Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense ★★★★½

Us tall skinny white guys don't have many style icons. David Byrne circa 1984 might be as cool as we get.*

First of all, the music is great. I don't think I've ever seen a concert film from a musician or band I didn't already like, I wonder how a film like this would play to someone who has no idea who the Talking Heads were, or even better, to someone who actively disliked their music.

It's built, like all documentaries at some fundamental level I guess, around this clash between verisimilitude and movieness. The takes are longer than usual for concert films, and the emphasis is more on head-to-toe shots than close-ups, the better to capture the reality of the performance (David Byrne as Fred Astaire). The stage, slowly built up over the first act with each additional instrument (a neat trick that leaves you attuned, for the rest of the show, to the ways the various instruments and performers cohere within each song), is demonstrably a constructed space, the crew visible as they do their work (a tension here with the fact that Byrne dresses them all in black and blacks out the labels on the equipment: they're there/not there). But then the concert itself is an amalgam of three different shows, with obvious and discordant continuity "errors" interrupting the filmed reality.

These ruptures characterize Byrne's performance itself (and what a performance it is: he's instantly jumped to the top of my Best Actor of 1984 list). The brilliant opening performance: a man, a boom box and a "Psycho Killer". Except the boom box isn't actually playing anything, the drum machine sounds come from off-stage. (Similarly, in the second song, "Heaven", with just Byrne and bassist Tina Weymouth on stage, backing vocals seem to come from nowhere.) As well, Byrne's jerky and spasmodic movements are seeming the product of the music itself (I guess you could call it dance) but they're also so clearly calculated, so clearly a man at work. Very sweaty work. He moves so much throughout the show(s) yet not only doesn't he lose weight, he actually grows in size as the show goes on, to the point that by the finale he must don a much bigger suit.






*David Bowie doesn't count because he's not technically human.

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