By Sam Adams, Scott Gordon, Noel Murray, Nathan Rabin, and Brett Singer
Rock fans and movie buffs can argue among themselves over the best concert films of all time, but in terms of the quality of the performance, the richness of cinematic style, and just overall awesomeness? Man, it’s hard to top Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense (Palm Pictures). Director Jonathan Demme had the bright idea back in 1983 to eschew the crowd shots and band interviews that had padded out rock-docs since Woodstock. Instead, Stop Making Sense approximates an uninterrupted Talking Heads show, captured by cameras that move fluidly around the front and sides of the stage, matching the rhythm of the music. And Talking Heads provided plenty for Demme’s cameras to record. David Byrne concocted a novel concept that had the band coming to the stage one at a time—one member per song, including some of the top funk musicians in the business—as the crew built the set around them. All the pieces fall into place at the halfway point, and then after a brief intermission, Talking Heads return in dramatic new costumes and proceed to roar through some of their most complicated songs, in a relentless, propulsive drive to the finish. The energy level is phenomenal, exemplified by a performance of “Life During Wartime” that ends with Byrne literally running laps around the stage.
The new Stop Making Sense Blu-ray essentially replicates previous home-video editions. It adds the bonus songs that first appeared on VHS in the ’80s (and those songs, “Cities” and “Big Business/I Zimbra,” remain ridiculously great), as well as the insightful commentary tracks and vintage promotional material that first appeared on DVD nearly a decade ago. The main new bonus feature on the Blu-ray is an hourlong press conference held after a 1999 screening of the film, in which all the Heads appear together and field a good crop of audience questions. But the main reason to shell out for this new version of an old classic is to see how luminous it looks, and hear how vivid it sounds. The Talking Heads’ exuberance is infectious, but it wouldn’t count for much if they weren’t playing their instruments with such skill and intensity. Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz (augmented by Steve Scales) keep a boisterous beat, Jerry Harrison and Bernie Worrell play synthesizers that sound gritty, funky, and far from sterile, and David Byrne and Alex Weir trade guitar licks that are surprisingly fiery. Those dudes could play. Grade: A