Think of everything you might want in a good concert film. Good music, obviously. For it to work cinematically and aesthetically, (or else why make it a film?). And seeing people enjoying themselves on stage. Well, Stop Making Sense has them all. Directed by Jonathan Demme, who later won a truckload of Oscars for Silence of the Lambs, Talking Heads transcend the usual constraints of the genre to create the greatest concert film ever made.
Rarely has a concert film had such a sense of drama; from the opening credits, composed mainly of shadows, moving into the first song, as David Byrne plays ‘Psycho Killer’ with only an acoustic guitar and some taped beats, into the rest of the gig. Each song he is joined by another member, until finally the band has a full complement for ‘Burning Down The House’. Crowd shots are kept to a minimum, and the stage gear is made as discreet as possible. The character of each song makes it seem as if the film has a plot, and the lighting and cinematography really brings this out, perhaps most strikingly in ‘Once In A Lifetime’, which eschews traditional concert film methods for striking monochrome and one single camera shot.
All this sounds a little pretentious, but, for a band with clear art-school sensibilities, it’s amazing how much fun it is to watch. Often the aesthetic concepts which underpin the film transmit themselves to the viewer in the shape of a running-man dance, or a love-song sang to a lampshade, or a comically large suit.
The performers themselves also seem to be enjoying themselves hugely. Given how acrimonious the band’s split was, it sometimes seems incredible that they could ever have formed a functioning band, let alone one who could enjoy themselves in each other’s company (for proof of this, YouTube their heartbreakingly strained Hall of Fame Induction performance from 2002). But the genius of the film is how infectious the performers’ enjoyment is.
Oh, and the music’s all right too.