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Hi. I've got a tape I want to play.—David Byrne, frontman of Talking Heads, opening the concert
Stop Making Sense is a concert film featuring Talking Heads, and is often regarded by critics as the finest example of the genre. It was directed by Jonathan Demme and released in 1984, and documents three separate concerts filmed in Los Angeles in December 1983, with all the footage spliced together.
Even though the film contains footage from all three concerts, it plays as a unified whole, and our attention is always on the performers onstage as they progress through their set. There are no cutaways to the audience until the very last number; there are no features on the band and their musical evolution; there are no interviews with the musicians backstage as they prepare for the concert. The camerawork is extremely understated and naturalistic, with very long takes and no quick cuts.
All of these qualities are extremely rare among concert films, then and now, especially in contrast to the music videos that were changing the shape of the industry at the time. The great appeal and staying power of the movie is the single-minded simplicity. The viewer watches the band perform, and judges them on their own merits as musicians and entertainers, just like a real concert audience.
And so we see Talking Heads unleashing their unique creativity, but at the same time we see their camaraderie with each other. Nearly everyone gets a chance to shine and show off their personalities. And then there's the music itself, which is, broadly speaking, New Wave, but with a host of other influences, especially Funk. About half the songs are from the Speaking in Tongues album, which their tour was supporting, but they also play several of their older numbers. It's an eclectic playlist with something for almost everyone.
Definitely one of the definitive concert film experiences, and a perfect introduction to the genre, not to mention the band itself.
This film contains examples of:
- Chiaroscuro: The primary lighting style used throughout the film.
- Control Freak: David Byrne wouldn't allow cups of water on the stage, according to Tina Weymouth.
- Creepy Monotone: This is how Byrne sings many of the songs, though he is complemented by the more soulful backup singers.
- Debut Queue: Each of the four band members comes out one song at a time, followed by the backing musicians for the fifth number. At the same time, the stage is being assembled in full view of the audience.
- Face of the Band: David Byrne, who dominates pretty much the entire concert.
- Fridge Brilliance: The suit is expanding.
- I Was Quite a Fashion Victim: Tina Weymouth, in the DVD commentary on her stage costume of the time: "Ah yes, the blimp suit. It must have looked very modern in The Eighties."
- Lampshade Hanging: Literally.
- Large Ham: Byrne, unsurprisingly, but also drummer Chris Frantz and percussionist Steve Scales, both of whom mug for the audience every chance they get.
- Looping Lines: Byrne's famous line "Does anybody have any questions?" after the band finishes "Life During Wartime" was dubbed in, over the far more mundane "We're going to take a short break... we'll be right back" (which can still be heard on the soundtrack album).
- Lyrical Dissonance: A trademark of the band, and in full evidence here.
- The Oner: There are quite a few of these.
- Shout-Out: David Byrne's dance with a lamp is a reference to Fred Astaire's film dances.
- So is his "staggering" dance during "Psycho Killer."
- Silly Love Songs: Spectacularly averted; only one song ("This Must Be the Place") is a love song, and it is sung to a lamp. On the other hand, you could make the case that they're going for quality over quantity.
- (Don't) Spell My Name with a "The": It's not "The Talking Heads", Chris Frantz, drummer for the band Talking Heads.
- Something Something Leonard Bernstein: Byrne deliberately sings in a very obtuse style, so those of you who want to sing along might need a lyric sheet.
- Talking Heads: Averted. Ironically, there are no Talking Heads in a movie about Talking Heads.
- Title Drop: Of the film itself, during the song "Girlfriend Is Better". Many of the songs are also have their titles dropped, of course.