David Bryne during the concertCory Doctorow/ WikiCommons

Those familiar with the eccentric and idiosyncratic magic of David Byrne and Talking Heads could and would easily believe that every movement, vocal affectation and facial expression in the 1984 music documentary Stop Making Sense was meticulously choreographed and pre-planned. I mean, how else could every song flow into the next so perfectly? How else could everyone find their place so easily, switch between instruments so easily, play and move in such perfect synchronicity? How else could every movement work so well with everything else going on on that frenetic, groovy, 1980s Los Angeles stage? It seems obvious that Stop Making Sense is a project many years and many thousands of strange yet perfect artistic decisions in the making. But every time I watch the damn thing, all that painstaking decision-making culminates in such a deep impression of authenticity that it feels as though everyone involved stumbled into place by chance, improvised the whole thing because why the hell not, and spontaneously created the greatest concert film of all time.

"Suddenly the barren stage we opened with has become something indescribably electric"

Stop Making Sense begins with David Byrne waltzing onto stage and popping a tape into a boombox. A drum machine from the mixing board begins to strike beats like thunder and Byrne stumbles around to a perfect acoustic rendition of Psycho Killer. This all happens on a barren stage, with exposed scaffolding behind Byrne, no dramatic lighting, and no effects. It’s just the music: Byrne, his drum machine, his guitar. Tina Weymouth soon joins with her bass for the next tune, Heaven, then Chris Frantz is wheeled out with his drum kit for Thank You For Sending Me An Angel, and finally keyboardist and guitarist Jerry Harrison joins for Found a Job. Additional performers are brought on gradually, and the first song performed by every musician is Burning Down the House, one of the band’s biggest hits. Suddenly the barren stage we opened with has become something indescribably electric — something with giant suits, flashing lights, lamp dances, and more 'same as it ever was' than you could think possible. 

As the musical body develops and grows, so too does the stage to accommodate the band. It’s so precisely arranged, and yet still feels dazzlingly spur-of-the-moment — as if this curtain only descended because someone realised ‘oh, we should probably bring that thing down’ or this spotlight only flickered to life because a light technician thought ‘wouldn’t it be nice to get a spotlight on David right about now?’ It’s a pitch-perfect natural progression from a low-budget energetic solo act to a supermassive music collective, both ends of the spectrum imbued with just as much brilliance as you’d expect from Talking Heads. But Psycho Killer to Burning Down The House doesn’t even make up half of the film — where could they even go from here, you wonder. You have no idea what’s about to hit you. It’s a crescendo that never ends.

"You have no idea what’s about to hit you. It’s a crescendo that never ends"

This is obviously thanks mostly to the incredibly potent musical talent of Talking Heads, but Jonathan Demme, director, brings his fair share to the table as well. If Byrne was the perfect choice to conceive of such a distinctive live show, Demme was the perfect choice to direct its film. At this point in his career, Demme had grown tired of the constraints of Hollywood, and stepped back to direct Stop Making Sense, a film almost antithetical to the film industry in its unbound creativity. Free of limitations that frustrated him for so long, Demme was given the creative space to create something truly magical; his complex and dynamic visuals enhance the experience tenfold. In their love for and devotion to creating art, Talking Heads and Johnathan Demme are a perfect fit.


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Stop Making Sense was recently acquired by A24, and restored in glorious 4K IMAX. Various videos have recently made the rounds on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook,. of crowds standing and dancing in cinemas across the globe. Watching these videos, it’s easy to scoff and roll your eyes — how would you possibly be possessed to do that? It’s not even a real concert! — but sitting in Arts Picturehouse Cambridge, staring up at the magnificent and imposing image of David Byrne bouncing around wildly singing Girlfriend is Better in his giant grey business suit infected me, and I’m sure everyone else in the audience, with such exhilaration that I could hardly contain my desire to jump up and scream every single word.