David Byrne walks onto the stage and does a solo "Psycho Killer." Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz join him for two more songs. The crew is busy, still setting up. Then, three more musicians and two back-up singers join the band. Everybody sings, plays, harmonizes, dances, and runs. They change instruments and clothes. Bryne appears in the Big Suit. The backdrop is often black, but sometimes it displays words, images, or children's drawings. The band cooks for 18 songs, the lyrics are clear, the house rocks. In this concert film, the Talking Heads hardly talk, don't stop, and always make sense.Written by
Picked by Entertainment Weekly magazine as one of the "50 Greatest Independent Films" in a special supplement devoted to independent films that was only distributed to subscribers in October 1997. See more »
As stated above the concert was edited together from three shows, and it being a "live" show, things not planned happened. The first night, David Byrne puts on the baseball cap that's thrown up on stage from the audience, so the next night it can be seen next to the drums so that he can put it on again. See more »
"Stop Making Sense" cemented the Talking Heads' place as the Beatles of college rock, capturing the band in all its art-funk glory. Part performance art, part low-key workout, "Stop Making Sense" benefits from a set of 16 quality songs, an ever-changing visual style that never loses its inventiveness, and a lead performance by David Byrne that has to be seen to be believed.
He jogs around the stage. He bends his body in weird contortions. He puts on a really big suit. From the beginning to end, he has his shirt collar buttoned to the top like a Catholic schoolboy, and I'm not sure how or why.
"How" and "why" are words that pop up a lot while watching this. Talking Heads were weird even for the punk/new wave crowd; they wore their hair like accountants, mined everything from disco to doo-wop to African exotica for their sound, and pulled off the trick of being both mocking and reverential. So whether it's Byrne dancing with a living-room lamp or words like "facelift" and "sandwich" appearing on screen, the viewer is well advised to follow the advice of the title and just let the goofy, heady mess roll over you. You'll probably find yourself having a bit of fun.
It helps if you like their music. You don't hear much of it these days it seems. People know "Life During Wartime" and "Once In A Lifetime," while "Take Me To The River" and "Burning Down The House" were Top 40 hits in the U.S. But the most familiar tune here is probably the one non-Talking Heads song, "Genius Of Love," which is performed by the band's Byrne-less incarnation, the Tom Tom Club. That's because Mariah Carey sampled it (read "sang over it") for one of her big hits, "Fantasy."
Frankly, the band as individuals aren't all that interesting. They don't play off each other or the audience in any way, leaving it to Byrne to sell each song. Jerry Harrison, one of the four Heads, seems AWOL even on the middle of the stage. Bringing up a few session players like Bernie Worrell, the P-Funk keyboardist, helps the film avoid this "boring white guys playing their music" trap at least somewhat, though if the mission of this film is to introduce us to the Talking Heads, it's certainly no "Hard Day's Night" or "Last Waltz."
But the songs are good, and Byrne works through his bemused detachment to become quite passionate on some selected numbers. His "Once In A Lifetime" is one of the great screen performances of 1984. Goofy lighting sets up "Swamp" and "What A Day That Was" and there's oddball tricks aplenty throughout. I like the lower-key "Heaven," a wistful number about "a place where nothing ever happens" which Byrne delivers with the right amount of grace while bassist Tina Weymouth delivers some solid accompaniment.
I see a lot of times where the notes being played or hit don't correspond with what's on screen. The film was shot over a period of days, and then edited together, but judging from the perfect quality of the performed pieces, I sense some post-game "sweetening" went on. But it's a nice piece to watch, very sublime, and the new DVD treatment is a decided gem worth having. You'll wish you were back in the 1980s when the Heads were the newest thing, though they never really got old. At least they will always be fresh and alive and together on "Stop Making Sense."
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