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“Stop Making Sense” and dance to the madness: a concert film review

By: Meghan Henoumont

 

 

I’m truly sorry if I shoulder-shimmied all over your boyfriend or girlfriend Saturday night. Hopefully no one sustained any bruises. That wasn’t really me. Those were my best mid-80s dance moves, and I should not be judged for my behavior.

 

“Stop Making Sense” was re-released and digitally remastered by Palm Pictures, to celebrate the film’s 30 year anniversary on July st of this year. I was lucky enough to attend the New Orleans premiere and participate in the Talking Heads dance party that ensued.

 

On Saturday, Sept. 6th, “Stop Making Sense” was screened by ShotGun Cinema at Studio 3, a design warehouse that produces massive Mardi Gras props and sculptures. This was the perfect space to watch a landmark concert film, especially about a band that blurred the line between performance art and musical genius.

 

“Stop Making Sense” features Talking Heads live in concert circa 1983. Talking Heads were an experimental new wave art rock band comprised of David Byrne (lead vocals and guitar), Chris Frantz (drums and backing vocals), Tina Weymouth (bass and backing vocals) and Jerry Harrison (keyboards, guitar and backing vocals). The band released eight groundbreaking albums between 1975 and 1991.

 

“Stop Making Sense” was shot over three days at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater in 1983 while the group was on tour for their latest album, “Speaking in Tongues.” Director Jonathen Demme, of “Silence of the Lambs” fame, sought to capture the raw transformative power of the Heads’ music and spirited performances.

 

“Psycho Killer,” an early Talking Heads song, opened the film with an iconic entrance. Frontman David Byrne walked onto the empty stage with a cassette player and acoustic guitar telling the audience,

“ Hi, I got a tape I want to play.” He hit the “play” button and the song’s backing track (a drumbeat that sounds like today’s EDM, or an early House beat) ensued while he energetically performed a chilling version of the now-classic song for an enthusiastic audience. As the song ended, the crowd applauded and the rest of the band took the stage.

 

This screening was by no meanings a typical movie screening, as Talking Heads was not exactly a typical band. Not one person in the packed warehouse stood still. There was no sitting. Every able body was slicked in sweat, dancing to the Afro-Caribbean-inspired beats.

 

The only time people seemed to stop dancing was to grab a beer (three dollar cans of New Belgian were available at a table in the back of the room) or to stand in front of the huge fans aimed at the crowd.

 

The film’s title was taken from lyrics to a song called “Girlfriend is Better.” The lyrics in question are: “Wait a minute/I got a girlfriend that’s better than this/and you don’t remember at all/as we get older and stop making sense.” According to Byrne, “stop making sense” was the best advice he could give about growing up. Byrne was well known for his whimsical songwriting style.

 

Performed live, the song became a conceptual art piece: an ode to Indonesian shadow puppetry and the band’s multi-cultural musical tastes. The band members used handheld lights and oversized costumes to cast shadows while remaining in the dark background of the stage.

 

The Heads were heavily influenced by world music at a time when few other musicians had explored global sounds. They combined elements of music hailing from a diverse cultural spread: from Arabic classical music to the Afro-beats of Nigerian artist Fela Kuti.

 

The film was critically acclaimed after its original release in 1984, receiving rave reviews from The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and other publications.However, reviews are not what defined the Heads’ music.

 

The film gives music lovers the experience of witnessing the birth of the remix and the beginnings of genre crossover, a movement that has deeply influenced modern hip-hop, electronica, rock and pop. The film did a fantastic job of capturing the contagious, crackling energy that served as the foundation for Talking Heads’ work.

 

The true testament to the film’s greatness lies in Demmes’ camera lens. He did not cut to views of the audience. Instead he chose to keep the camera focused on the stage. This worked to showcase the adventurous, yet intimate style of the Heads’ performances.

 

Thirty years later, and Talking Heads’ experimental beat mashups still have the ability to infect a room of strangers with the unquenchable desire to move and sing along with inexplicable joy, and total disregard for how they may look, shimmying and accidental bruising optional.

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