Stop Making Sense

On April 24, 1984, a concert film largely regarded as one of the greatest ever made, premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival.   David Byrne, Chris Franz, Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison were the new wave funk punk rock art band known as Talking Heads and director Jonathan Demme turned three nights of live performance at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater in December of 1983 into “Stop Making Sense.”

Laura's Review: A

While my personal favorite concert film Is and always will be “The Cure in Orange,” “Stop Making Sense,” where the great Jonathan Demme knew just how to showcase David Byrne’s intrinsic flair for staging theater to complement his band’s own music magnified by the additions of percussionist Steve Scales, keyboardist Bernie Worrell, wailing guitarist Alex Weir and backup singers Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt, is an exhilarating experience.  Seeing this in a 4k restoration with Jerry Harrison’s remastered soundtrack on a towering IMAX screen is tantamount to having been there.  Heck, given our immersion into the stage, it might be even better.

For those who may not have seen the film, Byrne builds his band piece by piece, Demme’s iconic opening shot that of Byrne’s white tennis shoes striding onto the stage, boombox in hand.  Against a raw, unadorned stage, Byrne stands before the mike, his knee bouncing and head bobbing like a chicken as he strums and sings ‘Psycho Killer,’ stumble dancing to its concluding refrains of ‘run, run, run away.’

He’ll be joined by bassist Tina Weymouth for ‘Heaven’ and about midway through a platform with a drum kit will be rolled out in order for Franz to join in on ‘Thank You for Sending Me an Angel.’  The full band, including guests, will have all assembled three songs later for the rousing ‘Burning Down the House.’

Demme keeps our focus tightly on individual players, each one’s style and personality shining through.  Occasionally we’ll get a front and center shot of the entire stage, but the director is more interested in highlighting interactions, like Byrne bobbing side to side in sync with Mabry and Holt or dancing with a floor lamp like Gene Kelly.  Strobe lighting intensifies Weymouth’s movements, then later each member is seen in close-up in the eerie light and shadow utilized for ‘What a Day That Was.’  Byrne dons glasses for ‘Once in a Lifetime,’ then leaves the stage for Weymouth and Franz’s band Tom Tom Club’s ‘Genius of Love,’ returning in the infamous ‘big suit,’ the better to weirdly emphasize his shimmying and shaking.  After the song whose lyrics give the film its title (‘Girlfriend Is Better’), ‘Take Me to the River’ just about transports us to a revival meeting, Byrne’s movement almost possessed, his hands in the air, and Demme begins to turn his camera outward, toward the audience as seen from the stage.  Most of them are dancing.  You will be to.

A24 rereleases a 4K restoration of "Stop Making Sense" onto IMAX screens on 9/22/23.