I love about Talking Heads and everything I cherish about live music.

Admittedly, Talking Heads are far from one of my favorite bands (though Fear of Music definitely has a place in my top fifty favorite albums), they are still a group I really enjoy and they make music that moves me to analyze it and forces me to groove uncontrollably. They're no My Bloody Valentine or Deafheaven or Sonic Youth, but then again, no one is.

Stop Making Sense is a live concert by punk rock/ new wave demigods, Talking Heads, as filmed by the wonderfully talented Jonathan Demme (certified hero of Paul Thomas Anderson), of The Silence of the Lambs and Melvin and Howard fame. Talking Heads were not a regular kind of band and this concert is far from a conventional show. From the hot-wired and hyper-creative brain of Talking Heads frontman David Byrne comes a concert that shares far more similarities with New York style avant-garde performance art than standard '80s rock show fare.

It is in part a remarkable chronicle of the band's history, beginning with a vulgar acoustic rendition of 'Psycho Killer' featuring David Byrne, a cassette player, some lurching, some leering, and some growling. As more songs are played, chronologically from release to release, more band members join Byrne until the stage is practically over-abundant with energy.

Jonathan Demme, being keen on Byrne's very specific choreography, was able to photograph the event excellently and I find it even inspiring how well Demme achieved this. Demme practically wrote the book on capturing the exuberance of live music. He managed to get seemingly impossible shots, beautifully and creatively seized on film, and made the viewer not just merely feel as though he/she was there, but that he/she was actively involved in the creative process. Demme and Byrne worked closely together and precisely structured the choreography of the live show so that it included the camera-work in its complex scheme.

The fact that Byrne and Demme plotted the performance so painstakingly and exhaustively in every imaginable detail may suggest to you a rigidness and inflexibility that would kill any good, spontaneous rock concert, but Byrne isn't simply a fantastic musician and songwriter, he's also an incredible showman. I'm not sure if I've ever seen a frontman more dedicated to the positivity and energy of a live performance. He makes the details seem unplanned. He works so hard, he paradoxically makes it seem effortless.

The performance itself is Talking Heads in a visual nutshell. These guys are art school kids who helped invent punk rock, but a kind of punk rock no one at CBGB was ready for. Talking Heads started off playing hyper-intelligent music for speed freaks and bad kids.

Stop Making Sense is one of Byrne's most fabulous and thought-provoking inventions. It's part ironic commentary of pop culture and pop politics. It's also a devastatingly subtle reevaluation of art's place in a very material, very modern, and very '80s universe. It's about the joy of music itself, but it's also about the complacency of it. Stop Making Sense is performance art about a meta-absurdist philosophy of monomania.

The best thing about the film is that you don't even have to be a Talking Heads fan to enjoy it. All you have to be is a fan of enthusiasm and good times. All you have to have is a mind capable of both rocking its head back and forth and receiving the film's meanings and messages. Stop Making Sense is ultimately about letting go. The world is an absurd place, but there's a lot of fun inside of it. Stop trying to make sense of it all. Try not to demystify everything. It's alright to give in every once in a while. Just make sure to understand what you're giving up.

I watched this for the first time with my fiancé and we had such a good time. We had a riot and we had a blast. I could not recommend something like this more.

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