1984; Not Rated; 88 Minutes
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
by DAVID KEYES
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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