Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense ★★★★★

It was late at night, so I threw on my headphones, sat back on the sofa in the peaceful darkness and watched Stop Making Sense - the best movie ever made.

This concert film comes at a time after the release of Speaking In Tongues, the most popular and commercial album of Talking Head's career. After their experimental collaborations with legendary producer Brian Eno to make More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain In Light, the band took a more contemporary approach that incorporated more dance and pop rhythms into their well-established art-rock set up. It's funk music disguised as rock music.

Translated to a stage environment, you get pure magic.

Wearing headphones as opposed to using my usual speaker set up, I really noticed the sound mixing, and especially how the stereo field often reflects the camera movement on-screen. Demme and his team really took full advantage of 24-track digital recording and played around with panning and automation to really enhance the sonic representation of each song. It's pioneering use of digital audio technologies, especially for the mid '80s. For example, if you listen carefully during Thank You for Sending Me an Angel, Byrne's vocal swiftly moves around the stereo field just as Demme's camera swings around the stage. It's a really small and nerdy thing to notice, but I've seen this film so many times that it's always a delight to find new things to gush over.

The way the band coordinates their legs and hips in such freeform ways is mesmerizing to watch. Life During Wartime sees Byrne, Waymouth, Mabry and Holt offer up some synchronized swimming on stage. It feels very planned and formulaic, but there is a level of spontaneity to the performance. It's been designed, rehearsed and then performed night after night, but yet each song is full of these little nuggets of gold, these moments of wonder and awe that truly captures the spellbinding capabilities of live performance. I've said to friends on many occasions, one cinematic moment that never fails to give me goosebumps is Byrne dancing with the lamp during This Must Be The Place, letting it fall and watching in amazement as it balances itself upright, then he struts off in the goofiest way possible. It's bliss. It gets me every single time.

Byrne's performance is the glue that really holds this concert film together. He's like a drunk Buster Keaton unleashed in a music shop. Limbs flailing in rhythmic patterns, eyes saying more than most people can do with words, characters and personas flow through him from song to song like a man possessed. The dance choreography is like a freeform style of dadaist poetry. He bends, flexes, and twists in a manner of outlandish ways. The physical embodiment of the songs are often so very far removed from the lyrical content. It doesn't match up, and it's wonderful. This theme recurs with the seemingly random set of words that pop up on the back wall in between songs, SANDWICH, FACELIFT, PIG, STAR WARS, What does it mean? Why don't the dance moves match up with the lyrics?
Or as the back of the vinyl record reads -
Why a movie? Why tour? Why do the musicians come out gradually? What will the band do next? Why no special effects in the movie? Why a big suit?

Why anything? It doesn't make sense. Which in itself makes perfect sense.

Stop Making Sense is just that, a concert film that begs you not to dig deeper than what is there, on the stage. Talented performers, wonderful music, elegant choreography and lighting.
Why any of it? Who cares.

It's an energetic cavalcade of wonder, and I would happily watch it every damn day.


I do, Mr Byrne. But I don't need answers.

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