ANYONE WHO WAS sentient in 1984 will recall the figure of Talking Heads singer/guitarist David Byrne engulfed in a colossal beige suit. His head, floating atop the jacket's broad shoulders, looks like a deflated balloon; his gaze is half-startled, half-spacey. He's dancing an odd dance, like an ostrich or a giraffe or some other inhumanly gangly creature, as the suit bounces around his skinny frame, making him appear boneless. Like David Bowie dressed as Ziggy Stardust or Run DMC sporting Adidas and Kangols, Byrne in his mutant suit remains one of music's iconic images.
Stop Making Sense
directed by Jonathan Demme
plays October 15-21 at Egyptian
Byrne wore this costume for the Talking Heads' final tour, immortalized in Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense, one of the greatest concert films ever made. Now, for its 15th anniversary, the film has been digitally remastered on a new 35-mm print and rereleased theatrically.
The big suit is just the beginning; Stop Making Sense (shot during a four-night stand at Hollywood's Pantages Theater) offers one arresting visual moment after another. Like the former art students they are, Byrne and his band meticulously composed every element of their stage show. Demme's film was equally choreographed. He and cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth shot one whole show as practice, then used a video system to monitor the actual filming. This intense preparation yielded exactly the right footage, and it also freed the musicians to concentrate on playing music, not maneuvering around lights and camera equipment.
The original Talking Heads lineup hasn't put out a record in 11 years, so it's easy to forget how compelling their music is: part angular guitar-rock, part vibrant funk, part lush polyrhythms. From the film's first moment, when Byrne walks on stage with a boombox to play a twitchy solo version of "Psycho Killer," the songs create their own plotless drama. The tension and release are heightened by the remixed sound, which has a sculptural quality; each instrument is distinctly audible, yet carved from the whole. The effect is particularly good to bassist Tina Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz, and percussionist Steven Scales, but it also suits the show's overall format: The musicians appear one by one, along with layers of equipment and instruments, bringing the band's unique sound into focus. Each performer—including guests Scales, Bernie Worrell (keyboards), Alex Weir (guitar), and Edna Holt and Lynn Mabry (backing vocals)—is an integral part of an interactive whole. All this, and the big suit, too. For those who think music has nothing to do with image, Stop Making Sense is an eye-opener.