Stop Making Sense

The list of universally acclaimed concert films is notoriously short. This is for obvious reasons. The ability to capture on film in two dimensions the excitement and transient nature of a concert performance is almost by definition impossible. Nonetheless, there are several titles that usually appear at the top of anyone’s list of best concert films; usually residing at the tippy top of the upper most is “Stop Making Sense,” the 1984 film performance of Talking Heads, directed by Jonathan Demme.

With a crisp restoration, the film is again available for your viewing pleasure on the big screen, and I urge you to partake.

The film was originally shot over several nights at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. Unlike many concert films, there are very few cutaways to the audience. In fact here the cameras remain on the band for almost the entirety of the film. The evening starts with the basic element of David Byrne walking on stage with a Boom box (deployed as drum machine) and performing solo their first hit “Psycho Killer.” As the evening progresses, more musicians and instruments are methodically added.

The original band was formed as a quartet, with Jerry Harrison from Harvard and Byrne, Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth fresh from Rhode Island School Of Design. Talking Heads were always the brainiest band to emanate from the fertile New York City music scene of the mid 70s. Although they played the same stages as the Ramones and other local punks, they transcended their roots, gaining traction and international renown with their incredibly innovative style. Talking Heads appeared at the right time and leveraged the new medium of MTV for some videos that certainly withstand the test of time.

For this, their first concert film, they brought on additional musicians, which helped the band further explore a broader sonic palette: back-up singers Lynn Mabry and Edna Holt, percussionist Steve Scales and guitarist Alex Weir. Perhaps most crucial to the musical curve the band was undertaking was keyboardist Bernie Worrell, who added a funk element absent from the band’s prior work.

At one point in the film, acknowledging the extracurricular musical activities of husband and wife Weymouth and Franz, known as Tom Tom Club, Byrne exits the stage while they perform “Genius of Love.”

Byrne returns in his now famous big suit. The songs as great as, “Heaven,” “Burning Down the House,” “Life During Wartime,” “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” and “Once in a Lifetime” the band had a deep songbook from which to draw the evening’s performances.

The restored version of “Stop Making Sense” looks and sounds brilliant and deserves another look, and perhaps a first look from those who missed it the first time around.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.