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Top 5 Moments from Talking Heads' Concert Film Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense turned 30 this year, and in honor of the anniversary, The Talking Heads' legendary concert film is returning to theaters, and will screen this Sunday at Phoenix Center for the Arts.

Presented by No Festival Required, the Valley's top microcinema producer, the screening, like the film, won't quite be traditional. According to the press release, beer, wine, and snacks will be available for purchase prior to the screening, and "spontaneous singing and dancing is encouraged" inside the 230-seat theater.

In anticipation of this exciting event, we've compiled our top five moments from a film filled with exciting ones.

See Also: Best Microcinema Phoenix 2010 - No Festival Required

5. The "Big Suit"

Perhaps the most iconic image of Stop Making Sense is David Byrne, perched uncomfortably in his oversized suit, moving it as much as he moves within it. The frontman arrives first as a comically disproportionate shadow, before shimmying his way into the shot, feigning confidence and style while dressed in a strangely misshapen outfit.

In an attempt to show "swagger," Byrne almost appears to be mocking the very idea of sexual confidence. The frontman even breaks the fourth wall, at one point offering the microphone to an onstage cameraman, softening his glance into the lens. It would seem there is no more indicative statement of artistic intent and audience play for Talking Heads than with David Byrne and his choice of suit for the stage.   4. The Entrance

David Byrne makes his entrance into "Stop Making Sense"
David Byrne makes his entrance into "Stop Making Sense"
Image courtesy of No Festival Required

From the first shot of the film, Byrne and Demme make an impression. Demme opens with a shot simply of Byrne's feet, walking toward the stage with a purpose. The colors of his outfit, Bryne's careful steps -- everything speaks to the off-kilter tone of the film that is to come.

Byrne sets down his tape recorder (a key stage device for the first song), and only then does the viewer see the context of their environment. By focusing in so closely, the film immediately builds a sense of anticipation, making the viewer wonder aloud at what is to come. Rather than hearing the roar of the audience or a grandiose stage setup in the traditional pop vein, the director chooses to focus on the minutiae, in turn refocusing what a "concert film" is meant to be.  

3. The Arrival of the Band

When the full backing band arrives, only then does Byrne truly let loose
When the full backing band arrives, only then does Byrne truly let loose
Image courtesy of Palm Pictures

Though the four-piece version of Talking Heads opens the show, and certainly gets in a groove, it's only when the backup singers and bongo player arrive that things get moving in a serious way. Rather than typical stage attire, at this point each standing band member is in some version of a jumpsuit, evoking some sort of work outfit -- in other words, far from glamorous.

To Byrne's right, the pair of backup singers provide a vital foil to the frontman's trademark jittery dance moves. Rather than copying his style, the two adopt a variation on their own natural moves, engaging the loose bass and polyrhythms present in so many of the band's songs. For a brief moment, they even get Byrne himself to smooth out his moves, illustrating that even such a showman as he can be moved by the music.

  2. Dance with Lamp

On "This Must Be The Place," David Byrne showcases his jilted attempt at dance for two.
On "This Must Be The Place," David Byrne showcases his jilted attempt at dance for two.
Image courtesy of No Festival Required

To engage so openly with domesticity and love is uncharacteristic for Talking Heads. So during their most self-aware love song "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)," Byrne sets the stage for his own idealized home.

In front of flashing images of human body parts, bookshelves, and other "homey" set pieces, Byrne stands on stage accompanied only by a single lamp, which he turns on by hand at the song's start. As the song fades, the singer begins moving with the lamp, intimating at first a sort of hopeful connection -- the dance-with-inanimate-object being a common, kitschy movie symbol of romantic longing -- before throwing the lamp around more whimsically. Byrne and the band can only take open-heartedness so far before returning to humor and exaggeration.

 

1. "Any Questions?"

Rather than yelling for adulation, David Byrne instead inquires of his audience.
Rather than yelling for adulation, David Byrne instead inquires of his audience.
Image courtesy of Palm Pictures

Throughout his songwriter career, David Byrne has been known for being increasingly oblique. While addressing personal and societal issues, he has tended to talk around the subject. And in so doing, he has talked around the subject, causing the listener to question exactly what he or she is hearing.

Similarly, in his stage banter, Byrne does not enage with his audience in the typical "HOW'S EVERYONE DOING TONIGHT" manner of practically every performer on the planet. Instead, he calls out at the first set break a quick "Thank you!" before inquiring of his audience, "Any questions?" and sprinting off the stage. Much in the same way that "Stop Making Sense" blurs the line between theater and concert film, Byrne blurs the line between performance and presentation in his manner of speaking. By asking "Any questions?" he speaks as if he has just presented a series of findings and wants to make sure everyone is on the same page. Endearing and confusing -- the perfect nexus for a band as consistently groundbreaking as Talking Heads.

"Stop Making Sense" screens this Sunday at Phoenix Center for the Arts at 1:30p.m. Tickets are $7 and more information and a link to advance tickets is available on the event's Facebook page.

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