What do The Silence of the Lanbs and Stop Making Sense have in common? Both are movies directed by Jonathan Demme and feature a man who we can safely assume is at least a little bit mad. While we can say with almost complete confidence that David Byrne is not a cannibal, his behaviour may be something that warrants an investigation by the FBI.
In December of 1983 at the Pantages Theatre, Jonathan Demme oversaw the creation of what is now often regarded as one of the greatest concert films ever made. Recorded across four separate shows during Talking Heads’ tour of Speaking in Tongues, Stop Making Sense plunged viewers into the certainly senseless concert experience. 40 years and one dramatic band breakup later and Stop Making Sense is back in cinemas worldwide.
A24, having obtained the distribution rights for the film, re-released it in cinemas in September with it now available in 4K and IMAX. The soundtrack was also remastered by Rhino Entertainment. Following the premiere of the new and improved version at the Toronto International Film Festival, the members of Talking Heads were seen at a Q&A together for the first time since 2002, when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Stop Making Sense is a truly unique experience that certainly lives up to its title. It is likely that this weird and wonderful production leaves the audience with a common thought; “why is this so brilliant? It’s absurd”. Throughout the film you are left to wonder whether certain aspects of it have any meaning behind them at all, but will still be in no doubt of its excellence. While it’s hard to decipher a purpose behind David Byrne’s ludicrously massive suit, it’s an easy sight to enjoy.
The energy of the film never abates, from start to finish you will be entranced and engaged in the music of Talking Heads, fan or not. Stop Making Sense begins with David Byrne walking onto a stage alone. Armed with only a guitar and a stereo, Byrne commands the stage with a performance of the band’s early hit ‘Psycho Killer’. Following this, song by song, Byrne is joined by members of the band and musicians, all of whom keep up with his exhilarating energy.
Even during ‘This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)’, one of Talking Heads’ most soothing songs, the thrill is not lost as Byrne dances with a lamp, repeatedly barely catching it before it hits the ground. One of the most impressive things about Stop Making Sense is the stamina of the performers, sustaining such a high level of energy for almost an hour and a half. The new restoration allows the sweat beads on Byrne’s skin to be seen as clear as day after he runs laps around the stage for no apparent reason in a section of ‘Life During Wartime’.
One of the reasons this film is so exciting is down to Demme’s direction. He purposely did not include a single shot of the audience until the final song. This stops the film from giving the impression that you are watching a recording of the concert, but rather gives you the feeling that you are at it.
Restorations of films are often unnoticed events. However, Stop Making Sense seems to have fought against that trend and won. It is possibly the massive jump in quality of the film that has helped this trend, or the highly promoted distribution by A24, but most likely it is the timelessness of Talking Heads’ music that has led to the movie achieving this. It is music that has the potential to live on and capture the attention of new generations, something that the re-release is most likely hoping to achieve.
The music featured in Stop Making Sense is recognisably a product of its time, but that is not at all to say that it should stay there. Talking Heads made music that was fresh and exciting, and it still packs a punch almost as big as David Byrne’s suit. You could say that the relevance, importance and brilliance of Talking Heads’ music is the “same as it ever was.”