By Some Asshole Who Thinks He Can Review Movies.
Concert films are a rare breed of documentary film, and it kind of makes sense when you stop to think about it. Concert films attempt to recreate the energy, excitement, and feeling of being part of the experience, usually to no or very little effect (unless you’re appealing to 12-year-old girls who fetishize boy bands. Looking at you, One Direction: Where We Are). And the reason for this is because it’s not that dynamic of an experience: Most bands follow similar set ups for live performances, the camera angles are usually the same, and it’s music you’ve heard before, performed exactly as it is in the studio. The whole purpose of a concert is to be there in real life, but it’s nothing worth looking back on.
Unless, of course, you put on a show, a performance, something with life, energy, and movement, and Stop Making Sense puts that show on.
Performed and recorded in three performances, Stop Making Sense is the concert film by Talking Heads, the new wave and rock band with hits like “Once in a Lifetime,” “Burning Down the House,” and “Take Me to the River.” These songs, and plenty of others, are included in the film as well as the accompanying album of the same name. However, the songs alone are not reason enough to make a concert film a film, nor does it give reason to watch a live performance. I mean, if it sounds exactly like the studio, what really changes? A little bit of audience applause at the end of songs and some added noise here or there? However, Talking Heads take their songs in this concert and performs them differently from their studio counterparts, often creating better versions of their songs. An obvious example is a personal favorite “Life During Wartime.” The studio version is okay, nothing really special in my opinion, but the live version is filled with such energy that it’s probably one of the best performances of the film and a song I listen to repeat. (It should also be worth noting that the live version is 2 minutes longer than the studio version, if you want an idea of how epic it is in scale.)
So the music is better, of course, but what about watching it? Sure the live album is great but what about the visual aspects? Well, it’s great shit. It starts slow with a performance of “Psycho Killer,” with lead singer and guitarist David Byrne walking on stage alone with a boombox and an acoustic guitar, and performs the song with the box playing a small beat as Byrne goes insane as he plays the guitar, going as far as to tumble and slip as he plays, as well as to create feedback through a nearby amplifier. Slowly, more band members join in as more songs play, and eventually all the members and background singers are together on stage and they play “Burning Down the House” and the rest of their set as one cohesive unit, synching movements and beats to make the performance of a lifetime. To go back on “Life During Wartime,” Byrne and company jog in place during most of the song, moving with fluidity as he sings and eventually runs around the stage as a spotlight follows him.
If there’s one complaint with the show that can take away from the viewing experience, it’s the frequent desynchronization of the audio and video. It’s not necessarily noticeable the first time viewing, but I slowly saw it lose its place as the drums played or as Byrne sang some verses. It’s mostly hidden through the camera angles and distance, but once you see it, it sticks throughout. It does take some of the experience away, but it’s still a pretty damn good film.
Overall, if you’re a Talking Heads fan, I definitely recommend watching it, and if you enjoy a few of their songs, it’s worth a try.
Stop Making Sense is available through Amazon to buy or rent, and is included in the Sundance add-on. There’s also clips of some performances on YouTube if you look up specific songs as live versions, but it’s your call as to how you watch it. I don’t care.