Jonathan Demme & Talking Heads – Burning Down the House

Until this past Sunday, the last time I’d seen Stop Making Sense in a theater was in 1999 during a 15th anniversary re-release at Film Forum. At that showing I looked around to check out the audience before the lights went down. It was a weekday matinee and a small crowd, but I noticed to my surprise that Jonathan Demme was seated a few rows back with two kids. All through the film I was sharply aware that the director was watching it with the rest of us. This definitely added another layer to the experience. Stop Making Sense was even better than I’d remembered. Afterward I jokingly asked him how he thought it held up. He was very nice. It gave me a kick that apparently only a couple others in the audience had realized he was there.

Jonathan Demme

Last Sunday I saw Stop Making Sense again for the first time in years. The Film Society of Lincoln Center was showing it, along with Married to the Mob (1988), in a tribute to Jonathan Demme, who’d died on April 26 at age 73. I loved it just as much as I had when I saw it several times during its initial release in ’84.

Stop Making Sense was filmed with seven cameras over three nights in December of 1983 at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. Released in October 1984, the film received wide acclaim. Leonard Maltin described it as “brilliantly conceived, shot, edited and performed…one of the greatest rock movies ever made.” I can’t argue with that. The music and performances by Talking Heads are rapturous and transcendent. I continue to be in awe of David Byrne, a truly singular presence. His often strangled vocals and body language that suggests a marionette receiving electroshock are all part of a uniquely eccentric style. It’s quite odd, but great. And whatever else, Stop Making Sense really ROCKS. Here are some numbers from the film that illustrate that better than anything I could say. In particular, backup singers Lynn Mabry and Edna Holt pumping their legs up and down in unison with David Byrne in “Slippery People” knocks me out. It’s beautiful.

And the full-bore finale, where we finally see audience members.

While David Byrne was certainly the focal point and central intelligence of Talking Heads, he didn’t do it alone. Everyone on stage in this film was at the top of their game. There are the core band members — Tina Weymouth on bass, Chris Frantz on drums, Jerry Harrison on guitar and keyboards — and also Steve Scales on percussion, Alex Weir on guitar, Bernie Worrell on keyboards, and Lynn Mabry and Edna Holt on backing vocals, all adding to the drama and complexity of the music.

If you’ve never seen Stop Making Sense, I strongly recommend that you do. It’s a sustained rush of positive energy that’s almost impossible to resist. In fact, a close friend was here on business in ’84 and we saw the film together. I wanted to see it again, and I knew she’d like it, too. She was pregnant with her first child. She told me later that the baby had really kicked during the film. So Stop Making Sense makes everybody want to dance! – Ted Hicks

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Supplemental

Jonathan Demme interviewed in 2007.

David Byrne interviewed following a screening of Stop Making Sense at the Walter Reade Theater in 2014.

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Stop Making Sense is available for streaming or purchase from Amazon. Play it LOUD.

About Ted Hicks

Iowa farm boy; have lived in NYC for 40 years; worked in motion picture labs, film/video distribution, subtitling, media-awards program; obsessive film-goer all my life.
This entry was posted in Film, Home Video, Music and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Jonathan Demme & Talking Heads – Burning Down the House

  1. Paul Colin says:

    Right on Ted! >

  2. David M Fromm says:

    Very interesting.Something to keep an eye on to see.

  3. cubachik says:

    Beautifully put, Ted!
    It’s one of the finest concert films ever, and so well edited. Rest in Peace, Jonathan Demme.

  4. Nicely done Tedley!
    Life well done by Jonathan Demme.
    And that baby grew up to LOVE the Talking Heads and music done LOUD. I remember having to lay my purse over my 8-month belly to try to buffer the sound because I’d never felt the baby so wild before. I thought maybe it wasn’t a good thing…but then, it was the Talking Heads! What was I thinking?!?

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