Stop Making Sense

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Stop Making Sense
Stop making sense poster original.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJonathan Demme
Written byTalking Heads
Jonathan Demme
Produced byGary Goetzman
StarringTalking Heads
CinematographyJordan Cronenweth
Edited byLisa Day
Music byTalking Heads
Distributed byCinecom Pictures
Palm Pictures
Release dates
  • April 24, 1984 (1984-04-24) (SFIFF)
  • October 19, 1984 (1984-10-19) (United States)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.2 million
Box office$5.1 million[1]

Stop Making Sense is a 1984 American concert film featuring a live performance by the American rock band Talking Heads.[2] Directed by Jonathan Demme, it was shot over the course of three nights at Hollywood's Pantages Theater in December 1983,[3] as the group was touring to promote their new album Speaking in Tongues. The concert serves as a comprehensive retrospective of the band's history to that time, featuring many of their popular songs from their first hit single "Psycho Killer", through to their most recent album. In addition, the group performs one song, "Genius of Love", by the Tom Tom Club, a side project for two members of the band. The film is the first made entirely using digital audio techniques. The band raised the budget of $1.2 million themselves.

The four core members of Talking Heads: lead singer and guitarist David Byrne, drummer Chris Frantz, guitarist and keyboardist Jerry Harrison, and bassist Tina Weymouth, are joined on stage by an extensive supporting band including backing singers Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt, guitarist Alex Weir, keyboardist Bernie Worrell, and percussionist Steve Scales.

Stop Making Sense is considered by many critics to be one of the greatest concert films of all time. Leonard Maltin called it "one of the greatest rock movies ever made", Robert Christgau "the finest concert film", and Pauline Kael "close to perfection". It is considered a cult classic.[4]

In 2021, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[5]


Lead singer David Byrne walks on to a bare stage with a portable cassette tape player and an acoustic guitar. He introduces "Psycho Killer" by saying he wants to play a tape, but in reality a Roland TR-808 drum machine starts playing from the mixing board.[6] The gunshot-like beats cause Byrne to stagger "like Jean-Paul Belmondo in the final minutes of 'Breathless,' a hero succumbing, surprised, to violence that he'd thought he was prepared for."[7]

With each successive song, Byrne is joined by more members of the band: first by Tina Weymouth for "Heaven" (with Lynn Mabry providing harmony vocals from backstage), second by Chris Frantz for "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel", and third by Jerry Harrison for "Found a Job". Performance equipment is wheeled out and added to the set to accommodate the additional musicians: back-up singers Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt, keyboardist Bernie Worrell, percussionist Steve Scales, and guitarist Alex Weir. The first song to feature the entire lineup is "Burning Down the House", although the original 1985 RCA/Columbia Home Video release (which featured three additional songs in two performances edited into the film) has the entire band (minus Worrell) performing "Cities" before this song. Byrne leaves the stage at one point to allow the Weymouth–Frantz-led side-band Tom Tom Club to perform their song "Genius of Love". The band also performs two songs from Byrne's soundtrack album The Catherine Wheel, "What a Day That Was" and (as a bonus song on the home video release) "Big Business".

The film includes Byrne's "big suit", an absurdly large business suit that he wears for the song "Girlfriend Is Better". The suit was partly inspired by Noh theatre styles, and became an icon not only of the film – as it appears on the movie poster, for instance – but of Byrne himself. Byrne said: "I was in Japan in between tours and I was checking out traditional Japanese theater – Kabuki, Noh, Bunraku – and I was wondering what to wear on our upcoming tour. A fashion designer friend (Jurgen Lehl) said in his typically droll manner, 'Well David, everything is bigger on stage.' He was referring to gestures and all that, but I applied the idea to a businessman's suit."[8] Pauline Kael stated in her review: "When he comes on wearing a boxlike 'big suit' – his body lost inside this form that sticks out around him like the costumes in Noh plays, or like Beuys' large suit of felt that hangs off a wall – it's a perfect psychological fit."[9] On the DVD he gives his reasoning behind the suit: "I wanted my head to appear smaller and the easiest way to do that was to make my body bigger, because music is very physical and often the body understands it before the head."


DVD & Blu-ray[edit]

All tracks are written by David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth, except where noted.

1."Psycho Killer"Byrne, Frantz, Weymouth 
2."Heaven"Byrne, Harrison 
3."Thank You for Sending Me an Angel"Byrne 
4."Found a Job"Byrne 
5."Slippery People"  
6."Burning Down the House"  
7."Life During Wartime"  
8."Making Flippy Floppy"  
10."What a Day That Was"Byrne 
11."This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"  
12."Once in a Lifetime"Byrne, Brian Eno, Frantz, Harrison, Weymouth 
13."Genius of Love"Weymouth, Frantz, Adrian Belew, Steven Stanley (as Tom Tom Club) 
14."Girlfriend Is Better"  
15."Take Me to the River"Al Green, Mabon "Teenie" Hodges 
16."Crosseyed and Painless"Byrne, Eno, Frantz, Harrison, Weymouth 

VHS & Laserdisc[edit]

All tracks are written by David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth, except where noted.

1."Psycho Killer"Byrne, Frantz, Weymouth  
2."Heaven"Byrne, Harrison  
3."Thank You for Sending Me an Angel"Byrne  
4."Found a Job"Byrne  
5."Slippery People"   
7."Burning Down the House"   
8."Life During Wartime"   
9."Making Flippy Floppy"   
11."What a Day That Was"Byrne  
12."This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"   
13."Once in a Lifetime"Byrne, Brian Eno, Frantz, Harrison, Weymouth  
14."Big Business"Byrne, John Chernoff* 
15."I Zimbra"Byrne, Eno, Hugo Ball* 
16."Genius of Love"Weymouth, Frantz, Adrian Belew, Steven Stanley (as Tom Tom Club)  
17."Girlfriend Is Better"   
18."Take Me to the River"Al Green, Mabon "Teenie" Hodges  
19."Crosseyed and Painless"Byrne, Eno, Frantz, Harrison, Weymouth  

*Songs available as extra features on DVD/Blu-ray releases, but not part of the main feature.


The following are in order of appearance.


The filming of Stop Making Sense spanned four live shows at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, December 13–16, 1983.[10] It pioneered the use of 24-track digital sound recording which resulted in a particularly clear soundtrack.[11] Demme has stated that one night of shooting was dedicated almost entirely to wide shots from a distance, to minimize the intrusion of cameras on stage. Demme had considered additional shooting on a soundstage made to recreate the Pantages Theater, but the band declined to do this, as they thought the lack of audience response would have hindered the energy of their performance. Before the shooting of the movie, David Byrne implored the band to wear neutral-coloured clothing so the stage lights would not illuminate anything too distinctive. However, drummer Chris Frantz can still be seen wearing a turquoise-coloured polo shirt.

Demme also considered including more shots of the audience reacting to the performance, as is traditional in concert films. However, he discovered that filming the audience required additional lighting, which inhibited the audience's energy. This in turn made the band feel insecure and thus led to "the worst Talking Heads performance in the history of the band's career." The only direct audience shots in the film occur at the very end, during "Crosseyed and Painless."[12]


The film premiered during the San Francisco International Film Festival on April 24, 1984 and entered commercial release in the United States on October 19, 1984.[1]

When the film was first released on home video, the songs "Cities" and "Big Business"/"I Zimbra" were restored to the performance, thus forming what was dubbed the "special edition" of the film. For the 1999 re-release, these songs were no longer included in sequence with the rest of the footage. It and subsequent video and DVD releases have placed these songs after the film in an unrestored full-frame version.

The film has been released on Blu-ray, widescreen DVD, VHS in both fullscreen and widescreen versions, and at one point Laserdisc (in Japan).[13]


On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Stop Making Sense as an approval rating of 100%, based on 41 reviews with an average rating of 9/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense captures the energetic, unpredictable live act of peak Talking Heads with colour and visual wit."[14] It won the National Society of Film Critics Award for best non-fiction film in 1984.[15]

The film is widely regarded as one of the finest concert films. Leonard Maltin gave it four out of four, describing it as "brilliantly conceived, shot, edited and performed" and "one of the greatest rock movies ever made."[16] Roger Ebert gave the film a three-and-a-half star rating, writing that "the overwelming [sic] impression throughout Stop Making Sense is of enormous energy, of life being lived at a joyous high...It's a live show with elements of Metropolis...But the film's peak moments come through Byrne's simple physical presence. He jogs in place with his sidemen; he runs around the stage; he seems so happy to be alive and making music...He serves as a reminder of how sour and weary and strung-out many rock bands have become."[17] Danny Peary described Stop Making Sense as "Riveting...What takes place on stage will make even the most sceptical into Talking Heads converts...[The] performances are invariably exciting, Byrne's lyrics are intriguing. Byrne, his head moving rhythmically as if he had just had shock treatments, is spellbinding – what a talent!...Byrne is known for his belief that music should be performed in an interesting, visual manner, and this should make him proud."[18] Robert Christgau noted the "sinuous, almost elegant clarity" of Demme's direction, while writing that the film had pushed the "limits to how great a rock concert movie can be ... as far as they were liable to go."[19] Christgau described it as "the finest concert film"[20] while Pauline Kael of The New Yorker described it as "close to perfection".[9]


The movie version of "Once in a Lifetime" appeared over the opening credits of the 1986 film Down and Out in Beverly Hills.[21]

Stop Making Sense was parodied in an episode of the comedy series Documentary Now! In the second-season episode "Final Transmission," the show sees the New Wave band Test Pattern play its final concert. It includes references to the staging and music styles of Talking Heads, with the band's lead singer (played by Fred Armisen) parodying Byrne. Gizmodo screened the episode to Frantz and Weymouth in a video released online, where they both expressed amusement and shock at the level of detail gone into parodying the film.[22][23]

The iconic image of Byrne's big suit has been parodied on multiple occasions, including a spoof by Rich Hall impersonating Byrne and his big suit on an episode of Saturday Night Live.[24][25] Byrne himself made light of his massive suit during an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where he appeared in a fake ad for "David Byrne's Giant Suit Emporium" promoting his new clothing store while insisting he did not sell giant suits like the one he wore in Stop Making Sense.[26] Byrne makes an appearance in the children's musical comedy special John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch performing an original song alongside child performer Lexi Perkel. At one point, Byrne and Perkel wear matching pink suits, Perkel's being several sizes too large for her, in reference to Stop Making Sense.[27]

In 2021, Stop Making Sense was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[28]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Stop Making Sense at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ MUBI
  3. ^ David Byrne|Stop Making Sense|About
  4. ^ Cult Movies on Videocassette, 1987 - Siskel and Ebert Movie Reviews
  5. ^ Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense Added to National Film Registry|Pitchfork
  6. ^ Hamilton, Jack (December 5, 2012). "Select-a-Rhythm". Slate. Graham Holdings Company. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  7. ^ Zacharek, Stephanie (September 17, 1999). "Stop Making Sense". Salon. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  8. ^ Locker, Melissa (July 15, 2014). "David Byrne and Jonathan Demme on The Making of Stop Making Sense". Time. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  9. ^ a b Kael, Pauline (November 26, 1984). "Three Cheers". The New Yorker. NYP Holdings. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  10. ^ Doherty, Thomas. "Stop Making Sense." Film Quarterly, vol. 38, no. 4, 1985, pp. 12–16. JSTOR, Accessed 21 Dec. 2020.
  11. ^ Maslin, Janet (October 19, 1984). "Movies: Talking Heads in 'Stop Making Sense'". The New York Times. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  12. ^ "Jonathan Demme – On Stop Making Sense (2007)". YouTube. Reelblack. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  13. ^ LaserDisc Database
  14. ^ "Stop Making Sense (1984)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  15. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. 23 March 2015. Archived from the original on 23 March 2015.
  16. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2008). Leonard Maltin's 2009 Movie Guide. Plume. p. 1321.
  17. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1984). "Review: Stop Making Sense". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  18. ^ Peary, Danny (1986). Guide for the Film Fanatic. Simon & Schuster. p. 406.
  19. ^ Christgau, Robert (April 1988). "Prince: Sign 'O' the Times". Video Review. Retrieved July 17, 2018.
  20. ^ Christgau, Robert (October 30, 1984). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved July 17, 2018.
  21. ^ Down and Out in Beverley Hills (1986) -
  22. ^ Yoo, Noah. "Watch Talking Heads' Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth React to Fred Armisen and Bill Hader's Parody Band". Pitchfork. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  23. ^ 'Documentary Now!': Fred Arminsen, Bill Hader Parody Talking Heads...|IndieWire
  24. ^ Stop Making Sense: An Appreciation|Red Bull Music Academy Daily
  25. ^ Saturday Night Live recap: John Mulaney hosts on Leap Day with musical guest David Byrne|
  26. ^ Helman, Peter. "Watch David Byrne's Giant Suit Emporium Commercial And Performance With Stephen Colbert". Stereogum. Retrieved 18 February 2022.
  27. ^ Sanchez, Omar. "Behind John Mulaney's 24-hour race to get David Byrne for a Sack Lunch Bunch cameo". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 18 February 2022.
  28. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (December 14, 2021). "National Film Registry Adds Return Of The Jedi, Fellowship Of The Ring, Strangers On A Train, Sounder, WALL-E & More". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 14, 2021.

Further reading[edit]

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