Jonathan Demme’s concert movie Stop Making Sense captures the raw energy of one magical night with musical pioneers Talking Heads.
Sometimes, it can be hard to think about live concert recordings as actual movies: they don’t really have a story, there are no characters, and things play out totally differently than they would in a piece of fiction. Concert recordings and feature-length movies clearly have plenty of differences, but Jonathan Demme’s revolutionary Stop Making Sense was among the first projects to really blur the line between the two. He tackles the film just like any of his others, thinking carefully about the shots that are going to be used, how the editing can help create momentum, and how each song can be made to blend effortlessly into the next. The result is something incredibly singular, wholly intentional, and entirely new that manages to capture the magic of this Talking Heads concert in a way that truly makes the audience feel like they’re there.
Every concert needs something interesting to set it apart from the rest, and Talking Heads really knew how to give this performance an entirely fresh energy. The show opens with a patient, acoustic version of ‘Psycho Killer’ with only frontman David Byrne and his guitar on the stage, before gradually introducing new sounds and musicians through deeper cuts like ‘Heaven’ and ‘Found a Job’, until everything culminates in an explosive rendition of ‘Burning Down The House’ and just gets bolder from there. The way the stage slowly comes alive as the band introduces themselves and they find their classic sound is something that very few musicians could achieve, but Talking Heads have such an effortless confidence that shines whenever they’re on stage – and Demme’s direction fully takes advantage of this.
What makes Stop Making Sense such a perfect concert movie is how Demme always places the audience directly on-stage with Talking Heads, making them truly feel like a part of the band. The entire movie appears more like an endless party than a one-sided performance, destroying that barrier between artist and audience that always exists during live concerts. As soon as the band gets into their dance anthems with ‘Life During Wartime’ and ‘Making Flippy Floppy’, the entire stage has become a dancefloor and the audience is invited. Before Stop Making Sense, this was something that very few concert movies had dared to attempt, but this expert blend of Demme’s cinematography and Byrne’s stage presence is such a natural fit.
It also helps that Talking Heads are the perfect subject for a movie like this: not only is their music incredibly catchy and funky, but David Byrne is gifted with a kind of dynamic magnetism that’s impossible to look away from, and this concert represents the very best of his musical abilities. From his solo performance of ‘Psycho Killer’ to the endurance test of ‘Take Me To The River’ as a closing number, he’s brimming with energy and charisma that really brings the performance to life. He fully commits to every single song, even the ones whose studio recordings might be a little less energetic, and transforms them into something that will get the audience on their feet and dancing along with him.
The other members of the band are also on top form in Stop Making Sense, with bassist Tina Weymouth driving much of the music forward with her provocative basslines and subtle harmonies. Chris Frantz’ drums and Jerry Harrison’s keyboard are also integral parts of the Talking Heads machine, and while it’s Byrne’s stage presence that often receives the most praise, none of that would be possible without the other members of the band. There’s a reason they’re considered one of the defining voices in ‘80s new wave pop, and they’ve arguably never been better than in Stop Making Sense.
Stop Making Sense managed to capture lightning in a bottle, and that wouldn’t have been possible without the talent of both Jonathan Demme and Talking Heads on display. It’s such a fun, lighthearted, and energetic concert movie that anybody can easily lose themselves in – regardless of how familiar you are with the music. It’s such an accessible sound that even without any existing knowledge of Talking Heads or ‘80s pop rock in general, you’ll have no problem falling in love with Byrne’s vocals and the band’s catchy melodies.
Stop Making Sense will be re-released in 4K IMAX on September 22 and everywhere on September 29, 2023.