'Stop Making Sense' Review
Earlier this year, A24 announced that they were going to remaster and re-release the classic concert film "Stop Making Sense" in theaters. For those of you who don’t listen to dad rock, "Stop Making Sense" comes from the mind of the band the Talking Heads and director Jonathan Demme and is one of the best rock concert films ever made. Filmed over the course of three nights in December 1983, the band showcases 16 huge hits and their seemingly endless energy in 88 minutes of musical madness. The film was a hit when it was first released in 1984, and now it’s back in theaters almost 40 years later for older audiences to reminisce and for newer audiences to be introduced to the group.
I went to see the film on Sept. 23 in IMAX at the Waterfront AMC Theater. It was my third time actually watching the film in its entirety, though I listen to the live album on a regular basis. I adore the album (and even think some of the live versions of their songs are better than the studio versions), but there’s nothing like watching them perform these tunes on the big screen. A24 did a wonderful job remastering the film — the quality of the footage and audio was incredibly crisp and thrilling to witness so blown up on the IMAX screen.
The film begins with front man David Byrne performing an acoustic version of “Psycho Killer” as a solo, and as the show progresses, more performers are added to the stage. Second is bassist Tina Weymouth, followed by drummer Christ Frantz, then final member Jerry Harrison (on guitar and keyboard). While these four are the only core members of the group, they add an extensive supporting band on stage with them as well (backing singers Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt, guitarist Alex Weir, keyboardist Bernie Worrell, and percussionist Steve Scales).
To me, there is nothing lacking about the setlist for the concert. Every song is a hit on its own, and all of them get stuck in my head from time to time. Already, that’s a huge indicator of a successful group and a successful concert, but the Talking Heads make it clear that that’s not all they have to offer. Every time I see this film, I’m shocked by the amount of energy that everyone on that stage has throughout the concert. You would think that they’d get worn out after performing one song with how much they’re doing. Especially Byrne — throughout the film, he goes from playing the guitar while jogging in place, to involving his full body in his dancing, to full-on running laps around the band on stage. All while singing and not losing his breath! It’s such an impressive feat to see, and I couldn’t help but absorb his energy from my seat in the audience.
The rest of the band are no slackers either. Weymouth shows off quite a few dance moves while successfully playing the bass, Weir does several high kicks while playing quick notes on his guitar, and backing singers Mabry and Holt don’t stop moving the entire performance while still singing beautifully. Their energy is clearly contagious, and it’s impossible to be tired while watching how much fun they’re having.
While I love the entire film, there are a few moments that really stand out to me, the first being the performance of the song “Life During Wartime.” For this number, Byrne ditches the guitar and is able to freely dance as he sings lead vocals. The way he’s able to move his body is impressive and it’s even more impressive that he never loses his breath even after moving so much. Another highlight is the group’s performance of “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody).” For this number, the band stands mostly still for a change (the only exception being the dance that Bryne does with the standing lamp they brought out). The minimal movement really creates a nice emphasis on the beautiful lyrics.
Another notable moment in the film is the only song without Byrne on the stage. In 1981, husband-and-wife team Frantz and Weymouth formed a side-project group called the Tom Tom Club, and here they get to perform one of their hits, “Genius of Love.” Even if you don’t think you know this song, you definitely know the riff. It was sampled in Mariah Carey’s 1995 hit “Fantasy,” and is one of the most iconic riffs of all time. Despite Byrne being the legendary frontman that he is, Weymouth and Frantz bring so much energy to their performance of this song. This is one of my personal favorites, and I think that I may prefer this live version to the studio version.
My final highlight of the movie is the performance of the song “Girlfriend is Better.” Byrne returns for this performance, wearing one of the most iconic pieces of concert clothing of all time: the big suit. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s kind of exactly what it sounds like. Byrne moves around so much in the oversized piece of clothing, giving his dancing a really neat-looking effect. It’s one of the most famous parts of the film, and I think it deserves every bit of its fame. As one of the final songs of the concert, I think it really reinforces the captivating power that the group holds.
Other standout songs for me include (but are certainly not limited to) “Slippery People,” “Burning Down the House,” and “Once in a Lifetime.” While I only mention these ones by name, I genuinely love every song they chose to do for this concert.
I can recognize that the Talking Heads may not be everyone’s musical cup of tea, but I still recommend this film to everyone. It stands the test of time and is without a doubt one of the best concert films ever made. A24 did a wonderful job remastering it for the big screen, and I hope you take advantage of the opportunity to go see it in theaters while you can!