BFI Recommends: Stop Making Sense

Psycho Killer... Qu’est-ce que c’est? We hit the weekend with a recommendation of one of the all-time great concert films: Talking Heads on tour in Stop Making Sense, chosen by Matthew Taylor.

22 May 2020

By Matthew Taylor

Stop Making Sense (1984)

My first encounter with Stop Making Sense was under far from optimum viewing conditions: a VHS recording on a monochrome 14-inch TV set. Still, it seemed to casually shrug off the miniature format’s constraints with its sheer, effervescent verve. As such, with both cinema-going and live performance on indefinite hiatus, this most audacious of concert movies offers ample solace for the homebound spectator.

Capturing new wave greats Talking Heads at the climax of what would be their final major tour, Jonathan Demme’s film is an electrifying document of a band at the top of their game. Starting small with David Byrne strumming ‘Psycho Killer’ to a stuttering tape loop, minimalism gradually gives way to expansive stagecraft as band members, percussionists, backing singers and a certain outsize suit all come into play. As the panorama unfolds, Demme’s camera gets everywhere, from full-stage wide shots and comic close-ups to loitering in the wings and mingling with the crowd. Though shot over consecutive nights, the brilliantly sustained momentum is such that the illusion of witnessing a single set is tough to break.

Demme went on to make concert docs with Neil Young, Robyn Hitchcock and Justin Timberlake, but none caught lightning in a bottle quite like this one, which critic Pauline Kael called “close to perfection”.

Matthew Taylor
Documentation Editor (Programme Notes)