Stop Making Sense, a seminal concert film directed by Jonathan Demme originally released in 1984, has been given the 4K restoration treatment and enhanced to play IMAX screens.
The current rerelease rocks audiences to the bone. This latest restoration of Stop Making Sense has the spiritual center of a perfect storm consisting of the rhythms of Talking Heads, the vision of director Demme, and the cinematography of Jordan Cronenweth.
Having seen the film on original release as well as the 1999 (first) re-release and now the IMAX cut this is hands down the most tweaked out rockumentary you could imagine. The sound and image are what IMAX was born to accomplish.
The intensity of Stop Making Sense speaks for itself. Stop Making Sense opens in select IMAX theaters starting September 21.
At the time of original release Demme was acclaimed for Melvin and Douglas after establishing his cred churning out select Roger Corman grind house titles. Cronenweth had recently wrapped on Blade Runner. Rapid editing from Lisa Day and the contribution of Sandy McLeod credited as visual consultant give the film a special look and feel. The original performances were filmed over three days at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles.
Stop Making Sense is a film that could be watched on a loop. The IMAX restoration adds so much distinction to the individual instrumentation. You are truly seeing the film like you’ve never experienced it before.
Stop Making Sense had a premiere showing at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month, which included multiple IMAX venues simulcasting the post-screening Q&A with Talking Heads moderated by Spike Lee. Traditionally the group has been estranged for decades although it seems it’s easier to bury the hatchet in the rock arena than in other occupations.
The movie introduces each member of the band in a subtle cinematic manner. David Byrne plays a solo acoustic guitar while accompanying a beat box cassette player on a soulful rendition of “Psycho Killer” to open the show all along on a bare stage. Eventually the stage comes together, built up into a full sections including risers with multiple keyboard and drums.
Bassist Tina Weymouth joins Byrne for the next song “Heaven” prompting an increase in energy. After a few more songs there’s a platoon of people jamming on various guitars and keyboards and vocals. For guitar enthusiasts Byrne occasionally can be seen playing a Roland synthesizer guitar, a popular axe of that era also used (although a different model) by Robert Fripp.
A wave of excitement begins with “Burning Down the House” that segues to “Life During Wartime” and becomes the dominant beat of the entire performance. It’s just an infectious groove that has the band locked in unison.
Later songs like “Once In A Lifetime” and “Girlfriend Is Better” have better positions in the overall timing of the set list yet the one-two punch of the earlier songs have an ecstatic schematic that proves a band can rock the foundation and not even be close to 120 beats-per-minute.
Stop Making Sense has been hailed as the greatest rock concert film of all time. While there are other films that could claim a seat at that table, not the least of which are Woodstock, The Last Waltz, Monterey Pop, the auspicious Celebration at Big Sur, or even the first film shot with television cameras The T.A.M.I. Show, there’s little doubt Stop Making Sense is in the pantheon.
Previously the 1999 re-release had also launched at a film festival. At that time I had the opportunity to speak by phone with drummer Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth.
“We were such a good band,” says Frantz speaking from their home in Connecticut. “Makes you wonder why we don’t do more stuff.”
Talking Heads disbanded in 1995 with Frantz, Weymouth and Jerry Harrison parting ways with David Byrne, the group’s lead singer and focal point.
“We played all the way through the entire set from the beginning to end over three nights,” says Frantz. Most of the footage seen in the film was from the second night’s performance.
Many of the film’s songs like “Once in a Lifetime” contained catch phrases of times past. Who can forget Byrne singing “This is not my beautiful wife.” When Talking Heads were recording that series of songs (many contained on Remain in Light), in collaboration with producer Brian Eno, everyone would work in a methodical, and yes, simple way.
“I went out and played the drums first. I wasn’t doing any fills, any fills were added later,” says Frantz. “Same with all the other instruments. After I laid down the drums, Tina would add the bass; David would add some rhythm guitar; Jerry would add some keyboards. Then we would run through it a second time, and via the magic of the studio we’d punch in and out these different parts and make an arrangement.
“There aren’t a lot of changes in Remain in Light, it’s more like a trance,” says Frantz. “It was something Eno liked to do and we felt comfortable with him behind the console.”
Frantz, Weymouth and Byrne attended art school in Providence Rhone Island, and had written “Psycho Killer” in 1973-74 to perform in their original incarnation as The Artistics.
“We didn’t record it for three of four years,” says Weymouth. “That was one of our hits at CBGBs.”
Playing on bills with The Ramones and Television, a couple of weekend gigs was all Talking Heads needed for rent.
“If Talking Heads came out today we would have a hard time getting a record deal,” laughs Frantz
Stop Making Sense track listing:
Thank You For Sending Me an Angel
Found a Job
Burnin’ Down the House
Life During Wartime
Making Flippy Floppy
What a Day That Was
Once in a Lifetime
Genius of Love
Girlfriend is Better
Take Me To the River
Crosseyed and Painless