“ Genre: Music DVDs - Rock / Theatrical Release: 1994 / Exempt / Director: Jonathan Demme / Actors: Bernie Worrell, Alex Weir, Steven Scales, Lynn Mabry, Ednah Holt ... / DVD released 2004-03-15 at Palm Pictures / Features of the DVD: Anamorphic, PAL „
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Stop Making Sense was released in 1984, to coincide with the release of Talking Heads' fifth album, "Speaking in Tongues". Directed by Jonathan Demme (better known for Silence of the Lambs), it was famously the first film to implement entirely digital audio technology.
For a seminal rock concert film, Stop Making Sense gets off to an unassuming start. Frontman David Byrne emerges onto the empty stage alone, with a cassette player and acoustic guitar, in a profoundly un-rock-'n'-roll grey suit and deck shoes. With the abrupt announcement of, "Hi! I've got a tape I wanna play," he launches into a bare-bones rendition of their first hit single, "Psycho Killer", with only a cassette backing track for company. It's a great raw version that starts innocuously before devolving into bug-eyed insanity. Talking Heads had an incredible asset in their frontman; Byrne looks the part of the humble everyman, but is full to the brim here with tireless, lunatic energy - every twitch and tic is fascinating to watch. Though his singing style is odd and uncomfortable by default, he's nonetheless on superb vocal form.
Then, as Byrne's solo piece comes to a close, stage-hands begin silently moving apparatus into place, and bassist Tina Weymouth joins the stage for the next song: "Heaven". It's my favourite version of the song, unadulterated Heads without the trappings and effects of the (still lovely) album version. There's something mesmerising about its simple clarity here - Byrne's plaintive "Heaven is a place - a place where nothing ever happens," as the set is quietly assembled in the background.
The jigsaw pieces of the concert slowly come together: drummer Chris Frantz appears for the next song, up-tempo number "Thank You For Sending Me An Angel", and next the fourth Head, guitarist Jerry Harrison, as the show starts to gather pace. This gradual unfolding is a clever technique, like a trail of breadcrumbs for the audience, and creates an almost narrative progression. Is this why it's considered a "rock movie", a "concert film", rather than just a plain old concert or rock show? Instead of opening with an all-singing, all-dancing bang, and having to maintain the pace from there, it's a slow bloomer, taking its time and savouring each song. It's not until the fifth track that the entire band and backing musicians are fully assembled on stage, and by that time the show is on an unstoppable roll. The whole mid-section ("Slippery People", "Burning Down the House", "Life During Wartime", and "Making Flippy Floppy") is just an immense party, the tracks played in a faster tempo than the slower-burning, gloopy funk of their album counterparts, and the performers' energy is infectious.
As well as its innovative audio and stage direction, lighting is another big feature of the film. Byrne was against the use of coloured lights on the band, so much of the lighting is simple but striking in its high contrast. Colours are all the more effective for their rarity, like the menacing red backdrop on "Swamp" and the murky blue aura of "Take Me to the River". The masterful rendition of "Once in a Lifetime", with Byrne's famously convulsive dancing rendered half in deep shadow, is another memorable piece. My personal favourite is the soft, sweet "This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)", where Byrne dances with a standing lamp while the other performers are gathered around him. It's a surreal but touching moment, both visually and musically inspired.
Towards the end of the show, there's an interlude from Tom Tom Club (the splinter group comprised of Weymouth and Frantz) with their one-off hit "Genius of Love", which is a pleasant change of pace. Then Byrne returns wearing the iconic "big suit" - a huge, padded parody of a business suit - to perform the last few songs. It amplifies his (already very physical) stage presence, and is so visually striking that the suit has become synonymous with the film. It's only worn for the final three songs, but is all the more memorable for it, and leaves a real larger-than-life impact.
Only at the end of the film does the camera cut away from the band to show members of the audience and crew, up close and personal, ending the set with a warm party vibe. With a running time of about an hour and twenty minutes, it's an ideal length, not outstaying its welcome. Overall, the setlist is sound and covers all the bases, from big hits to lesser-known singles; there's an emphasis on songs from "Speaking in Tongues", but I don't particularly mind since that album is one of my favourites.
My own DVD seems to be a Dutch import (courtesy of my local competitively-priced indie music shop) and honestly it's very basic with an ugly menu and limited extras. The regular release - on DVD and now on Blu-Ray - is fully remastered with multiple audio tracks, optional commentary, and other bonus material. Audio CD versions are also available, though I'd recommend the "Special New Edition", which contains the concert's full 16 tracks, rather than the older nine-track version.
Though it's quite old now, and there have been many great concerts filmed since, Stop Making Sense still stands up with the best of them. It's a beautifully-captured, intimate, dynamic portrait of a band in their prime, as well as an intelligent deconstruction of the standard "rock concert" arrangement. On the DVD sleeve, a quote from The Face describes it as "the Citizen Kane of the concert movies" - very high and fancy praise, but well deserved in this case.
This is one of the most inventive live shows ever. David Byrne walking out with just an acoustic guitar and a tape recorder to play Psycho killer. The stage backing gradually dropping away, song by song, to reveal musician after musician, until about halfway through there's about twenty people on playing percussion instruments or samplers, singing, or just dancing. Meanwhile the scenery around the band changes from song to song
The gig is impeccable. The filming and editing by Jonathan Demme (Silence of The Lambs) just adds another dimension.
So what we have is a band in peak form, performing hit after hit, some of the most inventive choreography seen in a live performance from a band that is essentially an alternative band...
I would recommend getting hold of this DVD, the performances, the dancing, it's infectious, it's fun, it's energetic.... You will probably see very few musical acts that put on a show at this level. If you enjoy the showmanship of REM's tourfilm, then you will enjoy this.
Hugely enjoyable. The record's good too
Note: I have moved this from the review of the record to here, where it should be more useful