Film: Stop Making Sense

"Hi. I've got a tape I want to play."
David Byrne, frontman of Talking Heads, opening the concert

Stop Making Sense is a concert film featuring Talking Heads, and is often regarded by critics as the finest example of the genre. It was directed by Jonathan Demme and released in 1984, and documents three separate concerts filmed in Los Angeles in December 1983, with all the footage spliced together.

Even though the film contains footage from all three concerts, it plays as a unified whole, and our attention is always on the performers onstage as they progress through their set. There are no cutaways to the audience until the very last number; there are no features on the band and their musical evolution; there are no interviews with the musicians backstage as they prepare for the concert. The camerawork is extremely understated and naturalistic, with very long takes and no quick cuts.

All of these qualities are extremely rare among concert films, then and now, especially in contrast to the music videos that were changing the shape of the industry at the time. The great appeal and staying power of the movie is the single-minded simplicity. The viewer watches the band perform, and judges them on their own merits as musicians and entertainers, just like a real concert audience.

And so we see Talking Heads unleashing their unique creativity, but at the same time we see their camaraderie with each other. Nearly everyone gets a chance to shine and show off their personalities. And then there's the music itself, which is, broadly speaking, New Wave, but with a host of other influences, especially funk. About half the songs are from the Speaking in Tongues album, which their tour was supporting, but they also play several of their older numbers. It's an eclectic playlist with something for almost everyone.

Definitely one of the definitive concert film experiences, and a perfect introduction to the genre, not to mention the band itself. It's like 60 Minutes on acid.

This film contains examples of:

  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: Tina Weymouth's Tom Tom Club does their One Hit "Genius Of Love" during the break.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: David Byrne's stage design was intended to get rid of "distracting" elements, such as cups of water, to focus on the music itself. The instruments and even the microphones were all painted matte-black.
  • Audience Participation: At screenings, the audience would often act as if they were at a real concert.
  • Bilingual Bonus: "Psycho Killer" features lyrics in French.
  • Chiaroscuro: The primary lighting style used throughout the film.
    • Up to Eleven in Once In a Lifetime, when the camera stays on Byrne for the entire song, and the light / dark is very contrasted.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: David Byrne definitely comes across as this, if not during the actual concert, then during his famous interview with himself about the film.
  • Concert Film: One of the finest.
  • Control Freak: David Byrne wouldn't allow cups of water on the stage, according to Tina Weymouth.
  • Creepy Monotone: This is how Byrne sings many of the songs, though he is complemented by the more soulful backup singers.
  • Debut Queue: Each of the four band members comes out one song at a time, followed by the backing musicians for the fifth number. At the same time, the stage is being assembled in full view of the audience.
  • Iconic Outfit: The big - and we mean big - suit that Byrne wears in the last part of the concert is forever associated with both him and this movie.
  • Inherently Funny Words: The slides shown during "Making Flippy Floppy" are supposed to be phrases that Byrne thought were funny.
  • I Was Quite a Fashion Victim: Tina Weymouth, in the DVD commentary on her stage costume of the time: "Ah yes, the blimp suit. It must have looked very modern in The Eighties."
  • Lampshade Hanging: Literally.
  • Large Ham: Byrne, unsurprisingly, but also drummer Chris Frantz (especially during Genius Of Love) and percussionist Steve Scales, both of whom mug for the audience every chance they get.
  • Looping Lines: Byrne's famous line "Does anybody have any questions?" after the band finishes "Life During Wartime" was dubbed in, over the far more mundane "We're going to take a short break... we'll be right back" (which can still be heard on the soundtrack album). Other instrumental parts were occasionally overdubbed to get rid of imperfections.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: A trademark of the band, and in full evidence here.
    • The contributions of the backing singers and additional musicians, if anything, heightens the lyrical dissonance of "Life During Wartime".
  • The Oner: There are quite a few of these.
  • Pop Culture Osmosis:
    • The Big Suit. The Simpsons episode with David Byrne As Himself has he and Homer briefly wearing the Big Suit together.
    • The concert is also remembered as The One With aerobic jogging by the band during songs.
    Roger Ebert: Watching the Talking Heads in concert is a little like rock 'n' roll crossed with "Jane Fonda's Workout."
  • Re Cut:
    • For the first home video release, three extra songs were inserted into the middle of the show. Later DVD releases went back to the theatrical cut, but included those extra songs as bonus content.
    • The album version was heavily edited, with drums on most songs completely re-recorded. (Byrne said that he wanted the album to be something completely separate, rather than just a soundtrack for the film.) In 1999, it was rereleased as Stop Making Sense: Special New Edition, and this version was the soundtrack from the film.
  • Shout-Out: David Byrne's dance with a lamp is a reference to Fred Astaire's film dances.
    • His "staggering" dance during "Psycho Killer" is a reference the way the main character of the film Breathless staggers after being shot (you'll notice that right before Byrne staggers the drum machine's beat is very rapid and sounds similar to a machine gun).
  • Silly Love Songs: Spectacularly averted; only one song ("This Must Be the Place") is a love song, and it is sung to a lamp. On the other hand, you could make the case that they're going for quality over quantity.
    • The song is not exactly being sung to a lamp - it's a song about the comfort of home. The lamp represents that.
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: Byrne deliberately sings in a very obtuse style, so those of you who want to sing along might need a lyric sheet.
  • Talking Heads: Averted. There are no Talking Heads in a movie about Talking Heads.
  • The "The" Title Confusion: It's not "The Talking Heads", Chris Frantz, drummer for the band Talking Heads.
  • Title Drop: Of the film itself, during the song "Girlfriend Is Better". Many of the songs are also have their titles dropped, of course.