Stop Making Sense (1984) Jonathan Demme

stop making sense

Stop Making Sense (1984)
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Produced by Gary Goetzman, Gary Kurfirst
Written by Talking Heads, Jonathan Demme
Cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth
Edited by Lisa Day
Palm Pictures Blu-ray
(color, 1:28)

David Byrne – vocals, guitar
Chris Franz – drums
Tina Weymouth – bass
Jerry Harrison – keyboards, guitar

Pauline Kael, in her review, said “Stop Making Sense makes wonderful sense.” It does and it doesn’t. It might not make sense if this is your first exposure to the Talking Heads or if you’re someone trying to understand the music of the 80s or if you just want to know what the heck David Byrne is singing about. What does make sense is the fact that this concert film is a celebration of creativity and a testament to pure, unadulterated joy of performance.
Stop Making Sense was filmed during three nights of Talking Heads concerts at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. It is not your typical concert movie. In it you will find none of the following:
Band member interviews
Comments from audience members
Glitzy special effects
Scantily clad women (or men)
Footage of band members behaving badly  
In fact, the concert begins about as bare-bones as you can get. David Byrne walks onto an empty stage with a guitar and a boom box. “I’ve got a tape I want to play,” he announces, presses a button (although the boom box is really just a prop), and launches into “Psycho Killer.” Everything seems normal enough until the off-stage drum machine starts spitting out percussive machine-gun rhythms, causing Byrne to….. Well, you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
With each song, another band member is added until the entire entourage is onstage. Even if you aren’t familiar with any of the songs, it quickly becomes clear that these guys are having a great time, particularly Byrne. A few minutes into the film, my wife turned to me and said, “What drugs do you think he’s taking?” My answer: “None.” I honestly think that Byrne is so energized by what he and the band are doing that it comes out in his actions. Certainly much of this is rehearsed, but it’s not faked. You can’t fake high energy, not for long, and certainly not for nearly 90 minutes. 
Although the film is not a David Byrne showcase, he’s clearly in the spotlight and for good reason. He’s visually just fun to watch. You never know what he’s going to do next, whether it’s jogging around the entire stage, dancing with a lamp, or doing goofy moves in a laughably oversized suit. I wouldn’t bet money on it – but then again, maybe I would – but I’d be surprised if Byrne hasn’t studied silent films, especially the comic masters like Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd. His movements are so filled with kinetic energy that you simply can’t stop watching. Yes, part of that comes from the music, but part of it comes from Byrne himself. 
I’ve said little about the music. What might get lost in all this, if you’re not careful, is the fact that the Talking Heads is a really good band. The music (even close to 30 years later) is odd, but not unapproachable. By and large, it’s not technically flashy: no extended guitar solos, nothing virtuosic. I can’t even tell you what most of the songs are about, but they’re smart, witty and impossible to ignore. No doubt you’ve heard some of them:  
1. Psycho Killer
2. Heaven
3. Thank You For Sending Me An Angel
4. Found A Job
5. Slippery People
6. Burning Down The House
7. Life During Wartime
8. Making Flippy Floppy
9. Swamp
10. What A Day That Was
11. This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)
12. Once In A Lifetime
13. Genius Of Love
14. Girlfriend Is Better
15. Take Me To The River
16. Crosseyed And Painless 
If this is your first Talking Heads experience, you’ll probably want to rent the film first, but if you like it, you’ll probably want to own it. The Blu-ray is a bit pricey, normally hanging around the $25 (or higher) range. If you see it on sale, snatch it up. (A huge thanks to Janice, Pete, Alex and Evan for giving it to me.)
Commentary by Jonathan Demme and the four band members
1999 Press Conference celebrating the film’s 15th anniversary (just over one hour)
David Byrne Interviews…David Byrne (5 min.)
Montage (3 min.)
Bonus Songs “Cities” (4 min.) and “Big Business/I Zimbra” (8 min.)
Big Suit (text)
Trailer (2 min.)
Previews (6 min.)

One thought on “Stop Making Sense (1984) Jonathan Demme

  1. Pingback: Jonathan Demme (1944-2017) | Journeys in Darkness and Light

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