Talking Heads' Remaster of 'Stop Making Sense' Clarifies the Best Concert Film Ever

Directed by Jonathan Demme

Photo courtesy of TIFF

BY Sydney BrasilPublished Sep 13, 2023

We should all know how it starts by now: David Byrne walks on stage with only an acoustic guitar and boombox, the theatre's backstage area open behind him. "Hi, I got a tape I want to play," he announces, like a kid playing a talent show. As tracks pass, his accompaniment grows, and everything gradually gets bigger: the band, the set and the suit.

The poster for A24's revitalized Stop Making Sense touts it as "the greatest concert movie of all time," and without hyperbole, that is precisely true. It's a fact that Talking Heads fans and unattached music lovers alike have agreed upon in the 40 years since its original release; for that, it feels redundant to call it a must-watch. A remastering of the film and the music it supports is a public service — not only by preserving one of the most important musical documents of our time, but by bringing it into the psyche of an entirely new audience. 

With a pristine 4K sheen and stellar audio remastering, no crumb is left that counters the film's timelessness. In IMAX, there's no telling where the audience's claps end and where the on-film cheering starts. (Clapping for songs at a film screening feels a lot like clapping when a plane lands.)

If you were lucky enough to catch one of the scattered screenings prior to 2023 (shout out Hot Docs), you know: there is no Stop Making Sense without forgetting you're not actually at the show, regardless of video quality. Now, the experience is all the more immersive.

It's easy to see that Talking Heads' extended lineup knew exactly what they were doing. Beyond their renditions of some of the most gleaming, special songs in the alternative canon, they're all just as confident in Byrne's firm stage vision as he is. While the knowing looks the band makes to the camera show intimacy between a fully immersed, visible crew — musician, stagehand and filmmaker alike —  there's always a glimmer of "Look at me!" "Look at us!" "Look at this show!"

The cut of each shot multiplies this ecstasy, with director Jonathan Demme sure of where our eyes should land. The music intensifies with his viewpoint, whether it's one extended shot of Byrne preaching nearly all of "Once in a Lifetime," or the unison between backing vocalists Ednah Holt and Lynn Mabry on "Slippery People." This never detracts from the bigger picture, with wide shots showing a syncopated ensemble immersed in an ecosystem. It embodies the wave of the tracks, punk in ethos but steeped in funk, never surpassed by any replication since.

Even in achieving technical and musical perfection, the legacy of Stop Making Sense remains in the lives it's touched. The people who love it really love it, and most of us have at least one formative moment attached to it. For me, it's a nerdy post-punk band I fronted in university, and a drive from San Antonio to Austin in January 2020 as a friend and I were naïvely hopeful. It's why screenings have never really waned, why "This Must Be the Place" has a spot in Gen Z's online orbit. Finding Talking Heads is a turning point — even if it ebbs and flows, it always circles back.

At the band's TIFF reunion — one many thought would never come — Tina Weymouth was still astounded: "I love that show. It was magical. I mean, everything about it was so special," she said during a Q&A with Spike Lee.

Byrne's since-acknowledged tyranny caused much of Talking Heads' inner turmoil, but despite the behind-the-scenes conflict, Stop Making Sense was still a labour of love. It captures one of the greatest rock bands to ever do it at their absolute peak, fiercely informed by each of its elements, elevating them all. While every concert film since has aspired to be it, we're still waiting.

Latest Coverage