Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense ★★★★

Part of my 5 Directors x 5 Unseen Films (15) challenge.

In 1982, not long before this film was made, I had the great good fortune to meet and interview David Byrne in Tokyo, where I was doing some freelance articles for a local hotel magazine. Soft-spoken, intelligent and easy to engage, he impressed me as a true talent. Till then, I knew little about his group, Talking Heads, but I soon became a fan. It surprises me, therefore, that I had never seen this film until today.

Director Jonathan Demme gives a pretty straightforward concert tour documentary here. It starts with Byrne and his acoustic guitar performing “Psycho Killer” solo with taped background music. Then he runs through three more songs, as group members join him on stage one by one -- guitarist Tina Weymouth on "Heaven," followed by drummer Chris Frantz on "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel," and Jerry Harrison on electric guitar for "Found a Job."

Others in the band include percussionist Steve Scales, back-up vocalists Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt, guitarist Alex Weir, and Bernie Worrell on keyboards. Except for some cheering, the music continues non-stop through 16 songs, including the group's biggest hits, "Burning Down the House," "Life During Wartime" and "Once in a Lifetime." Bring. The. House. Down!

We also get the Tom Tom Club's performance of their hit "Genius of Love." And look for Byrne's famous Kabuki-esque "big suit," which grows in size as the performances progress till it's huge for the song "Girlfriend Is Better." On the DVD, there are bonus tracks, too: "Cities" and "Big Business/I Zimbra."

One might wish for some backstage interviews and private moments with the core members (see the DVD bonus features for that), but if you are primarily into the music and just want the live concert experience, it's a non-stop ride, with plenty of great camera angles and lighting changes to keep it bouncing along. The National Society of Film Critics gave this the NSFC Award for Best Documentary, while the Ghent International Film Festival named Demme the winner of their Grand Prix.

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