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Talking Heads

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Calvin and Hobbes go meta.

"It's eighty-seven minutes of a raving talking head — mine."
Spalding Gray on the film Swimming to Cambodia

Footage (specifically, close shots) of people ... talking, with little or no other action. Theoretically easy to write and definitely cheap to film, Talking Heads can be boring (though usually considered okay in books.)

The term was originally coined in the 70s to describe advertisements shot in this style. Talking Heads has since been used as a criticism for media that relied heavily on dialog.

As American Television and Hollywood became more "cerebral" in the early to mid 90s, the media became noticeably more Talking Heady: Complicated police procedural and legal dramas popular at the time relied on interviews and testimonies, while comedy aped the Seinfeld and Pulp Fiction style of rambling, slice-of-life dialog.

Bill Watterson complained that Newspaper Comics are moving in this direction, probably due to a combination of Cerebus Syndrome and Lazy Artists, though he blames restrictions placed on them by newspapers.


Also notable is UK comedy show Peep Show, the entire premise is based around talking heads (because each shot is from the perspective of another person in the scene).

Of course, the actual Talking Heads by Alan Bennett conforms to this trope, essentially monologues (with one phantom policeman). The band Talking Heads (fronted by David Byrne), however, does not (although they claim the analogy fits: "All content, no action"). Even their famous concert film, Stop Making Sense, is completely free of Talking Heads, a rarity in a genre typically saturated with them. The band is named after the phenomenon, though, with a certain amount of thought put into it (see page for details).

Compare Two Gamers on a Couch. Compare and contrast the Talk Show.

Not to be confused with literal talking heads. For that, see Losing Your Head.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Death Note (especially the manga) falls into this trap every now and then, and it's very noticable.
  • Evangelion falls into this come episodes 25 and 26.

    Comic Books 

  • Spalding Gray is the Trope Codifier of film, taking his off-off-Broadway one man shows to film, including Swimming To Cambodia, Monster In a Box, Gray's Anatomy, and the HBO special Terrors of Pleasure. In Box, he refers to himself as a "raving talking head".
  • Lily Tomlin quickly followed Gray with a film adaptation of her one-woman show The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.
  • The interview scenes in The Silence of the Lambs consist mostly of headshots of Clarice and Lector. However, this serves to add to the drama of the scenes as there is no focus other than the two characters and their emotions. Later on, this technique is used again when Clarice and her friend are discussing the case and Lector's comments.
  • The Exorcist III predates Silence, and there are almost no actions scenes. It's a Talking Heads horror film.
  • The Man from Earth is mostly this.
  • My Dinner with Andre.
  • True Stories, directed by the frontman of... Talking Heads.
  • A trademark of Woody Allen.
  • Many documentary films use talking heads for interviews. Harlan County U.S.A. uses a fairly standard talking head format for interviews, but is notable for the fact that the interviews took place during the strike the movie centers around, not after.
  • Used for a Bait-and-Switch in Europa Report when an apparent survivor being interviewed after the mission is actually dictating her log shortly before her death.
  • In the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, which chronicles the Troubled Production of Apocalypse Now, the making-of footage is intercut with interviews from the cast and crew, shot years later.


    Live Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: The radio programs adapted to television are often "talky" episodes. However, visual gags are often thrown into the script (indeed, many are carried over from the radio where they are described, but not shown). The show, humorous on the radio, definitely does not suffer in the adaptation to television.
  • News shows, by necessity.
  • Peep Show does an original take on the cliche thanks to being filmed with a POV camera.
  • When Channel Five started as the UK's fifth terrestrial channel, the idea of terrestrial TV had already been rendered obselescent by the advent of satellite and cable. A fifth free-to-view TV station was no longer as exciting as it might have been if there were only five available channels. Five therefore set about attracting viewers by sensationalism, promising a lot of explicit content. Viewers read this as "free porn". many viewers were not amused when the "porn" turned out to be home-made and imported documentaries about the porn business and its stars. There might be a ten or fifteen second establishing scene demonstrating that porn was in fact happening and showing who and what was involved - and then the visual content would switch to "talking heads" who would talk, at length, about the sociological, economic, moral, health, gender-political, feminist, or other, aspect of the business. Viewers got disillusioned quickly.
  • Also true of most documentaries, such as Classic Albums, where people will be interviewed.

    Newspaper Comics 

  • All one-man shows, such as Hal Holbrook's Mark Twain act, fall under this category.
  • Waiting for Godot is the rare example of a narrative drama employing this.

    Video Games 
  • Several main characters (and most Enclave soldiers in Powered Armor) in Fallout and Fallout 2 have animated Talking Heads with lip-synced voice acting for their dialogue window. This is even how the developers referred to them. Other characters simply show their world model and communicate via written text. A few, such as John Cassidy from Fallout 2, had Talking Heads animated but no voice-acting recorded (mostly due to looming deadlines), and were thus left out. Most can be restored via game mods, but are still silent.
  • Most of Mega Man 10's story cutscenes have caught some flack due to being made of still images, scrolling text and little else. It doesn't help that some players think that the game's presentation required minimal effort to make.


    Web Original 
  • Kind of a given for Becoming YouTube, since it is part documentary.
  • This trope fits almost 90% of amateur or even semi-professional YouTube videos. Many of these are filmed using a smartphone camera on the equivalent of a selfie stick. Others are filmed using the webcam on their native laptop or desktop, neccesitating their staying in one position. Other than occasionally having a musical intro with graphics, these videos never have cutscenes, scene changes, interstitials, animations, or camera pans, as the Youtuber is generally not educated in filmmaking or cinematography. These videos are literally the live action equivalent of "illustrated radio".


Example of: