David Byrne walks onto the stage. The camera only shows his feet. He puts down a tape deck and says: “Hi. I’ve got a tape I want to play.” With that, the concert movie, Stop Making Sense, starts!
Jonathan Demme filmed the band, The Talking Heads, over three nights in 1983. It is a snapshot of their work through that time. The film is nothing but the concert. Yet, it's more cinematic than most movies.
Stop Making Sense has delighted me many times. Three things come to mind: the introduction, the energy, and the suit.
Once David Byrne hits play on the tape deck, the camera zooms out. The stage is empty. You only see David Byrne in a grey suit with a guitar, a microphone, and the tape deck. "Psycho Killer" starts. His performance amplifies the strange energy of the song on the empty stage.
After "Psycho Killer", bassist Tina Weymouth joins David Byrne in a matching grey suit. The energy level comes down as they play "Heaven". You start to notice stagehands in the back. They are bringing out drums for an inevitable rise of energy that you know will come.
It doesn't take long! Drummer, Chris Frantz, joins next and the trio plays "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel." You notice the drums after their absence in the previous songs.
With each song the stage fills up and more members join. Guitarist and keyboardist Jerry Harrison. Backup vocalists Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt. Guitarist Alex Weir. Keyboardist Bernie Worrell. Percussionist Steve Scales. It's not until the sixth song, "Burning Down the House," that the full band is present on stage. Somehow, they still have energy to add to the mix after it seems they peaked in the previous song. The introduction ends with my favorite song of the concert, "Life During Wartime."
The build up is legendary. It is perfect for a concert and a film narrative.
I've started Stop Making Sense with every intent to only watch through the introduction. I fail at that every time. I stick with the concert because the energy the band puts out is infectious.
It becomes most noticeable once Lynn and Ednah join the stage. Their interactions with each other and with David Byrne in their first songs are a real treat. You start to notice other interactions between the band in the background. With each rewatch you will notice other special gems between the band members.
Then, you can consider at the physicality of the performance. At one point the entire group is running in place like it's a fitness class. It can't be easy to play live music. Factor in that physicality to the film schedule and you can't help but be impressed.
I don't have a lot to say about the suit other than David Byrne in the big suit makes me happy. It looks so bizarre and I love it. He moves well within the space of the stage. When he has the suit on those movements don't feel human. The Talking Heads deliver on their promise. It stopped making sense. Bravo! Bravo!
This movie turned me from a casual Talking Heads fan into a big fan. I cannot recommend it enough.