In 1983, Talking Heads toured to advertise their new album, “Speaking in Tongues.” The band remembers the tour fondly, but according to the band’s bassist, Tina Weymouth, it was almost completely unprofitable. The tour’s product, however, the concert film “Stop Making Sense,” was anything but, receiving near-unanimous acclaim. Now, coinciding with the film’s 40th anniversary, a 4K remaster by A24 has hit theatres.
Forty years later, the film is still highly regarded as one of the best concert films ever made. Audiences loved it, watching it in theatres as if it were a real performance and clapping between songs. Critics adored it, such as Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who complimented it in an episode of “Siskel and Ebert.” The remaster premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and sold out almost immediately. It’s unanimous: it holds up, and audiences still can’t enough of eccentric lead singer David Byrne’s iconic performance.
A24, one of the hottest production and distribution companies in the world, has garnered fame for its catalog of acclaimed independent films. In order to effectively improve “Stop Making Sense,” A24 had to track down the long-lost original negatives (found in an MGM vault, although MGM was never involved with the film), but the effort seems to have been worth it. Visuals and audio mixing have improved, with the bonus of a new IMAX version. Audiences report seeing the concert in more detail, although one might claim that what fans are really excited about is just an excuse to see the film on the big screen again.
The concert follows Byrne as he seems to traverse an emotional arc – he begins, alone with a guitar and boom box, performing “Psycho Killer” before the ensemble performing band joins him one by one, song by song. The performance develops into a celebratory display of absurdity and joy, with Byrne adorning his iconic oversized suit. Director Johnathon Demmes displays the show spectacularly, using wide shots of the whole stage to capture the entire scene’s chaos and symmetry while also getting up close and personal with cameras that show the performers’ hard work and jubilance.
The story has been interpreted as a celebration of autism (Byrne is neurodivergent); critic Pauline Keal described it in 1984 as “making autism fun”. The concert undoubtedly displays David Byrne’s strangeness, as he awkwardly dances and runs around the stage with a unique character only he can pull off. Could his famous oversized suit represent that even when technically acting normal, he can’t fit in? The film title, “Stop Making Sense,” certainly seems to imply an embracing of neurodiversity, but at the end of the day, the film remains more absurdist and enigmatic than anything else.
The 1983 tour was the last Talking Heads circuit before their breakup. Nevertheless, the fact that “Stop Making Sense” documents the final one they ever did adds to the mystique of this iconic concert movie. Be sure to catch the remaster as it makes its special theatrical release this October.