First let me say that the Talking Heads had a huge influence on me as a teenager. They were among my favorite bands and one of the reasons that I wound up learning the bass and spending the next fifteen years playing in bands of my own. I saw the Heads on the 1984 tour from which this film was made and it remains one of the most engaging and entertaining live shows I've had the good fortune to attend.
Though considered an avant-garde art band the Heads put on a surprisingly energetic presentation that shows them to be both consummate performers and accomplished musicians. Stop Making Sense comes closer to capturing the feel of a live show than any concert film made before or since. If you let your self get swept up in the performance you may well be tempted to get up off the couch and dance around in front of your screen.
Stop Making Sense is compiled from footage of three shows. Jonathan Demme's crew used existing stage lighting (the Heads chose white lights exclusively for this tour) with some minor additions. This fact combined with the decidedly minimalist stage dressing makes for a rather monochrome look. There are no bright colors to put your TV through its paces but the flesh tones are spot-on, black levels are good and nice shadow detail really fleshes out the almost Rembrandtesque compositions. This new anamorphic digital transfer is one of the best I've seen in some time. I couldn't detect any significant compression artifacts and the film elements used are substantially free of dust, dirt and scratches.
Sound is what concert films are all about and this is where Stop Making Sense really delivers. There are three separate sound tracks available. First there's a PCM stereo track which has a satisfying if somewhat flat mix. If you're a stereo purist this track will be right up your alley. Next there's a new Dolby 5.1 theater mix. This is the sound track used in the film's most recent re-release and it exhibits a dramatic dynamic range that will have your sub woofer thumping. Finally there's an additional 5.1 track that is referred to as the studio mix. This track is by far and away the most satisfying of the three. Engineers designed this track specifically for home theater setups by reducing the LFE volume, clarifying the mid-range and boosting the highs. The studio mix has a more limited dynamic range but creates a much wider and more 'live' soundstage. I had trouble turning the theatrical mix up to an acceptable level without getting distortion in my center channel and excessive boom out of my sub. The studio mix on the other hand could be turned up as loud as I wanted without loosing any clarity or getting any breakup. The studio mix makes great use of the sub and shows how these monsters can be made musical.
Stop Making Sense has a number of interesting extras. First there's the original trailer (showing its age with a good deal of dirt and color fading) as well as an extended mix of the same footage and title cards that is, if nothing else, fun to watch. Next there are three bonus songs including Cities (one of my favorites), Big Business and I Zimbra. These outtakes include Dolby AC3 audio tracks and are made from film that has deteriorated a little over the years. A storyboard to film comparison shows the development of the stage show's look and gives a great deal of insight into David Byrne's artistic vision. Another interesting extra is a hilarious interview in which Byrne plays both himself (in the big suit) and an ever-changing interviewer. The footage is made to look like a cable access program and is a prime example of Byrne's strange mind in action. Finally there's an outstanding audio track featuring the members of the band and director Jonathan Demme. The screen specific commentary is engaging and free of gaps. The participants deal out all sorts of interesting information covering everything from the writing of the songs and the development of the stage performance to the shooting of the film and David Byrne's taste in clothing.
If you're a fan of the Talking Heads you need to go out and buy this DVD right now. The new studio 5.1 mix alone is worth the price of admission. Casual Heads fans or the simply curious should probably stick to renting this film as it has only limited replay value for non-fanatics.