Four decades after it was filmed, Stop Make Sense, the Talking Heads concert documentary, remains ecstatic and eerie. “It remains somewhat relevant, even though it doesn’t have any literal meaning,” David Byrne, the band’s frontman and singer, said in a recent interview.
The film, directed by Jonathan Demme, has been restored from its long-lost original negative, and this new version will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Monday, then be shown in regular and IMAX theaters later this month. The expanded soundtrack album, released on September 15, includes the entire concert set, with two clips from the film omitted: “cities” and a mix of “Big Business” and “I Zimbra”. By updating their peak, the band hopes to attract another generation of fans to their irresistible funk songs and youthful ambitions.
Stop Thinking Reasoning is the definitive 80s work of prophecy. Her show helped reshape pop concerts in its wake. Rock, funk, and African rhythms were hot, while the choppy, non sequitur lyrics cast a glance at, among many other things, misinformation (“Crossed and Painless”), evangelicalism (“Once in a Lifetime”), and tyranny (“Made Flippy Floppy”) and environmental disaster (“Burning Down the House”).
“Sometimes we write things down and don’t know what they are until later,” Byrne said. “There’s a feeling of premonition. I looked at the stuff I’d written and said, ‘Oh.’ This is about something that happened in my life after I wrote the song.”
There were choreographed soul revues and big-stage musical performances long before the Talking Heads went on their 1983 tour in support of the “Speaking in Tongues” album. But Byrne envisioned something different: a performance influenced by the stylized gestures of Asian theater and anti-naturalist avant-garde theatrical tableaux. Robert Wilson. (Talking Heads has hired Wilson’s lighting designer, Beverly Emmons.)
Byrne drew a storyboard for each song. The first part of the show demystified the production, featuring backstage equipment and the stage crew moving instruments and cranes as the band expanded with each song. Then, with everyone in place, the party turned into a surreal dance party, culminating with Byrne appearing in an oversized, checkered, very flexible suit — an everyday American variation on the geometric costumes of Japanese Noh theatre.
Demme’s cameras were ready to capture every goofy move and appreciative look among the musicians. Now that most big concerts are video extravaganzas, this might seem natural. And in 1983, it was amazing.
Just a few years ago, the Talking Heads were unlikely candidates for a tightly charted rock show. When the band famously played at Bowery club CBGB, its members dressed like preppies and appeared shy and nervous.
Formed in the art school atmosphere of the Rhode Island School of Design, Talking Heads always had conceptual intentions. In a video interview from his studio, keyboardist and guitarist Jerry Harrison said: “When I joined the band, I knew we were going to be an important band, and that we were going to have artistic success. I had no idea what kind of commercial success we would have. We were all familiar with the art world, where there are painters who were not financially secure in their lives. And that was our goal at that point.”
Byrne was deliberately stiff and rambunctious on stage. “When I started the band, I wasn’t going to try to use the movement vocabulary of rock stars or R&B stars,” he said. “I thought: ‘I can’t do that.'” They’re better at it. They created it. I have to come up with my own thing: a little grumpy white guy.
But in the rapidly progressing downtown New York culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s – punk! Disco! Minimalism! Hip Hop! art! stage! The world of music! – Talking Heads quickly evolved from a loud, skeletal pop rock band to a more rhythmic, funky and far-reaching band.
Byrne and the band equally appreciated the Southern roots and deep eccentricity of Memphis soul singer Al Green — who wrote the band’s first radio hit, “Take Me to the River” — and the calibrated iterations of James Brown, Philip Glass and Fela Anikulapo Kuti. . The band recruited open-eared Brian Eno as a producer and collaborator to expand their sonic palette and songwriting strategies – which in turn prompted Talking Heads to add onstage musicians.
If there was ever a “Stop Reasoning” story, it’s the story of a terrified loner who finally finds happiness in community. The concert begins with Byrne singing “Psycho Killer” alone over a drum machine track with a sociopathic look. By the end of the show, he was surrounded by singing, dancing, smiling musicians and singers, carried by groove after groove.
“In a culture that cares so much about the individual and the self and my rights,” Byrne said, “to find something parallel that is really about giving and losing self and surrendering to something bigger than yourself is kind of extraordinary. And you realize, ‘Oh, this is what a lot of the world is about — surrendering to something spiritual. , or societal, or music, or dance, and letting go of yourself as an individual.” You get a real reward when that happens. It’s a real feeling of euphoria and transcendence.
“Stop Make Sense” was released on multiple versions of home video technology – VHS, DVD and Blu-ray – but the audio and video were often missing. For the new restoration, production and distribution company A24 hired a forensic film expert to track down the film’s original negatives. It was stored, inexplicably, in a warehouse in Oklahoma owned by MGM, a company that had no business dealings with the Talking Heads. Pictures gained clarity, contrast and depth.
“I noticed that you could see things that you couldn’t even see in the original version,” Chris Frantz, the band’s drummer, said in a video interview from his studio. “Now you can see all the little details in the back of the stage.”
When “Stop Make Sense” was first released in 1984, audiences treated it like a concert, clapping and dancing between songs. The band and Demme chose to dispense with the concert and film tradition of cutting backstage interviews or interactions or, especially, of happy, well-lit audience members; They only appear in the last few minutes. Byrne said Demy avoided this because it “tells the movie viewer what they’re supposed to feel.”
The band and Demme filmed a rehearsal and three live concerts at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. Then they chose the best audio and video clips. They weren’t always the same people, but the timing each night was almost exact. “Chris was very consistent, even though he had never played a track,” Tina Weymouth, the band’s guitarist, said in an interview from the home she shares with her husband, Frantz.
“The synchronization is not perfect,” Harrison said. “We can now go digital and make this perfect. But do we want to disturb the historical quality to update it with what technology can do now? And of course we decided not to.”
Tour technology was primitive by modern standards. The back screen images came from slide projectors. The lights were unfiltered. The show had no choreographer. Byrne and backup singers Lyn Mabry and Ednah Holt practiced some moves while dancing around his loft before the tour, while other moves emerged as it progressed. The show didn’t have a costume designer either. Musicians were instructed to find clothing in neutral colors, mostly grey. But according to Weymouth, Frantz’s laundry didn’t return in time for the premiere at the Pantages, and he ended up wearing a blue shirt for all three nights for the sake of continuity.
However, the band had the foresight to record the music on digital equipment, then in its early stages. Digital recording means that sound quality can remain intact across the multiple generations involved in mixing films, which is one reason why film has aged so well.
But the main reason “Stop Make Sense” maintains its reputation as one of the great concert films is the strange exhilaration of the performances. The musicians in the expanded band – Alex Weir on guitar, Steve Scales on percussion, and Bernie Worrell on keyboards – are nothing but self-effacing guys; They are cheerful conspirators. The sheer physical strength of the concert, the perspiration and endurance of the performers are shown on the screen; in “Life in wartime” Byrne runs laps around the 40-by-60-foot stage at top speed.
“Looking at myself when I was younger is a really strange experience,” Byrne said. “He does things that are very strange, but kind of innovative. But he’s also very serious and intent on what he’s doing,” he noted. He noted that until the last third of the film he doesn’t smile much. “The joy is not overtly evident, but it’s there,” he added. “I mean, I have “Enough memory to remember that.”
Despite its artistic importance, the tour was not profitable. “We achieved zero,” Weymouth said. There was a large crew and three semi-trucks full of equipment; Some of the proceeds from the tour helped fund the film. It also turned out to be Talking Heads’ final tour. “I also think we had the potential to become one of the biggest bands in the world at that point, with touring bands,” Harrison said. “I think there was a missed opportunity that would have been fun for all of us.”
He added: “There might also be an element that once ‘Stop Make Sense’ came out great, it was like, ‘How can we top this?’ Will the next thing seem like a disappointment? I don’t know if that’s what anyone had in mind, but I know we ended up never touring again.
Talking Heads produced three more albums, the American-flavored “Little Creatures” and “True Stories” and the Afro-Parisian-flavored “Naked”. After Bern The band disbanded “An ugly breakup,” he said in 1991. People magazine The other three members made an album called “No Talking Just Head” which was billed as The Heads. Byrne sued the name, although the suit was eventually dropped.
The band regrouped to perform in 2002 when they were recruited Rock and Roll Hall of FameThe 40th anniversary of the “Stop Logical Thinking” campaign has helped further bridge the rift. The band members will appear together to discuss the film in Toronto on Monday.
“Divorce is never easy,” Byrne said. “We get along really well. It’s all very cordial and whatever. It’s not like we’re all best friends. But everyone is very happy to see this movie coming back. We’re all united in the fact that we really like what we did here. So that kind of helps us talk With each other and harmony.
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