"Hi. I've got a tape I want to play."
March 16, 2023 1:02 PM   Subscribe

If the suit still fits… “This year, we’re bringing Jonathan Demme’s groundbreaking 1984 Talking Heads concert film STOP MAKING SENSE (newly remastered in 4K!) back to theaters worldwide.”

In honor of the re-release, here's a newly remastered version of my original post from 2011, with updated links and additional info.

Over four nights at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood in December 1983, Jonathan Demme filmed Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense (full uncut movie in HD). 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 (Naïve 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 from the lyrics of “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 Talking Heads’ last tour, for Speaking in Tongues)
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 (Naïve 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 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.

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 (Naïve 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 (outtakes) “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.

Interview 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

2023 bonus material:
Sources for quotes
  1. David Byrne interviewing David Byrne in a promo for the movie. It’s like 60 Minutes on acid.
  2. “Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz on 25 years of ‘Stop Making Sense’ and the possibility of a Heads reunion’ [get used to disappointment]
  3. “Start Making Sense: an Interview with Jonathan Demme”
  4. “Three Cheers,” Pauline Kael, The New Yorker, November 26, 1984
  5. David Byrne at the Ear Inn
posted by kirkaracha (54 comments total) 91 users marked this as a favorite
Wonderful, wonderful post! That's also great news! My partner generally loves music, but for a long time didn't think she appreciated the Talking Heads. Watching Stop Making Sense 4-5 years ago changed her mind and she says changed her whole perspective on music. It's pretty transformational, and just a beautiful concert doc. My favorite as well.
posted by Carillon at 1:07 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]

The fact that this film is not included on that 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list is a travesty. It's probably 3rd on my short list of "films that should be on the list but aren't."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:12 PM on March 16 [9 favorites]

Probably one of the greatest concert films ever released. I can't add to this excellent post except to say that even if you think you don't like the Talking Heads, you should still watch it - it's that good. The band's energy and showmanship are unparalleled.
posted by fortitude25 at 1:15 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]

A self-link, of sorts, but last year we unearthed a guest DJ set and interview with Demme on KCRW from November 1984, just after the movie's theatrical release. Fun to hear him talk about the making of the film while it was still super-fresh, while spinning a set of cool music from his own collection (including an early version of "The Lady Don't Mind").
posted by mykescipark at 1:25 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]

Interestingly, this is the second film that A24 has recently announced a 4k re-release for. They're also doing a one-day theatrical release of "π", with a livestreamed interview with director Darren Aronofsky. I was telling my brother that I was bit surprised by this sudden move into distributing previously release films. His response: "They got that Best Picture money now!"
posted by Ipsifendus at 1:26 PM on March 16 [4 favorites]

Epic concert film. Just an absolute favorite. I made my wife watch it recently so she would better understand the Documentary Now! spoof.

Bill Hader dancing like Tina Weymouth in that was amazing.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 1:36 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]

I thought I was a Talking Heads fan, but I also thought of them as somewhat twee and cerebral. Until I saw this movie, and realized what a fool I was! Transformative.
posted by praemunire at 1:42 PM on March 16 [8 favorites]

I was telling my brother that I was bit surprised by this sudden move into distributing previously release films. His response: "They got that Best Picture money now!"

Also, their movie that won Best Picture had a song by David Byrne, which was also nominated for Best Original Song, and that's like a triple tie-in.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:49 PM on March 16 [5 favorites]

I'll definitely go see this in the theatre. I was too young to see them at the time, and I need to collect all the pieces of live Talking Heads that I can. I've seen David, I've seen Jerry and Adrian, and I'll have seen this. It's as close as I can get without a time machine, or a change of mind on David's part.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:51 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]

I get tired just watching the video for Life During Wartime.

Plus the addition of The Wizard of Woo really makes this sound great.

Their performance of Life During Wartime, Psycho Killer and Burning Down the House at their HOF induction in 2002.

Plus I have always loved Tina Weymouth's Bass.
posted by indianbadger1 at 1:53 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]

I've told this story online before, but it's worth recounting.

I saw this film during its first run with my mother, a photographer (who once recognized Robert Frank standing in line for a Laurie Anderson concert, but was both too cool and awestruck to approach him, but that's a separate story for another time).

Anyway, there's one song in the film, Naive Melody... possibly, where you see a projector start up to show images on the background of the stage. My mother says they'll probably show body parts. And they do... "How did you know?" I ask. "Body parts always look good," she says.
posted by morspin at 1:59 PM on March 16 [12 favorites]

This just made my day
posted by montbrarian at 2:02 PM on March 16

I saw the theatrical rerelease in a movie theatre in like 1999. I saw it again at my local arthouse a few years back. It's not quite Rocky Horror on the arthouse meat-and-potatoes perennial catalog but it's close. Now you can see it at AMC, yay I guess
posted by anazgnos at 2:28 PM on March 16

Not wanting to hear "Burning Down the House" again after about 1985, I put off seeing this forever, maybe seeing it 10 years ago. And I love the band and it's individual members (those Jerry Harrison albums are really good!), so the combination of 80s overexposure and the widespread popularity of this movie had a synergistic effect in keeping me away. BUT! When I finally did watch it I really liked it! It's got a great pace, almost all the songs are good, and they have a really distinct stage presence that is engaging to watch without there really being a ton of action.

I'm excited to see the expanded version.
posted by rhizome at 2:31 PM on March 16

Best concert film, best energy, best dancing! Every time I see it I leave needing to move. I’ve a dream to have a screening that seamlessly turns into a dance party. Someday … in the meantime im dragging everyone I know to the rerelease.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:36 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]

Another great Jonathan Demme production from the Stop Making Sense era is the video for New Order's "Perfect Kiss".
posted by vibrotronica at 2:52 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]

Now you can see it at AMC, yay I guess

4K restoration, yay I guess
posted by praemunire at 2:55 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]

Live in Rome 1980 (from the Remain In Light tour) is another great Talking Heads concert that's rawer and funkier. Most of the songs* are also featured in Stop Making Sense so it's interesting to compare and contrast. The touring lineup included Adrian Belew (guitar), Bernie Worrell (keyboards), Busta "Cherry" Jones (bass), Steven Scales (percussion), and Dolette MacDonald (backing vocals).

The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, the band's first (and double) live album is from this era but doesn't have these exact performances.

* “Psycho Killer”, “Stay Hungry,” “Cities,” “I Zimbra,” “Drugs,” “Take Me to the River,” “Crosseyed and Painless,” “Life During Wartime,” “Houses in Motion,” “Born Under Punches,” “The Great Curve”
posted by kirkaracha at 2:59 PM on March 16 [11 favorites]

Looks like someone may just be going to a movie theater for the first time since 2019.
posted by Xalf at 3:22 PM on March 16 [6 favorites]

full uncut movie in HD

Whaddaya mean, uncut? It's missing nearly half the film!

(The home video "special edition" version I watched originally is 4:3 full-frame, and that 16:9 version is cropped down - which changes the feel of the film quite a bit... e.g. you can hardly see that Byrne is carrying the cassette player as he enters, and the audience and "set" are much less visible later.)
posted by offog at 3:24 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]

So there's no theatrical full-frame version available (outside the theater)? Has anybody checked the Laserdisc? It's the 19-track version even, in 1989.
posted by rhizome at 3:45 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]

Backup Singer Dolette McDonald on Her Years With Talking Heads, the Police, and Don Henley. A nice interview about her career and singing with Talking Heads, and it led me to find some other Talking Heads concerts:posted by kirkaracha at 3:51 PM on March 16 [5 favorites]

If you enjoy David Byrne concert films, I suggest Ride Rise Roar [1h31m], which is a film made to document the tour for Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (a fine, fine album). It is a fine, fine film, and I saw the tour live and when I found this film I was over the moon.
posted by hippybear at 3:52 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]

First live performance of "Once in a Lifetime" (audio only). And a cover by Kermit the Frog.

...and there goes my workday
posted by kirkaracha at 3:59 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]

I have loved this album since I heard it as a teen while working in an ice cream shop, and listened to it more times than I could count. But I have only seen about three-quarters of the movie ever, and only on a computer screen.

I think I owe Teenage Me a trip to the theater this year!
posted by wenestvedt at 4:22 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]

I missed any actual date(s) this is happening. Has this been announced yet?
posted by hippybear at 4:28 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]

I saw that tour, had a pretty much perfect seat. Fifth row or thereabouts. Dead centre. And it was, of course, amazing. But somehow, I remember the movie as better. I suppose it's that Jonathon Demme captured it so brilliantly, every nuance of the presentation -- everything rising to What A Day That Was (technically not even a Talking Head song; it first showed up on David Byrne's Catherine Wheel) but nevertheless the high point of the movie and the concert. There was still a ways to go, lots of cool stuff, but it never got any higher ...

I had a friend at the time who claims it saved his life, the lines:

There's a million ways- to get things done
There's a million ways- to make things work out.

posted by philip-random at 4:57 PM on March 16 [4 favorites]

posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 5:02 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]

Related: I also enjoyed the recent American Utopia film, directed by Spike Lee. The part where the kids in Detroit cover Everybody's Coming to My House makes me cry and cry and cry every time (I don't even know why, it just really hits that spot).
posted by vunder at 5:12 PM on March 16 [6 favorites]

Hell, YES!! So excited for this and maybe I'll take one or more of my kids too
posted by potrzebie at 6:03 PM on March 16

I missed any actual date(s) this is happening. Has this been announced yet?
According to the Talking Heads website's pre-order page the LP re-release will take place on August 18th, so if I had to guess.. around then, probably?
posted by Nerd of the North at 6:47 PM on March 16

I don’t know how one could watch this in a theater without jumping up and dancing around. Can we please get a screening in a big hall?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:52 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]

“Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense”Strong Songs, 03 November 2021
posted by ob1quixote at 7:31 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]

Oh. Memories. I spent way too much time in the movie theaters in the late 70s, early 80s. I probably saw this concert movie 3-4 times..?

First time I was unimpressed. It wasn't very flashy or action-filled to me.

However, at the end of the first viewing - I wanted to be more like David Byrne.

I will watch the remastered version as an offering on the altar of nostalgia.
posted by Rabarberofficer at 7:40 PM on March 16

The part where the kids in Detroit cover Everybody's Coming to My House

I saw American Utopia in NYC (thanks, friend's wealthy Boomer parents who couldn't make it, for the fantastic seats!), and he said that he always considers the song an anthem of unease, but the kids completely transformed it and he loved it.
posted by praemunire at 7:51 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]

They were so damn good.

I saw them on this tour at an outdoor venue near Detroit called Pine Knob. When the show was over, the crowd would. not. leave. So they came back out with all the lights on and did “Burning Down the House” for a second time. It was much looser and funkier and jammier the second time. One of the best shows I ever went to.
posted by marxchivist at 10:34 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]

I was there! I cannot say definitively but this is probably the last big arena concert I ever went to.

At the time I was quite confused. The tickets said "promptly at 8(?)pm" and they started maybe 45-60 minutes later. But it got gradually more and more excellent. The house lights dimmed (and re-lit at the end) so slowly, over a few songs, so the big rock show kind of snuck up on you.

So glad I got to see it.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:47 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]

Talking Heads was the sound of my eighties but I never got to see them live. I did see Stop Making Sense when it came out though. It was the last film played at the movie theatre in central Stockholm before it was shut down to be replaced by a restaurant. I remember I and a few friends saw the early showing, and we then heard they were doing an additional midnight show after the 9 show so we immediately went outside and lined up for that, along with almost everyone else who’d been at the show. It was the same feeling as at a music festival. The midnight show was just a party from the first beat.
posted by boogieboy at 4:03 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

The very fact that you call it “Making Flippy Floppy” tells me you aren’t ready.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:48 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

One of the best live music films period. Props to the late great Jonathan Demme. In the book "Remain In Love" Chris Frantz tells how David Byrne prior to filming told everyone in the band to dress in their street clothes. He then came out onto the stage with the suit.
posted by DJZouke at 5:05 AM on March 17

This album was everywhere when I was in college. I liked the TH but was never a huge fan like all the cool kids. However...I saw the film a few years back for the first time and it was amazing. Definitely in my top 5 concert documentaries (if you can call it that?).

Somewhat related, Chris Frantz does a great radio show on WPKN in Bridgeport, CT on Fridays (he and Tina live around here). The stuff he plays during his show are always fun, interesting and perfect for my Friday drive home from work. And he always mentions Tina at least 5 times during the show - sweet.
posted by sundrop at 5:37 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

My family went to see Tina Turner during her Private Dancer concert tour in the 80s, arriving and taking our seats early, and for whatever reason the roadies were playing this soundtrack while they were setting up. My father was riveted by it, and after listening in fascination for several songs, he turned to the rest of us and said, "so, I want this record for my birthday this year."

We complied, and then my father's next goal became "bring this over on a visit to our neighbors' house across the street because they have a way better stereo." And that December, when us and the neighbors met up at a mutual friends' open-house Christmas party, the neighbors mentioned that they were going to be making a whole bunch of pierogis when they got home, and did Dad want to join them and learn how? Their daughter and son extended similar "let's hang out" invitations to me and my brother, and so after the party we all got changed and head over to their place...my father making sure to bring the soundtrack album.

One hour later, the soundtrack was playing so loud you could hear it from the street. Our brothers were happily playing video games in the basement and their daughter was hiding in her room - while I was sitting in the living room, watching in fascination as my parents and the neighbor dad danced madly in the kitchen, drinking shots from a bottle of krupnik and using spoons and rolling pins as microphones as they sang along to "Girlfriend is Better" at the tops of their lungs.

For years afterward, both families threw lavish Ukranian-style Easter brunches for all our friends, spending two full days in the cooking prep work. And the Stop Making Sense soundtrack was the traditional "cooking music" each year.

The best bit - Dad got a camcorder in some random raffle one year, and that year he videotaped the whole Easter Ordeal, from the prep work (including a series of shots of the krupnik bottle on pierogi night, tracking how much they'd been having) into the actual party. A few years after that, our neighbor went into local politics, serving a couple decades and going all the way into the state legislature. It still amuses me greatly that if for whatever reason I had ever wanted to trash his career, all I would need to have done would be to release a clip of him wearing his W. C. Fields apron and lip-syncing along to Swamp.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:43 AM on March 17 [17 favorites]

I don’t know how one could watch this in a theater without jumping up and dancing around.

When I saw this film for the first time at the single-screen Vogue Theater in Louisville, Kentucky, we did jump up and dance around just as if it were a concert, not a movie. It's the best concert film ever -- no interviews, no backstage footage, just Talking Heads at their best.
posted by Gelatin at 6:58 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Part of the genius of Jonathan Demme was that he filmed the concert from the back and by weaving through the band. It was not filmed from the audience's perspective.
posted by DJZouke at 7:04 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]

Part of the genius of Jonathan Demme was that he filmed the concert from the back and by weaving through the band. It was not filmed from the audience's perspective.

Indeed. The performances (if memory serves me correctly, the film was assembled from footage shot over several consecutive nights in the same venue) were filmed and edited together like a music video, using multiple cameras including several hand-held ones.

They try hard not to include any of the other camera operators in the shots, but it's impossible, and they do appear onscreen from time to time.
posted by Gelatin at 7:11 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Rich Hall playing David Byrne on Saturday Night Live:
You may ask yourself, "Why such a big suit?"
You may ask yourself, "Can this suit be taken in a little?"
You may ask yourself, "Does this store have any mirrors?"
posted by kirkaracha at 9:09 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]

Jerry Harrison was on Marc Maron's WTF podcast last year. Great interview. I had bought Harrison's Casual Gods album when it came out and didn't like it. After hearing the interview I bought it again and have been digging it; have listened to it dozens of times in the last 8 months.
posted by neuron at 9:39 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

aliciacamden on Twitter / Nitter: "Keeping in shape with my favorite workout video, the critically-acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense"
posted by Pronoiac at 11:06 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]

Let's not forget the late great Bernie Worrell, Wally Badarou and Nona Hendrix and others who contributed to the album.
posted by DJZouke at 11:12 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

On the DVD, David Byrne does a very ill advised black face thing that is incomprehensible to me. He later apologized for it.
posted by DJZouke at 11:15 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

(the ticket number on the dry cleaner's receipt, y'all!)
posted by shiny blue object at 1:29 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I saw this tour live in December (I think) of 1983 and it remains one of the highlights of my musical life. I'll be there for the movie with (much older) bells on, as the saying goes.

Rich Hall playing David Byrne on Saturday Night Live:
You may ask yourself, "Why such a big suit?"
You may ask yourself, "Can this suit be taken in a little?"
You may ask yourself, "Does this store have any mirrors?"

This may be the same skit I've remembered for years, where he segues into a riff from Life During Wartime and asks, in perfect time with the music, "you must have kept the receipt". Brilliant.
posted by jokeefe at 6:36 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]

I think it's a fun concert film but it's over-rated.

The Talking Heads 1980 tour had the Remain in Light crew with Adrian Belew, and it was more intense.
posted by ovvl at 6:53 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]

Not to take anything away from Stop Making Sense, which I also love, but True Stories was on another level.

Dream Operator
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:58 AM on March 20

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