Stop Making Sense: a review

By Daniel Brophy

For its 40th anniversary, Stop Making Sense comes alive in a stunning 4K remaster.

A figure appears from the darkness. He enters to a smattering of applause, which quickly erupts into rapturous celebration. Moving calmly across the stage, donned in pleated grey trousers, he stops abruptly as he reaches his destination: a microphone. “Hi”, he mutters, “I’ve got a tape I wanna play.” Proceeding to place a moderately-sized, industrial-looking, tape recorder beside him, he presses the play button hard. His foot begins to tap. A muted Roland TR-808 beat begins to play, prompting him to take stabs at the acoustic guitar hanging from his shoulders. The camera pans upward, revealing his upper body. A buttoned-up grey suit to match the trousers, a plain shirt, a sharp triangular face, middle-parted black hair. His head bobs and weaves to the rhythm. Psycho Killer.

In December of 1983, Talking Heads played a trio of shows at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre which were filmed and subsequently made into a concert film: Stop Making Sense. Directed by Jonathan Demme, it remains considered by critics as the “greatest concert film of all time”. A creation of pure joy, it has everything and more to offer. David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Bernie Worrell, Alex Weir, Steve Scales, Lynn Mary, Edna Holt. A display of the band at the height of their success and bombastic creativity. The big suit.

After being selected for preservation in the United States National Film Library by the Library of Congress, the cult classic has been reincarnated for a new generation. On 29 September 2023, the film’s 40th anniversary, a new 4K version of Stop Making Sense was released by A24 studios. Bringing a new shimmer to the original, the film remains slick. It shines a light, 40 years later, on one of the greatest bands of all time in their greatest live formation.

Now. A brief synopsis of the landmark concert film’s unique greatness:

After David Byrne’s resoundingly bizarre performance of Psycho Killer, the next round of the performance constructs the scene. With each new song, a new member of the live band comes to the stage, starting with the band’s legendary bassist Tina Weymouth for Fear of Music’s Heaven. As the set builds, the uncanny musical world of the Talking Heads builds with it, culminating with a demonstration of trademark sonic extravagance: Burning Down the House. Bursting with energy, with each member of the band pulsating with the groove, it creates an atmosphere as absurd as it is joyful.

After their performance of Life During Wartime, which can only be described as the musical equivalent of a marathon, highlighted by David Byrne’s quirked-up dance moves, the set escalates with euphoric energy until it reaches This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody). The stage is blanketed by darkness. A synth bass begins to pulsate. A lamp is turned on. Byrne stands poignantly still at the head of the stage as projections flicker behind him. The song quietly explodes behind him. All one can do is observe the depth of the band’s greatness. A truly remarkable moment.

Next comes Once in A Lifetime, Talking Heads’ kinetic and apparently radio-worthy epic: a combination of Afrobeat funk, harmonised pop hooks and blustering guitar licks. Every part, no matter how miniscule, seems to fall into place just about perfectly.

The set begins to close, yet remains unparalleled in its energy. Cruising through their most upbeat and ridiculous tracks, fit with a Tom Tom Club intermission, the band reaches its last song: Crosseyed and Painless. A now blazer-less David Byrne kicks off a leisurely intro to the song before kicking the band, and the audience, into overdrive. Bursting with rhythmic inflections and driving like a police chase, the track doesn’t let up, even after Byrne leaves the stage with characteristic awkwardness. Each player crescendos and then that’s it. Show over.As much as one can attempt to describe the exuberant and absurd world of the Talking Heads on film, Stop Making Sense is something which has to be seen on the big screen to be truly understood. 40 years on, it remains a perfectly preserved time capsule of the band’s short yet unapparelled musical career. While the 40th anniversary version of Stop Making Sense brings new features, such as a double LP soundtrack released on 18 August, it remains simply as great as it ever was. The same as it ever was.


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