Saturday, April 26, 2014

2014 Blind Spot Series: Stop Making Sense

Directed by Jonathan Demme, Stop Making Sense is a concert film based on the Talking Heads’ 1983 tour to promote their fifth studio release Speaking in Tongues. Shot in three nights at the Hollywood Pantages Theater, the concert film showcases the band playing songs from the album and other songs from previous albums as it’s presented in a unique fashion. The result is a concert film that not only becomes the show but something much more with its music and stage presentation.

The film is a presentation of the show the post-punk/new wave band the Talking Heads did in 1983 for their fifth album Speaking in Tongues as they were a band that brought in a unique mix of art-rock, funk, African world beats, post-punk, and soul music that made them quite popular in the 1980s. Leading the band is vocalist/guitarist David Byrne as the group would also consist of guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison, bassist/guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Tina Weymouth, and drummer/vocalist Chris Franz. Serving as additional musicians to the band is percussionist Steve Scales, the Brothers Johnson guitarist Alex Weir, and the legendary Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell as they’re also joined by Lynn Mabry and Edna Holt on backing vocals.

It’s not just the music that features such classics as Once in a Lifetime, Burning Down the House, Life During Wartime, Psycho Killer, and many other songs including Genius of Love by the side project Tom Tom Club and a cover of Al Green’s Take Me to the River that makes the concert so unique. It’s the stage presentation that takes the concert to another level as it defies all of the rules of how a concert is presented. The film begins with David Byrne walking to the stage with an acoustic guitar and a boom box where he plays the boom box which plays some recorded music as he sings Psycho Killer. The first set would have the main members of the band come in one-by-one for each song while the platforms for the drums, keyboards, and percussion bases are being set-up.

Usually at a concert, the stage and the presentation of the show would be already set-up as the concert begins. What the Talking Heads did is break the rules as the presentation which would include screens in the back and all sorts of lighting presentation where shadows are shown on the back wall just adds something that is very different. Especially as stage crew members would be part of the show in setting up the platforms and carrying lights to help create this presentation that is so off-the-wall. Adding to that eccentricity of the show is David Byrne who would wear this gigantic suit late in the show as well as having a lamp during one of the songs.

Jonathan Demme’s direction is truly mesmerizing in not just the way he captures the concert but also the energy as he gets some shots of the audiences watching the show. With the help of cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, Demme goes for a look that is entrancing with its use of lights while going for compositions that are unorthodox by shooting right at the stage from the viewpoint of the audience to see what the stage presentation would look like with the entire band. There’s also some close-up and camera shots that showcases some of the craziness that goes on in the performance. Editor Lisa Day helps play to that sense of unconventional approach by not delving into the MTV-editing style of the time in favor of something more precise so that the audience can be engaged by the performance that included a near-one take performance of Once in a Lifetime for most of the song. With the sound work of Rick Coberly, Stan Horine, and Charles Butch Watson playing to the way the music sounds, the film definitely has more than just a feel of a concert where the sound of the audience just makes it more special.

Stop Making Sense is a spectacular film from Jonathan Demme that features the amazing music of the Talking Heads. This film is truly one of the finest concert films ever made in terms of its sense of energy, stage presence, charisma, the presentation of the show, and the music. It’s a film that’s not afraid to break the rules while giving the audience something that is off-the-wall and more. In the end, Stop Making Sense is a phenomenal film from Jonathan Demme.

Jonathan Demme Films: (Caged Heat) - (Crazy Mama) - (Fighting Mad) - (Handle with Care) - (Last Embrace) - (Melvin & Howard) - (Who Am I This Time?) - (Swing Shift) - (Something Wild) - (Swimming to Cambodia) - (Married to the Mob) - (The Silence of the Lambs) - (Cousin Bobby) - (Philadelphia) - (Storefront Hitchcock) - (Beloved) - (The Truth About Charlie) - (The Agronomist) - (The Manchurian Candidate (2004 film)) - (Neil Young: Heart of Gold) - (Man from Plains) - Rachel Getting Married - (Neil Young Trunk Show) - (Neil Young Journeys) - (A Master Builder) - Ricki and the Flash

© thevoid99 2014


Chris said...

The stage presentation is so full of energy, you can watch the film without even being a fan of their music.
For me, the track "Making Flippy Floppy" is even better live. David Byrne's giant suit was indeed a highlight!

thevoid99 said...

That suit is awesome. The whole show is spectacular. This is what a concert film should be. I had a blast watching it and even stood up to dance and such. It's a shame they won't reunite.