Stop Making Sense

on October 19, 1984 by Alan Karp
   "Stop Making Sense" is probably the best rock concert film since Martin Scorsese's "The Last Waltz." Deceptively straightforward, the film serves as a welcome reminder of how much more impact a well-photographed and recorded musical performance can have on the silver screen than on television.
   Rather than include the standard mix of interviews and backstage preparatStop Making Sense" comes alive due to Demme's seemingly effortless changes of camera angles and focal lengths. Subtle but never bland, Demme's direction is in such perfect sync with the music that we don't ever get the feeling (so common in other concert films) that we'd rather be watching anything other than what's up there on the screen. By the same token, Byrne's eccentrically energetic style and stage design always insures that there's something worth capturing.
   In visual terms, the film's brilliance is also due to the marvelous lighting effects created by "Blade Runner" cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth. When Byrne decks himself out in an absurdly large suit, both Demme and Cronenweth demonstrate a remarkable talent for highlighting this outrageous use of props in an understated manner which allows the effect to speak for itself. Also refreshing is Demme's avoidance of the overly contrived visual tricks which have become the stock trade of most music videos today.
   The result is that viewers are able to experience one rock's most intriguing attractions from the best possible vantage point without any annoying intrusions. Of course, the one danger with this strategy is that if the Talking Heads' music and stage show is not your cup of tea, there's nothing in this film that will win you over. But then again, "Stop Making Sense" was obviously conceived as a celluloid celebration of the band's performing talents, and not as an "up close and personal" explanation of who they are and why you should like them.
   As far as the music itself is concerned, the Heads perform top-notch versions of most of their best-known works ("Burning Down the House," "Life During Wartime," "Psycho Killer," etc.), both as a quartet and as a larger (nine-piece) aggregation. The only real letdown in the ever-building level of excitement comes about two-thirds of the way through with a rather perfunctory performance by the Tom-Tom Club (Heads bassist Tina Weymouth's band, which does not include Byrne). Nevertheless, "Stop Making Sense" should have enormous appeal for viewers who are even passingly interested in the Talking Heads.    Starring the Talking Heads. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Produced by Gary Kurfirst. A Palm re-release. Concert film. Unrated. Running time: 88 min.
Tags: Starring the Talking Heads, Directed by Jonathan Demme, Produced by Gary Kurfirst, Palm, Concert

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