Like most teenagers of my generation I became fanatical about music, obsessive even, and at the high point I was acquiring an average of 4 record albums a week. It’s hard to imagine a world before iTunes or even the Compact Disc where you had to search shops for recordings of your favourite artists and a lot of my most treasured albums were obtained second hand as they were out of print.
Collecting records was an active pursuit, often involving train journeys to London or Cambridge and on the way home I’d read every single printed word on the album cover and the record sleeve in anticipation. I’m not saying I appreciate the music that I download in a mouse click now any less but the pride one had in physically building your own “record collection” has gone.
It was on one such record buying trip to London that I stumbled across a copy of Stop Making Sense on video in HMV. I already had a couple Talking Heads albums on vinyl although I was not familiar with the entire set list but I was intrigued to read on the cover that it was photographed by Blade Runner cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth and directed by Jonathan Demme and whilst this was before Silence of the Lambs, I had seen his films Something Wild and Married to the Mob and I’d recently seen Spalding Gray’s incredible monologue Swimming to Cambodia on television which Demme had directed; that was pedigree enough for me to buy this sight unseen.
Nothing could prepare me for Stop Making Sense as I had only heard Talking Heads on record and seen them in the Road to Nowhere video and whilst I had read an interview with David Byrne in a Rolling Stone magazine anthology I had got as a Christmas present that year, he had come across as a completely sane individual. As you can imagine, once the familiar Pablo Ferro titles (as seen in the classic Stanley Kubrick satire Dr. Strangelove) fade and Byrne walks out and places a tiny cassette player on the stage and announces “I’ve got a tape I want to play” staring direct into the camera, singing Psycho Killer and accompanying himself on his acoustic guitar in his strange staccato-like manner, I did a massive double-take!
I’d never heard this strange song before and I’d never seen Byrne, or anyone else for that matter, perform like this before. Add to that the deconstructive technique of slowly assembling the set, adding the band members, their instruments and the lights one by one until the entire ensemble are on stage lit for the concert performance; I knew I was watching something unique, something important that was going to be remembered for years to come.
The 25th Anniversary Blu-ray edition of Stop Making Sense has been remastered from a 35mm interpositive print and it is vastly superior to the previous DVD release. As so much of the stage action takes place in stark lighting the DVD suffered from intense grain and washed out colour so to see such rich flesh tones and the deep reds and blacks is a radical improvement. There are even more striking audio enhancements in the two 5.1 DTS-HD soundtracks, one of the original live recording and a studio mix which was made by the band for the DVD release which is definitely worth listening to as it was the first concert film that was recorded digitally.
Apart from the bizarre David Byrne self-interview that was also on the initial DVD release the exclusive Blu-ray extra is an hour long press conference featuring all the band members recorded to mark the 15th anniversary of the film in 1999. Whilst it’s not broadcast quality video the discussion is vibrant and it’s good to see Byrne reunited with Chris Franz, Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison and hear their first hand perspective on working on the film and marvel at the landmark that it has become.
I could happily watch Stop Making Sense once a week, perhaps even once a day, and never tire of it, be in no doubt that this is the definitive concert movie and it’s of little surprise that there hasn’t been a concert film since that holds a candle to it, now does anybody have any questions?!