Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jonathan Demme and Stop Making Sense

Talking Heads have been present in my life for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest musical memories with my mom involve listening to songs like "And She Was" and "Psycho Killer" on the cassette player in our car. The band's discography is burnt into my head in a way that can only happen when you're exposed to music at a very young age. Once I began listening to music on my own, their greatest hits CD came into heavy rotation. I've never quite understood them, and I've always thought that David Byrne was kind of crazy, but I've always loved the band.

When I began to become interested in film, I was thrilled to discover the existence of Jonathan Demme's 1984 concert documentary, Stop Making Sense. Demme, who is most famous for his 1991 thriller Silence of the Lambs, brings an innovative cinematic approach to the concert film. Shot over several nights of the Talking Heads tour, so as to get the necessary footage but not interfere with the show itself, the film employs cinematic techniques in a concert setting. The most noticeable departure from the traditional concert film comes in the film's lighting. Emphasizing high-contrast, stark lighting, Demme and his gaffer (as well as, presumably, the lighting designer of the concert) fill the stage with shadows, often creating dramatic silhouettes of the performers that stand out in a genre defined by showing as much of what's going on as possible. Demme isn't afraid to leave some of the action out of the frame, while still showing enough to display the talent of the performers.

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