Stop Making Sense
Rating -

Concert (US); 1984; Not Rated; 88 Minutes

Cast
David Byrne: Vocals and Guitar
Chris Frantz: Drums and Vocals
Jerry Harrison: Guitar, Keyboards and Vocals
Ednah Holt: Backing Vocals
Lynn Mabry: Backing Vocals
Steven Scales: Percussion
Alex Weir: Guitar and Vocals
Tina Weymouth: Bass and Vocals
Bernie Worrell: Keyboards

Produced by Gary Goetzman; Directed by Jonathan Demme

Review Uploaded
9/15/99

Written by DAVID KEYES

When asked about Jonathan Demme's "Stop Making Sense," Talking Heads lead vocalist David Byrne refers to the 1984 concert film revolved around his band as "'60 Minutes' on acid," and no wonder. This man, reportedly an egomaniac, was heavily focused on self-promotion during his life as a leader to a major rock band of the late 1970s and early 80s. When he made that announcement, chances are he was looking for an audience that would probably not accept him. In its initial release, however, his declaration became significant in describing the film's revolutionary style. To most of us, the phrase was the announcement of a marriage between revered rock music and concentrated theatrical concert documentaries.

If David Byrne was (at the time) one of the most popular men in America, Jonathan Demme, the director, should have been as well. Here is a man who, over the years, has given us some of the most haunting, moving, unforgettable films ever made ("Beloved" and "Philadelphia" are two of the finest in this past decade). We should not doubt that his power as a director is owed to the experience of him making "Stop Making Sense," which is considered the most neat, technically brilliant concert film of all time.

Now revived for a 15th is a refreshing reminder of the things that went on all those years ago, whether they deserved to or not. Reagan was President, rock was still number one, Spielberg was favored for his success of "E.T.--The Extra Terrestrial," and Demme himself was still an unknown face in Hollywood. Some revivals of movies bring back memories of the good ol' days. Others remind us of how the past is better left forgotten. This is one that does both.

By 1984, concert documentaries were already popular amongst eager moviegoers, such as A Hard Day's Night, which had already made the Beatles popular, and The Last Waltz, which had already anchored a future for director Martin Scorsese. Even in the hands of the best cameramen, however, some of those concert films are often stale and detached, maybe because they attempt to capture a stage presence that can only come through in live concerts.

Demme's "Stop Making Sense" changed all of that 15 years ago, with its steady pacing, wonderful technical virtues, magnificent editing, and overwhelming presence of vocalist David Byrne. What's most important, however, is the fact that the movie, like most others, isn't preoccupied with backstage events or other such developments in order to obtain general interest. Its soul purpose is providing the viewer with an experience almost as realistic as an actual concert. To do that, the only thing to be seen is what happens on the stage itself.

The movie is constructed on footage from three separate live events, all filmed back-to-back. In the first minutes, the Talking Heads' most notable songs are played, and in ways are used as introductions for every member of the band. Byrne himself is alone on stage when the film opens, singing "Psycho Killer" with the help of a guitar and boom box.

For each number afterwards, he is joined by one member at a time, until all are on stage and the music begins picking up a steady speed. For years I had wondered on where the title "Stop Making Sense" came from. It didn't occur to me until this past week that those three little words are found in one of the band's own songs, titled "Girlfriend is Better."

This re-release establishes how strong and vibrant motion pictures like this can remain after put up to the test of time. The only thing that has managed to prevent it from being perfect, though, is the music itself, which is always observant but sometimes slow and underwhelming. "Psycho Killer" is a fine tune, but those that follow never quite achieve greatness, and they are only redeemed by two more magnificent numbers at the close of the movie.

In terms of the overall look, however, the camerawork from Jordan Cronenweth, the cinematographer, remains enlightening and impressive, since it consistently draws parallels between the actual performers and the sets that encompass their talent (I especially liked the scene where the camera manages to align the center of David Byrne's body with a microphone stand when he's making snakelike movements). The editing is as equally superb, staying directly on target, only changing angles for the benefit of capturing the performers in better positions.

I watched the reissue once, and found myself anticipating a second viewing. Was it the spirit of the performance that brought me back to it? Was it the flawless technical aspects? Or was it the significant power of Byrne's stage presence? I'm not really sure, nor can I ever be. The one thing I am sure of is that fans of the movie will once likely once again embrace it upon it's theatrical re-release in the United States, and might even earn others. After all, considering the genre it belongs to, pictures like this come around once in a lifetime.


1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
 
 
           
     
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