Back in the 1970s and 80s, one of the biggest musical genres was new wave, a genre that focused on pop-oriented styles and bridged the gap between punk rock and the more radio-friendly alternative pop. Starting with bands like The Velvet Underground and New York Dolls, many artists that were associated with the scene were musicians inspired by punk who wanted to move away from the stigma of punk music being seen as violent and unruly. Bands like Blondie, The Cars, the Police, Elvis Costello and Devo were all considered new wave as they combined punk with a more accessible and sophisticated sound. The Talking Heads were one of the most popular and influential bands to come out of the new wave scene, with their music defining many later bands to come. Frontman David Byrne and bassist Tina Weymouth were instrumental in the band’s popularity and with drummer Chris Frantz and guitarist Jerry Harrison, they made some of the most defining music in the new wave genre.
Stop Making Sense is an A24 remaster of a concert film directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) with input from David Byrne. It shows the band’s time at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, shot over four nights and playing some of their best-known songs. Made just when their single “Burning Down the House” was hitting its commercial peak, the movie came at a time when new wave was crossing over from the alternative charts to the mainstream. My dad, who was a fan of the group when they were gaining traction, says their music was everywhere during his time in college, a testament to how popular they were at the time.
The film is very visually reminiscent of The Talking Heads’ style, as it shows the very eccentric nature of the band and how it relates to their music. Byrne starts the concert singing “Psycho Killer” alone with his acoustic guitar while the rest of the band comes on as more songs are performed. The song “Life During Wartime” has Byrne running around the stage and doing a lot of physical exercises. The song “This Must Be The Place” has Byrne dancing around with a lamp prop and even leaning back far in a way that’s reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s famous Moonwalk pose.
The film also features music from Weymouth and Frantz’s side project, the “Tom Tom Club.” The song in question, “Genius of Love,” has been sampled in many R&B tracks and is credited as inspiring the hip-hop pop sound. The standout, however, has to be Byrne’s oversized suit, which he wears during the song “Girlfriend is Better” and is featured on the poster and other promotional materials.
What makes this film stand out from other concert films is that the camera is as much a character as the people on stage. Films of the time like Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground and Nico and even modern concert films like The Eras Tour all suffer from the problem of just being a recording. It feels less like you’re watching a movie and more like watching a professional recording of a concert. Stop Making Sense gets around this issue by including the camera as a character, making the audience a part of the movie and offering a different experience than just watching a concert recording. Whether it be Byrne holding the mic toward the camera or staring directly into it as if to signal you to join, you don’t feel like a spectator at all. This active experience makes for a very energetic movie that shines above other concert films of the same caliber.
Stop Making Sense is the encapsulation of what made The Talking Heads such a unique band. Their music, which still holds up today, is some of the most influential and inspired so many artists to come. If anybody wants to get into this historic band, this is a great jumping-off point to get into their style. The A24 remaster is also top-notch when compared to the original release, and you can tell how much love and care went into every frame. This re-release goes to show how timeless The Talking Heads are as a band, as their music can not only cross genres, but generational lines as well.
Rocco Lippi is a first-year film, photography and visual arts major who can’t stop talking about Byrne’s oversized suit. You can reach Rocco at [email protected].