I love the ACMI, they have great exhibitions and also loads of movie screenings.
And while I was in Melbourne, I went to my first movie screening.
Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense.
A concert film spliced together from 3 concerts by Talking Heads in 1984. This is one of the best concert documentaries you will see. Mostly due to the cleverness in it's construct, it's uniqueness in the abstract, and the fact the band are pretty much at the height of their powers. It's a rush to see, and one of my favourite things of all time.
I first saw Stop Making Sense at a friends place when I was in Yr 10 or 11, so that would be 1986/87, a few years after it was filmed. I knew Talking Heads of course, and some of their music, but that was pretty much it. I remember the day so clearly, we had a couple of free periods and escaped school (possibly this was a bad thing to do, my memory is hazy here), squishing into the Jeep of the older brother of one of my friends. There was much fun and frivolity, but really all I remember was David Byrne. I couldn't even list the names of all the people I was with, but that memory of watching Stop Making Sense is burned into my soul. I was a goner, a fan, and given we didn't finish watching the movie I HAD to have it.
I remember getting the album almost immediately, and of course that lead me to all other things Talking Heads. It was about that time we bought a video, and I remember it coming on tele late one night and taping it. I still have that video somewhere, I cannot throw it out, it is most certainly unwatchable by now. It has since been replaced by two actual videos, both worn out and long gone, and the DVD. I have watched the film more times than I care to remember. But I have not watched it in some years.
So the anticipation of seeing it for the first time on the big screen was incredibly exciting.
I got there early and scored an excellent spot in the cinema and watched the rest of the crowd wander in, mostly people older than me, but a huge range of ages.
I loved the reaction of the audience. It was fascinating, most just sat in their seats, whilst I seat-danced the night away. How can you not jiggle away to this music? A friend said that was very Melbourne of the audience, lol! But there was this group of younger kids (yeah, I'm old now) sitting behind me to the right. Their reactions were gold. They laughed at some points, and yeah I guess some of it was amusing, and clapped after some of the show stoppers, which was great as I instinctively applauded myself. It was sooo much better than I expected. Mostly as the music had been digitally tidied up, it sounded fucking fantastic. The image still had that grainy VCR look, but it is what it is and that added to the mystique of it all.
And so the film, for those that have never had the experience. It looks clumsy in parts, but rest assured the entire thing is choreographed within an inch of it's life. That is Byrne's distinctive mark. Having seen him live a few years back, he still choreographs in a similar odd way.
I love the quiet opening credits, that later when I 'discovered' Kubrick I realised were not long taken from Dr Strangelove but designed by the same Title Designer! Mind Blown!!
Byrne comes out with a getto blaster and says Hi, I've got a tape I want to play, and presses play for the back up beats of Psycho Killer, armed with a guitar and a maniacal grin he knocks it out of the park and then some. His jaunty moves alien like, geeky and almost embarrassing, but really more avant garde (for the time) and when he grins at the camera it is almost chilling. The other thing is how young he looks! All the while he plays and dances and the backstage workers are slowly working behind him putting the stage together.
Next song Tina and her blue bass arrive and they play Heaven (which is probably my all time favourite Talking Heads song). Sublime. This is a stiller song, though Byrne still manages a lot of geeky moves, Tina is cooler than cool, a complete opposite to Byrne, yet they work beautifully together. Her winsome smile the entire song, and as the song draws to an end, her husband's drums are rolled on.
Chris then runs on in looking like he is heading for a game of golf. Tests the drums, speaks into a headphone, counts them in and begins the marching like beat of Thank You For Sending Me An Angel.
Next up Jerry arrives for Found A Job. I love the long shots during this, where you can seeing the bobbing heads of the audience in the dark at the front, the band doing their thing, and stage staff adding more platforms and bits and pieces for the extended touring part of the band to join.
And so the movie continues with the stage wired and put together while the extended band continue to join the band one by one. They were mostly from Parliament-Funkadelic, which gives the songs and concert the fabulous funky edge it has. And this adds even more energy to the stage. I adored the backing singers, Lynn and Ednah, oh I really wanted to be them, lol! But I did score myself a pair of chambray blue/grey shorts all-in-ones similar to what they wear and I thought I was sooo cool!
By the time they get to Burning Down The House, the entire band is on stage and it's a thing to behold. The songs - and crazy dancing/marching almost callanetics continue through Life During Wartime, Making Flippy Floppy, Swamp, Day That Was, This Must Be The Place, and Once in a Lifetime. Each song seemingly better than the next, powerful, funky, and so very cool.
Byrne takes a break from the stage for Chris and Tina to perform one of their alternative rap songs from their other 'band' The Tom Tom Club. Sidebar: this divides fans, they either love or hate The Tom Tom Club. I was not a fan back then, but now I don't mind it at all, having said that they are not great! This of course gives Byrne a chance to slip into something a little more different for the next song.
And out comes Byrne in this huge, oversized suit for Girlfriend is Better. It sounds odd, but it works perfectly, adding to the oddness and alien feel of his performance. And of course the lyrics of Stop Making Sense from this song is where the title of the film comes from.
After this showstopper, they slow things down with their great take on Al Green's Take Me To The River. And finish up with the great Crosseyed and Painless, where you start to see the audience, cutting it up and having a blast.
There has been some alterations to the film over the years, songs that were originally cut into the sequence on first release on VHS, were taken from the DVD release then added again. You can notice if you watch carefully some sequencing variations from the three shows being spliced together. This doesn't take away from the film at all.
It really is the music, and the joy and excitement with which it is performed, that make Stop Making Sense. You are almost entranced by them, well at least I am.
And the lyrics; intelligent, sophisticated, and crazy. That is another post in and of itself!
Same as it ever was!!
I love this film so much, it never dates to me. Every time another song will stick out. I think Swamp best fits the band and the film, the guttural, alien-like voice Byrne affects, the creepy lyrics, and quirky movements. But the killer one two of Psycho Killer and Heaven will always stand out.
Of course, there is much I have left out, watch it and see camera angles, lighting, and interesting effects other bands will come to use in the future. You actually can see the history of filmed concerts within Stop Making Sense.
So lucky was I to see this on the big screen, there was huge applause at the end, and I skipped off into the Melbourne night feeling happy and funky.