Our review of Stop Making Sense (Blu-Ray), published November 5th, 2009, is also available.
Get it, watch it, love it!
There are a few times and places where the Universe or God or the Muse is caught on film talking to us through human conduits. On my short list of such religious musical experiences are Hendrix at Monterey Pop, The Band's The Last Waltz, Sting's "Bring on the Night," and U2's Rattle and Hum, and, last but not least, The Talking Head's Stop Making Sense. These films, for those of us who appreciate such things, contain transcendent moments that definitely peg the Chill Bump Meter. With the new DVD transfer and remix of Stop Making Sense, the meter now goes up to eleven!
The Talking Heads are one of the greatest bands of their generation. Like the best of the best, their music continues to seem fresh and moving, because it exists outside of any particular time and place, and does not seem to become dated. I think this sometimes happens because a band is in its own category, and therefore won't go out of style when other, more general, categories inevitably get run into the ground by the greedy, mindless corporate music machines. Another benefit of course comes from constant experimentation, to keep the listeners and the musicians themselves interested and inspired.
The Talking Heads meet these criteria easily. David Byrne's quirky and intelligent lyrics, mixed with great funk tinged music, make them very distinct. And they've covered styles from a minimalist punk trio to an eleven piece funk-rock rave-up. The film represents this stylistic growth by starting off with David Byrne performing "Psycho Killer" by himself to a simple drum machine track on an empty stage, and slowly adding more musicians, and their equipment, until the full band is on stage. The building up of the stage equipment is done live as the music is going on, which is an interesting change of pace. The presentation is interesting in other ways as well. It's lit in very visually striking ways, with each song often having a unique look and feel.
The things I notice most about this group that makes them great, is that they obviously enjoy playing together. The band is racially and sexual integrated, they obviously like and respect each other, and just get off on being able to perform their music together. Their own level of enjoyment and involvement with the music being performed is very obvious to see in their faces, and this comes through in the performances. The best Heads music is represented here, and the performances of each are the best out of three filmed concerts. And the Head's best is very, very good. Some of the tunes, like "Once in a Lifetime" and "Burning Down the House" are absolutely tremendous.
The video quality of this anamorphic transfer is most excellent. It's a concert film, so this might not be as important as it would otherwise be, because they all tend to be somewhat dark. But I don't think the effort was wasted at all, because it looks gorgeous. The colors of the stage presentation are purposefully quite subdued, but the images are thick and rich and really put the action in your room. And because of the number of musicians, the widescreen presentation really helps with those scenes that pull back and show the whole stage. And it's actually presented in 16:9 format, so it fits our screens perfectly, with no waste.
The audio is equally wicked. There are three separate sound tracks present. One is a two-channel track for folks without surround systems. The other two are 5.1 channel tracks, both Dolby Digital. One is the live concert mix, which is designed to put you in the action. The sound is big and round and there is more ambience. The other is a "studio" mix, in which the sound is more controlled, less ambient, and just generally tighter. They both sound good, but for watching the film itself, I definitely preferred the live concert mix. There were times where the music was so thick and the vocals were so deeply wrapped around me that I felt like I was there. If I were just listening to it as music, I might choose the studio mix perhaps. The primary extra is a commentary track where all of the core Heads members and the director, Jonathan Demme (Philadelphia, Silence of the Lambs), contribute. They actually all did separate tracks that were mixed down to a "best of" track. David Byrne of course gets the lion's share of the time. Jonathan Demme, in my book, gets my kinda-sorta-genius award. Anyone who could direct two films as awesome as this one and Philadelphia gets a gold star in my book. Anyway, the commentary is quite informative and well worth hearing.
Another extra is a "self interview" where David Byrne, dressed as various people, interviews himself. Either I didn't get it, or it was the most stupid thing I've ever seen in my life. I was too embarrassed for him about halfway through and bailed outta that one. But I'll let you be the judge on this little ditty, and it certainly doesn't diminish the rest of the package.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
What can I say bad about this disc? Nothing really. If you hate this music, then I might suggest some professional counseling, because it's some of the best ever made. It looks beautiful and sounds even better, and gives you multiple sonic views of the material. What can be bad about that? You might save yourself the self interview extra, but otherwise I cannot in good conscience attempt in any way to dissuade you from buying this DVD immediately.
It doesn't get much better than this. I love music dearly, and DVD has the potential to bring it to us in a way that we've never experienced at home. This disc is a preview of things to come. Of course, much of what is to come will suck no matter how it's presented, but if the good stuff comes to us at this level of quality, I'm willing to ignore the seven-disc retrospective of Spandau Ballet's Greatest Hits. If you are a fan of the Talking Heads, this is definitely one to purchase. It's not only a great concert film, it's also a great 5.1 presentation of the Talking Heads greatest hits to just listen to by itself. And I'd dearly love to have a version of Rattle and Hum of this quality (hint, hint.)
Absolutely acquitted and the Prosecutor is censured for even bringing charges against this upstanding DVD citizen.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Palm Pictures
• Audio Commentary by all four band members and director Jonathon Demme
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