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Stop Making Sense

Why stop making sense? Why a movie? Why a big suit? Where do the odd movements come from? What will the band do next? 

Year: 1984 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC PG Cert – Parental guidance 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by Jonathan Demme 
Starring: David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz  
An image from Stop Making Sense

An empty stage. Then, a shadow, footsteps, a strange man appears dressed in white and grey. He carries a boombox, an acoustic guitar, wobbles his head back and forth like a turkey and then starts singing. This is the beginning of the greatest concert film ever made: it’s the Talking Heads, it’s 1984, and sense has left the building. As the band slowly appear, a member joins at each successive song until there’s all kinds of instruments, back-up singers, and slippery people on the stage. Later there’s the infamous big suit and, inexplicably, a household lamp… insanity takes over, if you get into Stop Making Sense then you won’t be able to stop moving for 88 minutes – the film’s recent cinema-run saw several cinema audiences erupt into uncontrollable dancing and you couldn’t blame them! Even if you aren’t familiar with Talking Heads, there isn’t a better introduction to them than this film, and we’ll be sure to play it loud! For once in a lifetime, leave all sense behind, leave behind your thoughts and your tasks, step into an experience like no other, enjoy the sonic vibrations and the silly dances, think this must be the place and burn down the house – Stop. Making. Sense. Have fun!

Daniel Kallin

Upon its release in 1984, Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense, which captured a live concert performance given by the Talking Heads, was hailed by many critics as the “greatest concert film of all time.”

Over the span of four concerts in four days, Demme and his crew attached themselves to the Talking Heads. The first concert was a dry run, with the performers getting used to having cameras capturing their every movement. Actual filming began on the second day, and the final cut of the film contains numbers from all three concerts. There are no behind-the-scenes pieces, interview segments, or anything else that would break the musical momentum. Stop Making Sense is 90 minutes of unadulterated music.

Demme’s greatest ally is simplicity. He understood that the Talking Heads put on a strong enough show that there was no need for the cameras artificially to enliven things.

Consequently, we are not subjected to the barrage of irritating quick cuts that have become the norm in the MTV era of concert footage.

Despite being a concert film, Stop Making Sense possesses an underlying dramatic structure. It takes six numbers for the entire band to assemble in front of the audience. During the early portions of the show, the technicians who are typically relegated to behind-the-scenes duty can be seen assembling the set. Stop Making Sense doesn’t hide anything from us, and that’s a significant aspect of its brilliance and innovation.

The strength of Stop Making Sense is how well it has stood the test of time, and with a newly re-mastered Dolby Digital soundtrack, it sounds more vibrant than ever. Stop Making Sense was the best concert film to date when it first came out, and nothing in the past decade-and-a-half has come close to toppling it from that position. It isn’t even necessary to be a Talking Heads fan to enjoy the rhythm of the music and the antics of the band. Experiencing what Demme and the Talking Heads have crafted with this motion picture makes perfect sense.

James Berardinelli

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Screenings of this film:

1999/2000 Spring Term (35mm)
2023/2024 Spring Term (digital)