By: Chris Mendizabal
Watching this film once is not enough. That is to say, Stop Making Sense is probably the best concert film you will ever see and you will want to watch it again and again and again and again and – well you get the point.
I myself managed to watch Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense (1984) twice, a third time playing only parts, and one full-listen of the audio tracks within twenty-four hours’ time, the second experience equally electrifying as the first. Though, I am not sure if it would be fair to call this Demme’s Stop Making Sense, as Talking Heads, its subject, were the creators of this intense show of lights, choreography, and music, and not to mention that each of its members also invested their own money into this film project. Nonetheless, the two dynamic forces, Demme and his production team and Talking Heads and Company, came together to produce a wonderful work of art.
The show begins when we see David Byrne ambling over to the front of the stage, dressed in a light gray suit and white sneakers. “Hi. I’ve got a tape I want to play,” setting down his boombox, he strums in with “Psycho Killer” over the electronic beat. As Byrne pointed out, this story is about that of an uptight man who frees himself and joins the human race. When we view films, we usually sit idly and simply watch. What this film does, quite literally, is move you. Demme mentioned that the essence of cinema is sound and image, and I believe that a truly cinematic experience can move you in more than one way. It was impossible for me not to dance to this film. At the very least, you’ll be tapping your foot or bobbing your head. At this point I should mention that I am an ardent fan of Talking Heads, but even if you’re not a fan, you will be after the final credits roll.
Talking Heads is not your average band, so it only makes sense that they would not accept anything remotely conventional for a concert film. Rather than simply documenting the performance, they made a dazzling show of it. Jonathan Demme, writer and director of critically-acclaimed feature films such as Silence of the Lambs, Something Wild, and Rachel Getting Married, began with this Stop Making Sense earlier in his career and it’s equally as impressive. You only see the audience of the concert facing the camera at beginning and at the end, as if to suggest that we are another person that is part of the crowd, watching Talking Heads perform their hearts out in the year of 1984, with perhaps the best view.
Fortunately, the camerawork is not fleeting and the cuts are not frequent. Instead, we get to know who Talking Heads and Company are and become imbued by their emanating energy. Every single member has their own personality and the filmmakers do not resort to fast cuts that are so often employed in the common concert and feature films. Whether or not you liked Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (2014) for its fast pacing and high energy at the end, you will love this film, as there are no frills and it is electric for the entirety of it of 90-minute runtime. Stop Making Sense was filmed over the course of three shows and the first shot of Byrne walking on stage was actually filmed separately from the concerts.
If possible, watch this on the biggest screen with the best audio possible. If not, the experience will still be just as rewarding. You ease into the show with the first two performances, and the title of this film works as a foretelling: you will stop making sense, the curtains will drop after the show and you will have freed yourself.