New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Review: ‘Stop Making Sense’ immortalizes a band in its prime

A24’s restoration of the concert film featuring Talking Heads cements the legendary band’s legacy as a pioneer of New Wave music.
The concert film “Stop Making Sense” is now available in 4K after its initial release in 1984. (Courtesy photo by Cronenweth / A24)

In 1984, director Jonathan Demme first released his concert film “Stop Making Sense” featuring the seminal ’80s New Wave band Talking Heads. In 2023, many still consider the project to be the greatest concert film ever made. Production company A24 acquired the film earlier this year and found its original 35mm negatives to upscale its iconic footage — the new restoration has gone on to become the top earning IMAX event in cinematic history.

“Stop Making Sense” stands out among other concert films because it includes discernible characters and a narrative. It is not merely a filming of a concert, which often solely focuses on capturing the spectacle of the performance — think shots of elaborate dance routines or hysterical concertgoers. Instead, “Stop Making Sense” tells the story of a lone man — David Byrne — who starts the show anxious and nervous before gradually finding community, letting himself go and discovering joy in music and dancing. 

The film opens in a way that may mislead viewers into thinking they’re in for a one-man show. We see Byrne draped in a loose-fitting gray suit, shuffling across the bare stage in his scruffy white shoes. He places a boombox on the ground next to him and tells the audience that he wants to play them a tape. Byrne’s eyes dart around nervously, as if he’s found himself on stage by sheer accident. What follows is a performance of one of Talking Heads’ most well-known songs, “Psycho Killer” — imbued with Byrne’s trademark anxious, shaky energy. Scored by Byrne’s twitchy and punctuated vocal style, the scene is impossible to pull away from.

One by one, with each successive song, an ensemble of eccentric characters starts joining Byrne on stage. Starting with bassist Tina Weymouth, various other backup singers and musicians trickle in, including drummer Chris Frantz and keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison. By the sixth song, “Burning Down the House,” every member of the extensive supporting band is assembled on stage, all beaming. 

Demme makes a point of showcasing the shared elation as the band jams out together. Each of the six cameras used to shoot the show captures intimate and playful exchanges between the performers. They share ecstatic smiles and electric glances back and forth so frequently that it’s impossible for the viewer not to mirror the band’s giddy excitement. In fact, Byrne often beckons the cameras in to make viewers feel like they are a part of what sometimes seems more like a lively dance party than a concert. At one point, Byrne even tries to hand the viewer a mic, as if in invitation to join them.

With Byrne as our protagonist, the narrative driving “Stop Making Sense” is about the visceral effect of music. In many ways, the movie tells the story of a man possessed by music — indeed, Byrne’s eccentric dancing often resembles the movements of a marionette. From his frantic laps throughout “Life During Wartime,” zombie-like marching as he drones in “Swamp,” and whimsical dancing with a lamp to “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody),” the film is a masterclass in demonstrating the importance of both the sonic and visual presentation of a musical performance. 

The most iconic image from the film perfectly embodies this lesson — chances are, you’ve seen or heard of Byrne’s absurdly oversized suit before. In 4K resolution, this visual gag, which appears for the number “Girlfriend is Better,” becomes even more ridiculous and impactful. Byrne said to Entertainment Weekly that the suit was inspired by Japanese Kabuki theater. In another interview, he explained that the suit was meant to visually represent the physicality of music, and that often “the body understands it before the head.” 

“Stop Making Sense” is a hypnotic gem from start to finish. It’s not until the very end that we see the actual people attending the concert through their dancing silhouettes. Demme artfully captures the thrill of being at a Talking Heads show at their peak. Since its initial release in 1984, the concert film has served as a vivacious tribute to the beauty of music, with the band bringing the viewer along to cruise their high. A24’s restoration breathes new life into the already sensational concert film, giving audiences the chance to re-experience this legendary musical act — bigger and better than ever.

“Stop Making Sense” is now showing in select theaters in New York City. The film’s remastered album is also available for streaming on all platforms.

Contact Stephanie Wong at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Stephanie Wong
Stephanie Wong, Arts Editor
Stephanie Wong is a junior double-majoring in Media, Culture and Communication and Journalism, with a minor in English Literature. In her spare time, she loves watching bad movies and curating esoteric Spotify playlists. You can find her at @_stephaniewong_ on Instagram, @normalstephanie on Spotify, and unfortunately, on Letterboxd as @emima.

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