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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 6/1/00

Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense
1984 (1999) - Palm Pictures/Rykodisc

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/A-

Specs and Features

88 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch 48:07, at the start of chapter 11), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, audio commentary (by Talking Heads and director Jonathan Demme), storyboard-to-film comparisons, bonus tracks (Cities and Big Business/I Zimbra), David Byrne self-interview, band discography, promotional clip, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, song access (16 tracks - see listing below), languages: English (DD 5.1 remixed film track, DD 5.1 studio mix and DD 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

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. Since I am a Talking Heads fan, I really enjoyed Stop Making Sense, and I think it 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. I don't know how I would have felt as an actual concertgoer watching crew members tow out risers and instruments, but on film it makes this show something more than your average musical event. 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. Never before or since have I felt like I was at a concert and not merely watching one on film. Stop Making Sense is absorbing and entertaining from beginning to end.

Palm Pictures and Rykodisc have given us an across-the-board nice presentation of Stop Making Sense on DVD. This is a live show, so there is a lot of visual information to take in. The source print used in the transfer is mostly clean of defects, but the film does have a slight intentionally grainy look to it. There are many light-to-dark transitions between lighting segments, and these suffer from distracting edge enhancement at times. Backgrounds are filled with solid black levels that allow greater detail on the lighter foregrounds. The predominantly red backgrounds throughout the second half of the show are vibrant without looking overly grainy or edgy.

The audio is also good, though in certain areas, it's a disappointment. There are two Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes included here, as well as a Dolby 2.0 surround mix. Of the two 5.1 mixes, the second (the studio mix) is the strongest and makes the best use of the front speakers. The other 5.1 mix (a remix of the original feature film audio) makes good use of the surround speakers to incorporate the audience noise into the track, but this mix is otherwise somewhat distracting. Tina Weymouth's bass and Chris Frantz' drums are focused mainly on the center speaker, rather than spread across the front speakers where they'd be more effective. Both 5.1 tracks were sadly lacking in strong bass level.

One other note about the audio mix - occasionally the audio is very briefly not in synch with what's going on onstage. This is not a problem with the sound mix. Stop Making Sense is a compilation of three different performances done at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. If something went wrong with a part of the sound mix (i.e. hissing or static) from one night, portions of one of the other sound mixes were overdubbed to make up for it. This doesn't happen a lot, but it is definitely noticeable if you pay attention.

Feature-wise, this is an entertaining disc. The commentary (by director Jonathan Demme and band members Weymouth, Byrne, Frantz and Jerry Harrison) is enlightening and gives detail not only about onstage goings-on, but also about specific songs and how they came to be. Perhaps the most amusing of the added features is David Byrne's self-interview. As far as video and audio quality goes, this feature would make cable access look like reference quality material. Nonetheless, seeing David Byrne answer some of the more common Talking Heads questions asked by himself as several characters (of varying sexes, ages and races) is amusing. The storyboards give insight into Byrne's ideas for the visual presentation of the show. Rounding out the meat of the features on the disc are two songs originally cut from the feature-length concert, Cities and Big Business/I Zimbra. As stated on the back of the box, these aren't in the best condition, but are the best they could prepare for the disc. The two additional songs are shown in full-frame 1.33:1 (they look like they were taken from an analog video source) with either a Dolby 5.1 or 2.0 sound mix. Those are the main features, but there are other more standard features as well, including the film's trailer and a band discography. It's a very nice package.

Stop Making Sense is a very entertaining film. It's got everything a great concert needs - groundbreaking songs, dedicated musicians, energetic (and admittedly comical) choreography and an enthusiastic crowd. Even if you're not a big Talking Heads fan, give the disc a go, and I guarantee that you'll be singing along, either out loud or in your head. I had Once in a Lifetime mulling around in my head for days after watching this. That may or may not be such a good thing for you, but there's enough of a song selection on this disc that you're bound to find at least a few songs that you like.

Track Listing

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

Dan Kelly
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