STOP MAKING SENSE," starring the Talking Heads, is a streamlined film, thankfully free of the agitated quick cuts and audience reaction shots of traditional concert documentaries. No interviews, no backstage phoniness, no hype, no jive. The focus is on the minimalist drama inherent in the group's personality and evolutionary musicality, gone from edgy, nervous new music to a funk wave of Caribbean and African polyrhythms.
The Talking Heads put on a tremendous show -- erudite, funny, funky -- with each player examined under the unrelenting lens of Jordan Cronenweth, who also worked as cinematographer on "Handle With Care" with "Stop" director Jonathan Demme.
The sound track is clean, clear, vibrant -- a shimmer of bells, a whisper of girlish voices and the echo of a bongo -- a harmony of separate identities and spirits. The 24-track stereo sound of 16 songs, mostly from the albums "Speaking In Tongues" and "Fear of Music," was digitally recorded at four Heads' concerts in Hollywood in December 1983.
Lead singer and guitarist David Byrne enters alone and plays a tape featuring the entire group. The eerie lighting accents the horizontal stage, which emphasizes the individuality of each performer and the joy each has as he or she joins the swelling, rainbow-colored group on stage. Gradually the stage fills up with performers. Sometimes slides flash behind them. And they don't make sense. So what!
The first number, "Psycho Killer," has earned the itchy, twitchy, enigmatic Byrne critical comparisons with Norman Bates, E.T. and Charlie Chaplin. But he looks more like Fred Astaire, limber as a rubber willow, in a double-jointed dance with a floor lamp.
Bassist Tina Weymouth and backup vocalists perform "Genius of Love" from Weymouth's own album "Tom Tom Club." And that's especially fine since it contradicts the nasty attitude of "Purple Rain," which pictures an explicit sexism spread industrywide. And "Stop" doesn't hang its music on a wobbly plot, as if it needed an excuse to make music.
Thanks to Demme, the group's music and choreography go undiminished, free from balloons and lasers and stage-hogging egomaniacs like Mick Jagger. Music is the main thing, the Heads' trip. "Stop Making Sense" is a dynamic rock film, as suited to its place in history, musically and visually, as "Woodstock" was to the '60s.
STOP MAKING SENSE -- At the West End Circle.