Film Review: Stop Making Sense

October 19 marks the 40-year anniversary of “Stop Making Sense,” a 1984 American concert film centering around the rock band Talking Heads.

In anticipation of the film’s upcoming anniversary, studio A-24 returned “Stop Making Sense” to theaters in crisp 4k.

Musical group Talking Heads; left to right: David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, in a promotional photo for the album Remain In Light. Distributed by Sire Records. Image in the public domain.

After putting it off for weeks, I finally went to see it on October 7 with DJ Claymore.

In short: it was excellent.

For the longer version, look below:

The Film

When I go to live shows, the onstage performance is only part of what contributes to the experience. A good show has atmosphere, with energy diffused from the performers to the audience below.

Despite taking place on the big screen, thus severing the connection between audience and performer, “Stop Making Sense” manages to cultivate a vividly energetic and intimate experience that moves and transforms.

David Byrne onstage with the Talking Heads, October 1, 1977 Jay’s Longhorn Bar, Minneapolis, MN, uploaded by Michael Markos, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

The Cinematography

The film’s methodical construction is in part largely responsible for its massive acclaim, as it transforms “concert” and “cinema” into something dynamic and soul-touchingly imaginative.

Though shot across four concert performances at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre, the film maintains a sense of temporal continuity.

In fact, set design, costuming and camera positioning were specially-tailored to create the illusion of the film taking place across a single performance.

And while wide-angle shots serve to capture the magnitude of the band’s stage presence, the use of closeups and tracking shots adds a sense of dynamism and intimacy, taking full advantage of the cinematic medium.

As a result, one could argue that “Stop Making Sense” is more than a concert. It’s a documentary; it’s a glimpse into something methodical and artistic and special.

The Sound

“Stop Making Sense” was filmed during the band’s tour to promote their 1983 album “Speaking in Tongues.”

The soundtrack has an unraveling effect, with each track coinciding with the addition of a new band member to the stage.

Cover for “Speaking In Tongues” by Talking Heads

The film’s first song features Byrne performing an acoustic version of “Psycho Killer.” Next, with “Heaven,” bassist and guitarist Tina Weymouth joins the stage.

All band members appear for the climactic performance of the band’s new hit “Burning Down the House.”

There were several points during this film that my skin erupted in goosebumps or I found myself compelled to kick my feet, to bob my head, to move in some capacity to actualize the energy I felt buzzing all around me.

After the first couple songs, the audience — those of us moviegoers — seemed to forget that that it wasn’t 1984 and that David Byrne was not, in fact, dancing and weaving and gesticulating upon a stage in front of us.

They began to clap, cheer and laugh with abandon. If we weren’t seated, I expect that they would have swayed and danced, too.

Final Thoughts

I went into this film knowing next to nothing about it, only that I loved Talking Heads and loved David Byrne’s flagrant and unabashed eccentricity even more.

Even for those unacquainted with the band, this film is a great experience and possibly a great introduction to the works of Talking Heads.

By J

J is a DJ at WKNC and a staunch enjoyer of dark and moody music.