Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense ★★★★★

I read an interview with Chris Frantz a couple of weeks ago where he mentions that the film’s structure — where each band member is introduced one-by-one before being joined by the guest musicians — was meant to tell a (revised) history of the band. It's such a simple concept, but one that speaks volumes about the film as a whole. To me, what sets Stop Making Sense apart from most other concert films is that it’s more than just a document of a tour or a show — it’s a film about a performance that is a performance in of itself. 

The actual performance has a real narrative and filmlike quality, a selection of songs that can be cleanly broken down into a three act structure that’s reflected by the set design – the starkness and rising action of the first act, the solid colors and strobe lights of the second, the Tom Tom Club intermission that sets up for the climax and (musician and then film) credits of the finale. At the same time, the actual film has a punk raggedness to it — continuity is often broken, the overdubbing is sometimes a little off, and Demme seems to make sure that you can always see the stagehands in the corner of the frame, all deliberate cracks in the facade that remind you that you're watching a film, not a concert.

I’d been wanting to rewatch this after having seen Prince’s Sign o the Times probably three times within the past year. There’s a clear debt to Stop Making Sense in Prince's film in how it aims to present a concert as being more than just a concert. The difference, though, is that while the Talking Heads film is a deconstruction of the concert film as a genre, Prince is using the form as a backdrop for some sort of story about love, money, sex, and faith that I'm pretty sure that only Prince understood. Thinking about it, there are segments in his film that are direct nods to Stop Making Sense — the opening title track, performed solo before the rest of the band comes out being the most obvious. The difference, though, is how Prince fills in those grey outlines with so much color that the film looks like candy.

Whenever people talk about Stop Making Sense, it’s always about David Byrne’s schtick — the big suit, the dances, the lamp. What I remember, though, are the smaller moments. Tina Weymouth’s amazing outfits. Just how much fun the backing vocalists always seem to be having. The glances that each of the band members are always shooting at each other. The way that the Tom Tom Club segment is somehow the absolute whitest part of the entire show. 

Sorry, but I still kind of hate 'This Must Be the Place.'

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