Armed with nothing more than a cassette player and an acoustic guitar, David Byrne walks onto an empty, incomplete stage and says that he “got a tape he’d like to play.”

Stop Making Sense. © Arnold Stiefel Company, Cinecom Pictures, Palm Pictures. All rights reserved.

For the remainder of the film’s nearly hour-and-a-half runtime, it’s impossible not to be swept away by the eclectic, wild and superbly strange energy of the band as much as people used to be. Despite being largely a showcase of their music and their oddities, it feels more like a piece of performance art than a standard concert film and it’s truly a testament to what made the Talking Heads so special in the first place.

While it is a beautiful film to look at with plenty of energy to boot, what makes Stop Making Sense so unique is the surprising amount of substance there is to chew on. There’s plenty of religious symbolism in both the music, which is somewhat influenced by gospel and faith, and the cinematography and the performances themselves.

Stop Making Sense. © Arnold Stiefel Company, Cinecom Pictures, Palm Pictures. All rights reserved.

This is especially evident in the “Once in a Lifetime” performance. Byrne, the main focus here, is reminiscent of a pastor giving an intense sermon as if he is possessed by his faith. Meanwhile, his backup singers (the incredible Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt) slowly ascend towards a white spotlight that flashes directly above them, as if they’re being saved by Byrne’s impassioned words. Also, it’s important to note that Byrne is framed in deity-esque ways throughout the entire film.

It all makes for some powerful imagery that seems to symbolize the way that we look at rock stars as religious figures and the stage as if it was our temple of worship. With David Byrne performing as some kind of a prophet, he seems to see frontmen the same way, with the audience and even other members of the band acting as followers of his word. Concerts can be transformative experiences, and it seems as if everyone involved really wanted to show that in the most dynamic way possible.

Stop Making Sense. © Arnold Stiefel Company, Cinecom Pictures, Palm Pictures. All rights reserved.

However, there is a contradiction present in the film’s spiritual allegory, as it also shows a concert at its most raw and open. The Heads want their fans to see them authentically, warts and all, as we witness the formation of the stage, with crew members even seen setting up, as they film everything while the band is playing. It seems chaotic on paper and could lead to disaster, but it works as the concert still flows beautifully and the crew feels like a part of the show. Unlike other concert films where everything on stage is pristine, the Talking Heads show the beauty in imperfection.

The film also leads to a stronger connection between the band and their audience. Seeing the perfectly set up stages where everything is almost artificial and unrealistic can diminish the work that goes into putting on a show like this. However, by letting everything be authentic, the audience sees a more raw and human band that isn’t afraid to keep it real. If the religious angle is there to present the show as a religious experience, then this feels like a clear attempt to humanize those we worship.

Stop Making Sense. © Arnold Stiefel Company, Cinecom Pictures, Palm Pictures. All rights reserved.

That same theme is also depicted in one of the most interesting aspects of the film. Each member of the band feels like a character with their own specific traits that make them stand out within the group. Of course, the most obvious example of this is Byrne and all of the odd quirks and mannerisms he possesses in his performance, but the most interesting of the group is Tina Weymouth. She seems to have her own unique arc as she starts the show as Byrne’s perfectly shy and closed-off foil to his openly eccentric characteristics. However, as the film goes on, she opens herself up more and more until she steals the show performing “Genius of Love” with the same madcap energy as Byrne. It seems like such a small moment, but it gives her, like the other band members, a lot of humanity to keep the audience invested.

Stop Making Sense. © Arnold Stiefel Company, Cinecom Pictures, Palm Pictures. All rights reserved.

It’s possible that this could be classified as making too much sense of a film quite literally called Stop Making Sense, but it’s hard to think of a concert film that has (or will ever) top what Demme, the Heads, and Cronenweth have created here. David Byrne said that they would only tour again “when there is something new to say to an audience,” and while that day never came, at least everyone involved brought a jaw-dropping experience that is not only impossible to replicate, but also breathes new life into what a concert film can accomplish.

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