Wednesday, February 16, 2011


JOHNNY CHAZZ: In the early 1980’s, Director Jonathan Demme was not exactly a household name. Still, he would follow-up years later with powerhouses such as: “Silence of the Lambs”, “Philadelphia” and even full-length concert features of recording artists such as Neil Young and even The Pretenders.

This week we take a look back to 1984 – and I would like to both recommend as well as examine this extraordinary film / documentary: Talking Heads- “Stop Making Sense”. A blend of rock, blues, funk, punk and soul are intertwined here with stunning photography, camera movement, creative sets and highly energetic choreography. The location? The Pantages Theater in Hollywood. The result? Probably one of the most dynamic rock concerts captured on film.
Demme was the one who initially approached lead singer of the Talking Heads, David Byrne, with the idea of putting a concert together in “cinematic” fashion. Knowing that all of the members of the band were extremely charismatic by nature, this only added to the film’s appeal – and of course to Byrne’s interest. Both also worked closely to storyboard virtually every aspect of the film to create such visual gratification. Thus, this was to be a “performance film” – not just a concert for the screen.

One of the wonderful aspects of “Stop Making Sense” is the lighting, and the play on shadows. Each song and set offers a different mood through balance of contrast and shade, light, sound and shadow. This is what is so beautiful and precisely what makes this concert differ from any others. Sets also vary from simple (opening track “Psycho Killer”) to quite complex. We are presented soon with tremendous staging such as what we see on “Burning Down the House”. The choreography is also intense and is perfected by the band in conjunction with Demme’s vision for the film.

The camera footage was pieced together from several different concert performances, using six cameramen. The camera shots and the editing had to be absolutely precise as well during the making of the film. One example was the task of minimizing the number of cameras in the frame. Some shows were shot from one side of the stage, and the next night the opposite side of the stage was utilized.

In sum, “Stop Making Sense” stands firm against the test of time. It is a celebration of energy and synergy. It is creative and innovative. As a whole, the film is beautifully framed and the performances are first-rate. The experience alone is worth the recommendation. Perhaps you are not a fan of the Talking Heads, or possibly you have never heard of them. Still, it is a safe bet that after viewing this piece of work by Jonathan Demme, you might find yourself loving this band immensely while asking yourself, “How did I get here?” **PICTURE POINTS: 8/10
This is my cue for "Once In A Lifetime" from the film

“Stop Making Sense” can be viewed with heightened visuals and audio thanks to the 2009 release (25th Anniversary of the film) of this performance on Blu-Ray.

JER: Wow! Great first selection, JC! We have actually spoken about this film in our "non-blog" I was hoping this film would pop up sooner or later.
Having a strong love for music (I was an "on-the-air radio personality" for about 10 years) and an even stronger love for the 80's, this film marked a fantastic time for music and its marriage into a maturity of music-video making!

Back in 1984, MTV (a music videos ONLY channel, then) began to promote the release of STOP MAKING SENSE. I remember how innovating and film-like the presentation appeared. Demme was coming from the world of music video directing prior to this and other film successes he would later have. Most memorable, New Order's: "The Perfect Kiss." A very simple, yet structured video having all 4 members playing their instruments without that "rock-star" stare or glare into the cameras. But we're here to talk about STOP MAKING SENSE.

Byrne kicks off the film with "Psycho Killer"
Because of its limited release, I wouldn't see the film until its VHS release months later. As a movie fan, I immediately recognized the film stock used. This was not shot with that "glossy" high-quality video stock appearing in all 80's music videos of the time. The timing, angles and stage direction was appearing to look more like a film. I'll add some of my personal opinions to the bulk written by my counterpart.

To begin, the striking appearance of lead singer David Byrne walking onto the Pantages stage was shot with an angel focusing only on his feet then finally capturing the cassette player/ boom box he has in one hand and his acoustic guitar in the other. He places the player down and presses the large 'play" button to begin the pre-recorded percussion of "Psycho Killer." As Byrne begins to strum the guitar and sing into the single standing mike in the middle of the stage...we soon find out this is NOT to be an average performance film as Bryne begins to convulse between singing and then quickly pull himself together to continue his vocals without missing a beat.
Here is David Byrne opening with "Psycho Killer"

In a very theatrical manner, we are soon introduced... one song after another, to the core members of the Talking Heads. Tina Weymouth (bass), Chris Frantz (drums) and Jerry Harrison (lead guitar).

Footnote #1: Husband/ Wife team of Weymouth and Frantz had a successful run on a side project with their band, Tom Tom Club and their one-hit wonder hit "Genius Of Love!"

The foursome is quickly joined by a few back-up vocalists and other musicians shortly thereafter.

The New York based group traveled through a post-punk era of the mid to late 70's (see Blondie and The Ramones, for example) which created a large category of funky-experimental songs (Burning Down The House) to more established feel-good tunes (Road To Nowhere).

The band involves itself with great set pieces, jazzy choreography and mood settings from the lighting schemes.

Footnote #2: the lighting design was done with all white lights without color gels to not distract the performance for its raw intensity!

The 'big suit' in "Girlfriend Is Better"

The most recognizable image caught in STOP MAKING SENSE is the now 'cult classic' appearance of David Byrne shuffling onto the stage with shoulders bobbing up and down in an oversized business suit during "Girlfriend Is Better!" This is just one of many wonderful scenes that cannot be missed and would be enjoyed by all!

JOHNNY CHAZZ: So glad to see that we both completely relish the way the show opens with Byrne standing solo performing "Psycho Killer". You also spoke about the film stock used, and you are 100% on target with that statement Jer.....completely "film-like" and not the glossy, polished look of the 80's videos we were seeing on MTV (thinking of "She's a Beauty" from the Tubes for some bizarre reason).

Oh, and glad you mentioned the "Big Suit" - as David said, he just wanted his head (his Talking Head at that) to look smaller. So glad that you have an affinity for this film as I always will Jer. The question remains, which is better - the film or the music? Certainly the two together have created a powerhouse performance.
"Burning Down The House" for STOP MAKING SENSE

As always, please feel free to chime in and offer us your comments and opinions about what you think and what would you like to see us discuss? You can always catch a new blog entry weekly…..until then…SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY ;)

Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!



  1. I remember this movie and it such an awesome concert when I was growing up. Do you guys know how much the BluRAY is for this? Thanks. - Breanne, Sacramento, CA

  2. Hi Breanne...different places will have it for different prices, so make sure to shop around! Best Buy and Fry's will have it costing the most...anywhere between 29.95 to 34.99...check e-bay and Amazon. Remember, it's blu-ray, so it will cost you a little more, but you will get great quality and sound for the extra bucks invested!