06 July, 2013
Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense - The Movie
Stop Making Sense (1984) is a concert movie featuring Talking Heads live on stage. Directed by Jonathan Demme, it was shot over the course of three nights at Hollywood's Pantages Theater in December 1983, as the group was touring to promote their new album Speaking in Tongues. The movie is notable for being the first made entirely using digital audio techniques. The band raised the budget of $1.2 million themselves. The title comes from the lyrics of the song "Girlfriend Is Better": "As we get older and stop making sense...". The film has been hailed by Leonard Maltin as "one of the greatest rock movies ever made."
The movie begins with the opening credits, using a style similar to Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (the movie trailer also makes references to Dr. Strangelove). Title designer Pablo Ferro was responsible for both title sequences.
Lead singer David Byrne walks on to a bare stage (seen from the feet only initially) with a portable cassette tape player and an acoustic guitar. He introduces "Psycho Killer" by saying he wants to play a cassette tape, ostensibly from the boom box. In reality, the tick-tock drum machine was a Roland TR-808 played from the mixing board. During the song, the drum machine "fires" machine gun riffs that causes Byrne to stagger "like Jean Paul Belmondo in the final minutes of 'Breathless,' a hero succumbing, surprised, to violence that he'd thought he was prepared for."
With each successive song, Byrne is cumulatively joined onstage by each core member of the band: first by Tina Weymouth for "Heaven" (with Lynn Mabry, originally of The Brides of Funkenstein and Parliament-Funkadelic, providing harmony vocals from backstage), second by Chris Frantz for "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel", and third by Jerry Harrison for "Found a Job". Performance equipment is gradually wheeled out and wired up to the bare stage between and throughout the performances, as Talking Heads continue to be augmented by several additional musicians, most of whom had extensive experience in funk: back-up singers Lynn Mabry and Edna Holt, keyboardist Bernie Worrell (formerly of Parliament-Funkadelic), percussionist Steve Scales, and guitarist Alex Weir (of The Brothers Johnson). The first song to feature the entire lineup is "Burning Down the House", although the original 1985 RCA/Columbia Home Video release (which featured three additional songs in two performances edited into the film) has the entire band (minus Worrell) performing "Cities" before this song. Byrne also leaves the stage at one point, to allow the Weymouth--Frantz-led side-band the Tom Tom Club to perform their song "Genius of Love" (The 1999 re-release of the film featured alternate 'rap' lines by Chris Frantz to remove the cocaine reference, "snow white", featured in the original release).
The movie is also notable for Byrne's "big suit", an absurdly oversized business suit he dons late in the concert for the song "Girlfriend is Better" (whose lyrics give the movie its title). The suit was partly inspired by Noh theatre styles, and became an icon not only of the film -- as it appears on the DVD cover, for instance -- but of Byrne himself. Pauline Kael stated in her review: "When he comes on wearing a boxlike 'big suit' — his body lost inside this form that sticks out around him like the costumes in Noh plays, or like Beuys' large suit of felt that hangs of a wall — it's a perfect psychological fit."