Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Sep 23, 2009
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Jonathan Demme

Release Date(s)

1984 (October 13, 2009)

Studio(s)

Palm Pictures

Review

[Editor’s Note: The film portion of this review is edited from a previous review by Dan Kelly.]

Moviegoing is probably one of the more subjective art experiences.  The concert film is even more so than the average film.  In a dramatic film, if there is a character or actor that you’re not particularly fond of, there are other elements to hold your interest.

If you don’t like an actor, there are sure to be scenes in which he or she does not play a part.  The concert film, on the other hand, is a different story.  After all, if you don’t like the band playing, it’s likely that you’re not going to even bothering seeing the film.  The focus of the film is, in fact, the band on stage.  Stop Making Sense may just be the exception to that rule.  Talking Heads are admittedly an acquired taste, but as a film, Stop Making Sense is so well put together, and Talking Heads put on such a great live show, that there’s enough here to keep even fans of passing interest entertained throughout most of the show.  This film has deservedly earned its reputation as one of (if not the) best concert films of all time.

The stage is at first bare.  David Byrne comes out wearing his trademarked white canvas deck shoes and white suit, and he performs a stripped-down version of Psycho Killer, with only a recorded drumbeat as accompaniment.  He ends the song with the “spastic dance” (as it’s called in the storyboards) as he trips over parts of the stage being wheeled out behind him.  From there on, the performances, band and stage pieces slowly grow from modest and understated into full blown theatrical rock show.  Part of the excitement in this performance is watching it grow through each song.  By the time Byrne, Weymouth and company get down to doing Slippery People, one of the more inspiring songs of the set, the players (including keyboardists and back-up singers) are all on stage.  Each performance is rousing and stimulating, and the performance of Burning Down the House is one of the more high-energy I’ve seen on film.

Jonathan Demme (best known for directing films like Silence of the Lambs and Beloved) helped bring the group’s vision of their stage show to the screen, with the help of cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner, U2: Rattle and Hum).  The pace of the concert builds in complexity and the show becomes more involving as it progresses.  In this aspect, it plays out a lot like a traditional film, and less like a concert.  There are also no shots of the audience until the very end of the movie.  The band members (all of them, not just Byrne) are always the center of attention. Stop Making Sense is absorbing and entertaining from beginning to end.

Palm’s new Blu-ray Disc edition, released to commemorate the film’s 25th anniversary, features a new 1080p transfer mastered from a 35mm interpositive.  The resulting image presents the film looking as good as we’ve seen it at home.  Stop Making Sense has always been somewhat high-contrast and grainy – a little soft on detail.  But that’s certainly true to the theatrical experience of the film, and the BD image captures it all well.  Blacks are deep and dark, and fine detail is fair.  The occasional nick or scratch is visible on the negative, but the image overall is quite good looking, with moderate grain rendering a very film-like quality to the presentation.  The audio quality is absolutely fantastic.  Lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 is available in your choice of the live audience “feature” mix or a “studio” mix (of the two, the studio mix is recommended, as it makes the best use of the 5.1 audio space).  Also available is the same PCM 2.0 stereo mix that was available on the DVD.

Extras include everything that was on the previous DVD edition, including audio commentary with Demme and all four band members, storyboards with notes by Byrne, a pair of bonus songs, Byrne’s self-interview video, text notes and the film’s trailer.  Exclusive to the Blu-ray is a never-before-seen, hour-long press conference with the full band, filmed in 1999 at the occasion of the film’s theatrical re-release.

Stop Making Sense is a highly entertaining concert film, featuring groundbreaking songs, dedicated musicians, energetic (and admittedly comical) choreography and an enthusiastic crowd.  Even if you’re not a big Talking Heads fan, if you enjoy music and live concert material, this is one Blu-ray that should be at the top of your purchase list.

- Bill Hunt

Additional Notes

Track Listing:

Psycho Killer
Heaven
Thank You for Sending Me an Angel
Found a Job
Slippery People
Burning Down the House
Life During Wartime
Making Flippy Floppy
Swamp
What a Day That Was
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)
Once in a Lifetime
Genius of Love
Girlfriend is Better
Take Me to the River
Crosseyed and Painless
Cities (bonus)
Big Business/I Zimbra (bonus)

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