Film Review: Stop Making Sense (1984)

Talking Heads is a band I’ve tried to get into before, listening to a hit or two, but their beats and overall sound never really struck a chord with me until I served myself this beautifully directed concert film by the late Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia).

The bands’ music in this live performance really does speak for itself, no interludes needed. Even when lead singer David Byrne credits all the other musicians on stage it is interspersed within a song. The music just starts and keeps going non-stop ‘til the show’s over.

Byrne kicks it off with a very down-to-earth acoustic take on ‘Psycho Killer’ alone on stage, with ladders and stairs from the backstage area showing behind him adding to the laid-back nature of the piece. Something that I would say is in contrast with his wild scene antics that follow.

Towards the end of ‘Psycho Killer’ Byrne playfully uses the open space to his advantage

For every song played a person is added to the stage, first comes the other original band members (Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison), one added per song.

Then, for the fifth song (Slippery People) three new people join the stage — Steve Scales on percussion, Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt on backing vocals. Steve Scales has a terrific presence on stage while Mabry and Holt not only have that but also play off Byrne’s personality on stage beautifully. Combining their dancing and vocals with him, playfully dancing in sync together and sharing a mic from time to time.

During Slippery People they also drop a curtain behind the band — which is later used for some really cool projections and light effects (as seen below in the picture to the right).

Original band members in the picture on the left, original band + 5 in the picture on the right.

For the sixth song (Burning Down the House), the last to join the stage arise — Alex Weir on guitar and Bernie Worrell on keyboards. Equally as charismatic on stage as the others.

The fun of changing things up does not stop there. Practically every song that follows has some distinct visual flair with it’s own type of dancing, lighting effects, projection and occasionally even costuming and camera techniques.

Overall this film cemented the Stop Making Sense live album as one of those perfect musical albums where I heartily enjoy every single song. Music aside, the film itself is quite well-shot and it‘s very memorable on-stage moments all look great because of that.

I can truly say this film and it’s music revitalized me. I will definitely check out the rest of Talking Heads’ music catalogue and Jonathan Demme’s filmography (especially his other concert films).

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