Over three nights at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood in December 1983, Jonathan Demme filmed Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense
. The band performed "Psycho Killer," "Heaven," "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel,"
"Found a Job," "Slippery People," "Cities,"
, "Burning Down the House," "Life During Wartime,"
"Making Flippy Floppy," "Swamp," "What a Day That Was," "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)," "Once in a Lifetime," "Big Business/I Zimbra," "Genius of Love"
(as Tom Tom Club while David Byrne changed into the Big Suit), "Girlfriend is Better," "Take Me to the River,"
and "Crosseyed and Painless."
"Thank you. Does anybody have any questions?"
- Why "Stop Making Sense"?
- "Because it's good advice. Because music and performing does not make sense. It is my job." 1 ("Stop making sense" is a lyric in "Girlfriend Is Better.")
- Why a movie?
- "We were thinking about making a recording of the performance and then Jonathan Demme came along and said, 'I think you guys should make a film of this.'...We knew who he was from the first movie, the Howard Hughes movie. What was that called?" 2 Then best known for Melvin and Howard, Jonathan Demme's directoral debut was 1974's Caged Heat; he had made Citizens Band, Fighting Mad, Crazy Mama, Last Embrace, and Swing Shift before filming Stop Making Sense. "The visual design of the show itself is obviously highly cinematic. I think all the members of the band are unusually charismatic, hard-working, and exciting to watch. Beyond that, I thought the show had a funny kind of narrative feeling to me, one that I can't describe - one that I don't even care to try to describe - but I had a feeling I was seeing some kind of story, that I was meeting a group of characters as David attacked each new song." 3
- Why tour?
- "When there is something new to say to an audience, then we'll tour again. Besides new songs, when the only way to say that thing is through a live performance making." 1 (Stop Making Sense was filmed during the tour for Speaking in Tongues, which was Talking Heads' last tour.)
- Why do the musicians come out gradually?
- "Well, if the curtain opened and everything was there there'd be nowhere to go. It tells the story of the band and it gets more dramatic and physical as it builds up." 1 "After Byrne's solo, the eight other members of the group come on gradually, by ones and twos, in the order in which they originally joined up with him, so you see the band take form." 4
- Where do the odd movements come from?
- David Byrne's dancing with a lamp during "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" is reminiscent of Fred Astaire dancing with a coat rack in Royal Wedding. His jerky movements during "Psycho Killer" may have been inspired by at Paul Belmondo at the end of Breathless (1960). The movements in "Once in a Lifetime" come from the original video.
- Why no "special effects" in the movie?
- "I thought that any special cinematic effects would intrude on the richness of the pure performance. Therefore I didn't want to get into that, and didn't." 3
- Why a big suit?
- "I like symmetry and geometric shapes. I wanted my head to appear smaller, and the easiest way to do that was to make my body bigger. Because music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head." 1 "I drew this thing that looked like a Kabuki costume, which is also very rectangular. And the person's head looks like a very small ball. But I thought, What if you take that kind of silhouette, but put it in a Western business suit? I became fascinated with the idea of taking things that look very everyday or commonplace and stretching that in some way, rather than making something totally fantastic and imaginary. I like to restrict myself, OK? It has to look like a suit, even if it's pink fur. It makes reference to the businessman. It has some kind of psychological meaning besides being a costume. He is lost in his suit. Or his suit is swallowing him. It implies all these other things that a wild fantasy costume wouldn't say." 5
("How a big suit" previously on Ask MEtaFilter.)
- Why was a digital system used for the sound?
- Stop Making Sense was "the first time that a film used complete digital audio technology."
- What will the band do next?
- "A project with songs based on true stories from tabloid newspapers. It's like 60 Minutes on acid." 1 The band recorded Little Creatures before they got to True Stories.
Sources for quotes:
- David Byrne interviewing David Byrne in a promo for the movie (transcript). It's like 60 Minutes on acid.
- "Talking Heads' Chris Frantz on 25 years of 'Stop Making Sense' and the possibility of a Heads reunion" [get used to disappointment about a reunion]
- "Start Making Sense: an Interview with Jonathan Demme"
- "Three Cheers," Pauline Kael, The New Yorker, November 26, 1984
- David Byrne at the Ear Inn
Talking Heads David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, and Tina Weymouth were joined by Bernie Worrell
(keyboards), Alex Weir
(guitar, vocals), Steve Scales
(percussion), Ednah Holt
(backing vocals), and Lynn Mabry
(backing vocals). Steve Scales and Bernie Worrell had previously played on The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads
; Scales, Worrell, and Alex Weir had also played on Speaking in Tongues
"Cities" and "Big Business/I Zimbra" were cut from the theatrical release of the movie and were restored as bonus features for the 1999 DVD release. The soundtrack
was originally released in 1984 with nine songs ("Psycho Killer," "Swamp," "Slippery People," "Burning Down the House," "Girlfriend Is Better," "Once in a Lifetime," "What a Day That Was," "Life During Wartime," and "Take Me to the River"). The 1999 Special New Edition
added "Heaven," "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel," "Found a Job," "Making Flippy Floppy," "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)," "Genius of Love" [Tom Tom Club], and "Crosseyed and Painless" and changed the order of songs to match the movie. The set list
for the tour also included "Love Goes to Building on Fire," "The Book I Read," "Big Blue Plymouth (Eyes Wide Open)," "Houses in Motion," and "Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town," but they didn't appear in the movie or on the soundtrack.
The opening credits were designed by longtime graphic- and film titles designer Pablo Ferro
and are similar to his opening credits for Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
with Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, and Tina Weymouth in 1999 for the 15th anniversary re-release.
New York Times
review: "Talking Heads in Stop Making Sense,"
by Janet Maslin, October 19, 1984