Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense ★★★★★

You know those lightning-in-a-bottle moments that happen every so often when you're watching a film? The feeling that you've witnessed something so rare, so special, that it takes you to a transcendental plane of consciousness? Well, Stop Making Sense is that, non-stop for 88 minutes, and stays that way every time I watch it.

I guess my favourite band is The Beatles (boring, I know), but Talking Heads is the answer I'm more likely to give if you ask me on the street. My love for them began in the last two years of high school, when at the recommendation of a friend (or maybe my school librarian, Mr Bull...more about him in my inevitable True Stories review) I delved into the discography of the band behind that catchy song, "Psycho Killer", and in the wee hours of the morning during a caffeine-fuelled all-nighter frantically smashing out an essay, I realised that what I was listening to - 1979's Fear of Music - was absolute gold. David Byrne invaded my life in the subsequent months as he, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison became my Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - the "Apocalypse" in question being the end of my adolescence.

The academic neuroticism of Talking Heads married perfectly with my frantic schoolwork; their suburban curiosity with my aimless wanders around my neighbourhood; their social angst with my gradual discovery of the wider city and the people in it; their warped romanticism with the blissful confusion of my first love. They became the soundtrack to my life. Like any obsession, their presence has since been diluted by a vast number of other interests, but I still consider them an integral part of my being and a cornerstone of my musical taste. I doubt I go a week without listening to one of their songs, and seeing David Byrne's American Utopia tour late last year was one of the most euphoric experiences of my life.

But Stop Making Sense is more than just the cinematic embodiment of everything Talking Heads means to me. This aforementioned lightning-in-a-bottle quality that Jonathan Demme, David Byrne and the cluster of musicians assembled onstage manage to capture here unites the fundamental elements of music, cinema, performance and, hell, even just sheer human movement, resulting in what can only be described as a freak of nature and in my eyes, one of the pinnacles of all art. Not to get hyperbolic, of course.

The excitement and intimacy of live performance, of music shared in one space by artist and audience, is conveyed in every frame of Stop Making Sense. Through the ingenious staging and shooting of each song, the barriers between the band and the viewer are eroded in consistently surprising ways: the unwavering close-ups that linger even after the subject darts out of frame; the kinetic camerawork that spirals around the stage and dances along with the performers; that one moment where Byrne thrusts the microphone at the camera and his piercing eyes penetrate your soul, daring you to scream out, cross-eyed and painlessly; the decision to keep the crowd almost invisible until the climactic numbers, where we finally join them in all their convulsing glory; and that unforgettable final shot that leaves us on the darkened, empty stage rather than with the cheering audience.

David Byrne’s solo introduction establishes the relationship immediately, and over the course of the next few songs he is joined by his fellow bandmates as the stage becomes more complex, like a growing organism. As the tableau starts to come together, there is the sense that we are watching something deliberate, composed and artificial. Once we get some backup singers and dancers, more elaborate percussion and a more impressive synth setup, things start to loosen up. And then, Byrne runs around the stage, in a burst of spontaneous energy that sustains through the rest of the show. There are sudden instances of surprise that fill Stop Making Sense, that give it a vitality unmatched by anything else I’ve seen. Even in the opening rendition of “Psycho Killer”, Byrne’s intermittent spasms lend an air of unpredictability. These weird, serendipitous moments reach their peak with “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” – my favourite Talking Heads song – where Byrne lovingly serenades a lamp. It’s absurd, yet inexplicably pure and heartfelt, and it brings me to tears.

When I have a bad day, I put this on to make me feel better. When I have a good day, I put this on to make it a great one. Today I saw the love of my life for the first time in three months...what else am I going to do with such an emotional high than whack this on and let my body soak it up like oxygen or sunlight?

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