Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense

A concert film documenting Talking Heads at the height of their popularity, on tour for their 1983 album "Speaking in Tongues." The band takes the stage one by one and is joined by a cadre of guest musicians for a career-spanning and cinematic performance that features creative choreography and visuals.

  • Released: 1984-11-16
  • Runtime: 88 minutes
  • Genre: Documentaries, Music
  • Stars: Jerry Harrison, Alex Weir, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, Ednah Holt, Bernie Worrell, David Byrne, Steven Scales
  • Director: Jonathan Demme
  • lodger-56981 - 15 October 2023
    The concert film genre... deconstructed perfectly.
    Stop Making Sense (1984)

    Interviewer: David Byrne's an unusual guy David Bowie: Yes, he's always looking at the floor Interviewer: That's odd, when I saw him in concert he was always looking at the ceiling David Bowie: (laughing) Well the floor is where the people are.

    • King Biscuit Flower Hour

    This Talking Heads concert film released during the height of the band's popularity and during the middle of the Reagan administration could possibly be the best pure rock and roll film ever made. Head's leader David Byrne, who looks so young here, sets out to deconstruct the concert film with the aid of director Jonthan Demme and succeeds admirably. But the film also works on numerous other levels. For one, the performance is flawless. Also, there is the joyousness of the performance, the statement Byrne and his band mates make about movement in modern culture and seemingly about the banality of the fashion of the time. And, finally, thanks to the passage of 15 years since it's initial release, there is the nostalgia of it all.

    The film brought me to tears. Watching Byrne and the band make beautiful music while they run around the stage in seeming casual abandonment is nothing short of pure joy. The smiles on our faces are there because of the smiles on the faces of Byrne and Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz and the rest of the band. Even the stoic "granddaddy" of the Heads, Jerry Harrison, cracks a smile here and there. We are watching a group of performers at their peak. They move with such grace an beauty that their motion becomes poetry. Byrne's quirkiness plays so effortlessly into the personas of those around him that they echo his movement and actions. We'd be fools not to realize that this is a well performed, precisely enacted, rehearsed performance caught on film. Every movement is preordained. But Byrne and his costars make it seem spontaneous. Their joy of performing, their love of the material and their seeming love of each other transcends the rigorous precision of the performance and catapults it into an ethereal plane where art and mind combine. The perpetual smile on the groups seeming "younger brother," Franz, spurs all of us, in the film and in the film's audience, on screen and off, to truly enjoy every moment of film here.

    Byrne and Demme transcend the usual claustrophobia of live concert films by removing the stage at the film's beginning and turning it into simple "space." Byrne deconstructs the concert film genre by having the stage constructed around the band as they play. The film begins with the beat, the beat of Byrne's footsteps as he walks to the front of the stage and performs "Psycho Killer" to prerecorded accompaniment on a jam box. Tina Weymouth is brought out and then the duo of the Heads, much in the way that the band actually formed, play "Heaven," itself deconstructed from it's full band performance on the Head's "Fear of Music" album. Then Franz's drum kit is rolled out and the now trio play "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel," a song so blissful that we cannot help but be drawn even deeper into the film. Then, still true to the band's history, Jerry Harrison plugs in his guitar and comes on board for "Found a Job." Finally, as more musical instruments and more platforms are wheeled out onto the stage, background singers and other musicians appear as the foursome moves into the rhythmic excursions of it's repertoire off "Remain in Light" and "Speak in Tongues." And the construction/deconstruction phase of the film ends.

    So, alive in the format, the Head's perform to a neon backdrop of projected colors, words and images as they continue to engross us in their experience. Their fluid stage movements and interaction become the definition of simpatico. Everyone "gets" Byrne and everyone moves at his movement, not in simple mimicry, but in homage, in spoof, in dance, in performance, in kinetic ritual. And here is where the film begins to have it's message about movement in modern society. Byrne is so svelte and so fluid, surprisingly so considering his quirkiness, that he sets the pace for the performers who run, jump, and dance with him. Byrne even runs in circles around the entire stage of performers at one point. Often he and the background singers and the guitarists run in place, and in unison, in pointed commentary about the "rat race" of human existence in our modern deconstructed 80's bland society. Their movement seems unnecessary. Byrne and his band work so hard to entertain us that we wonder if his unending energy will force his band mates to fall in exhaustion in mid- performance. Instead, like some cyborg aerobics class, they seem even more happy in their exercise. They follow his lead, they dance at his pace, they run right beside him, seemingly going nowhere. Happy in their activity which takes them only to the height of audience appreciation. And meanwhile, they never miss a beat or a note.

    Well, almost anyway. Expounding upon the true nature of the film, as the band's evolution plays out it progression onstage, Byrne leaves the floor and allows Weymouth and Franz, as Tom Tom Club, to play their hit song "Genius of Love." Suddenly we realize why there is no band without these 4 people together. Franz, in his unrestrained giddiness, won't shut up and barely gives wife/band mate Weymouth a chance to sing her part of the song. The film would pretty much grind to a halt if this song wasn't granted a eternal life due to the repetition of nightclub play and the sampling the song has been subject to in the 90's, including a hit song by Mariah Carrey.

    Another problem with the film is Bernie Worrell. From his disjointed keyboard solo on "Burning Down the House" to his bug-eyed mugging, Worrell can stop any forward moment the film may have simply by having the camera placed on him. He's the one sore thumb in the entire production.

    Thankfully, behind the scenes, Demme and his team "get it" too. They understand what makes Byrne and the band tick. They "grok" it and capture it on film. Rarely, but occasionally formulaic, Demme often pulls back to reveal the band, in it's evolution on stage, as a audience member's view of the proscenium. It's typical but important and necessary in the film's progression. It's a sentence in the film's language that must be repeated at times to show the importance of the different inflections of it's words, it's own progression and evolution. Demme's camera captures it all, appearing to be everywhere at once. Some of the most beautiful moments in the film come when he tries to follow Byrne with his camera and gets lost in the stage's black backdrop before, amazingly, finding that facade again in some unexpected movement, in some unexpected phrase. Byrne, looking like the b*stard child of Mr. Rogers and David Lynch, is ceaselessly attractive to view. His facade consistently in motion, his face endlessly searching out the perfect expression of the moment. Byrne seems at home, on stage and in front of the camera. It's no surprise when the stage literally becomes such a place (during "This Must Be the Place") and, using a floor lamp as a prop, Byrne dances with it in awkward abandon. Like the finest performance artist, taking his cue from the New York avant-garde, Byrne uses every inch of the stage, every note of the music, every beat of the clock to his fullest advantage, to enlighten and entertain. He puts his everything into the performance and his band mates follow suit. It's proverbial poetry in motion.

    Re-released for it's 15th anniversary, "Stop Making Sense" becomes a nostalgic document of a seemingly perfect band at the seemingly perfect time, both of which no longer exists. The band would make only one popular album after the film, "Little Creatures," before solo work and side projects would lead them to the divergent paths and, inevitably, disbandment. This is a band that no longer exists at a time that no longer exists performing perpetually on celluloid for our wonderment and ceaseless gaze. It is as beautiful as any Talking Head's record. It's is as perfect as any supposed film "masterpiece" ever made. It is a joyous moment in time crystallized.

    Yes kids, I was there.

    I didn't know it then.

    But I know it now.

    God, I know it now.


    Songs on soundtrack CD: Psycho Killer Swamp Slippery People Burning Down the House Girlfriend is Better Once in a Lifetime What a Day that Was Life During Wartime Take Me to the River

    Also in the film: Crosseyed and Painless

    Report Card

    Music: A+

    Sound: A+

    Preformance: A+

    CinematographyLighting: A+

    Final Grade: A+ Viewed again on 10/15/23 - and I stand by this review written in 2000.
  • jhansman-622-79967 - 27 May 2023
    Just the best concert ever filmed
    I say this as a 75 yr. Old dude whose has watched a lot of concerts produced for documentary/film quality. From the get go David Byrne gives it his all, building energy throughout a show that features the Talking Heads and a superb array of supporting singers and musicians. The last time I put this film on, I intended only to watch one or two songs; each number pulled me in a bit further until by, say, the fifth I was (again) hooked for the entire concert. One thing to notice is how much fun EVERYONE is having. It's high-energy, excellent musicianship filmed as only Jonathan Demme could. Dig it.