In December 1983, the great movie director Jonathan Demme, who went on to make Silence of the Lambs, spent three nights filming the art-rock band Talking Heads at a theater in Los Angeles. He cut the footage together, being careful to preserve the shape of the band’s very theatrical show, and released it as the concert movie Stop Making Sense. Most critics agree it’s the greatest concert film of all time.
Now movie studio A24 has acquired the rights to the 1984 film, and has announced that it will release a 4K restoration of it in theaters later this year.
A24 celebrated the announcement by releasing an adorable video of Talking Heads frontman David Byrne reclaiming the iconic oversized suit featured in the movie from a dry cleaners, taking it home, trying it on, and practicing some of his signature lean-and-wobble dance moves in it. (Byrne is fresh off an Oscar nomination for his song for A24’s Best Picture winner, Everything Everywhere All At Once.)
What makes Stop Making Sense special? It caught Talking Heads at the perfect moment in their career, still on the upswing, but with a great many of their canonical classics on the setlist: songs like ‘Psycho Killer,’ ‘Burning Down the House,’ and ‘Once in a Lifetime.’ The band’s unique, propulsive sound and Byrne’s surreal lyrics have aged incredibly well, and retain their modernist cool almost 40 years later. They’re agelessly, gloriously weird.
For his part, Demme discards a lot of the typical visual language of concert films, like crowd reaction shots, keeping his focus entirely on the band’s dynamic performance, which gradually builds from a minimal, bare stage with Byrne performing solo to a big ensemble sweating through high-energy dance numbers. And then there’s the unforgettable suit, which gives Byrne the appearance of somehow puppeteering his own body.
Demme did everything he could to make viewers feel they were in the audience at the live show, so a restored Stop Making Sense will surely be a special, time-warp treat to watch — and, just as importantly, hear — in movie theaters.
To tie in with the release, record label Rhino will issue a new version of the soundtrack album on vinyl and digitally on August 18, supposedly including the complete concert for the first time.
A24, fresh from dominating all six major categories at the Oscars with Everything Everywhere and The Whale, is exploring a new avenue of re-releasing classics of American indie cinema. It has also acquired the rights to Darren Aronofsky’s first feature Pi, and earlier this week showed a newly restored version in IMAX theaters in a one-night-only special event.
Meanwhile, Byrne has never stopped exploring the intersection of rock concerts and theater. You can catch Spike Lee’s film of his great Broadway show David Byrne’s American Utopia right now on HBO Max.