Taking a Shot: Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984)

It’s true that Stop Making Sense was put together from footage filmed at three different Talking Heads shows, and that the band rerecorded some of the audio to cover technical issues. It’s certainly not a raw concert film, nor was it meant to be. However, this takes nothing away from the energy and chemistry apparent between the musicians. The performances are fundamental in this regard, but it helps that Demme avoids music video style quick cuts, using plenty of longer shots to get the viewer involved in what the musicians are doing. The most obvious example of this is “Once in a Lifetime,” which goes more than four minutes without a cut. I’m fond of one particular shot from near the end of “Burning Down the House,” however.

The camera starts over here, with David Byrne and Alex Weir strumming away madly together…

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…then, wavering slightly, it follows Weir as he goes over to his microphone…

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…then it moves, blurring the image in its enthusiasm, over to Byrne in the middle of the stage…

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…and then over to Jerry Harrison, Lynn Mabry and Edna Holt doing something joyous and indescribable.

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This film is supposed to make the viewer feel as though they, not the people who attended the shows, are the audience. In shots like this, the camera moves as if it’s the viewer’s eye, looking across the stage and back again. If we were there, we wouldn’t be able to take everything in, because there would be too much to see. Demme makes that clear within this single shot, which also connects five of the band in order to show how caught up they are in the music they’re all making together.

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