At a Toronto International Film Festival that saw its wattage dimmed by a SAG-AFTRA strike; it took a Talking Heads reunion at the 40th Anniversary of Stop Making Sense to crank up the festival’s volume to an 11 in Spinal Tap-speak.
The new A24 re-release of the Jonathan Demme concert film, which moderator Spike Lee billed as “the greatest concert film ever,” is a 4K Imax restoration.
And the night literally lived up to the large format exhibitor’s slogan “Watch a movie, or be part of one” as Talking Heads bandmembers David Byrne, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz and Lee himself got up and danced during such numbers as “Burning Down the House” and “Once in a Lifetime” during the screening. Talk about a cinema-surround show.
Stop Making Sense played at Toronto’s Scotiabank auditorium No. 12 –a multi-storied Imax screen that’s on par with the size of the one that’s at Universal Citywalk. If you happen to see Stop Making Sense, see it on the biggest Imax screen possible. Tonight’s screening at TIFF was an Imax live event in 165 locations in North America and BFI Imax in London with all four Talking Heads members including guitarist and keyboardist Jerry Harrison joining in for a post-screening discussion led by Lee. The movie opens exclusively in Imax on Sept. 22 and gets an expansion on Sept. 29.
“While I was watching this tonight, I thought ‘This is why we go to movie theaters. This is different from watching it on my laptop,” beamed Talking Heads frontman and The Last Emperor Oscar winner Byrne.
The band largely spoke about the genesis for the pic; Demme was a huge fan of the band. They too adored him and his work, specifically Melvin & Howard. However, most of all as Byrne put it, their Stop Making Sense tour “seemed liked it had a progression to it, a story, it occurred to us, this could work for us as a film.”
“We thought who could direct this? Who could pay for it?” quipped Byrne.
Demme shot their performance at LA’s Pantages theater over the course of a week in December 1983.
Drummer Frantz pointed out that Demme “understood what we were about and helped us to celebrate; celebrate the music. Because when you get right down to it, the music is greater than the band even. We might be dead, but the music continues.”
Harrison said after they were done, the band continued on to Australia and New Zealand. “It was a sprint,” he said with the movie coming out in April 1984. “So many projects are interrupted, and you have to take a break. We never took a break. It flowed and it was finished,” Harrison added.
The concert pic stands apart from all others in its avant-garde and intimate camera shots, as well as a production design that’s built gradually during the pic’s opening numbers, going from Byrne’s solo performance of “Psycho Killer” on a bare stage, to an eventual full-bodied penultimate finale of “Take Me to the River”.
Two of the key below-the-line crewmembers who received shoutouts were Demme’s editor Lisa Day who was keen to capture nuanced interactions between the bandmembers. However, also an ingredient in that was visual consultant Sandy McLeod who has Weymouth described “was on tour and took notes, she mapped out every shot ahead of time. She took notes on every song, what each player was doing, who was moving, who was where, and I think that really helped the team when it came time to shoot.”
Byrne believes that up to 18 cameras were used during the production.
Weymouth joked that her contribution to the film as a bass player was “I never turned my amp up past three, and that left room for everyone to shine, because if the bass player gets too loud — forget about it.”
Revealing the origin of the fat suit, which Byrne dons during the “Girlfriend Is Better” number, he said it came to him during a stopover in Japan between tours after talking to a designer. “(He said) ‘Well, David, in the theater, everything is bigger than in real life.’ He was referring to gestures and how you sing louder. I thought, ‘Oh, my suit should be bigger, too.’”
Said Frantz making a pun on Imax: “It was really big tonight.”
The last time the Talking Heads got together was at the 2002 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.
Is this latest reunion a sign of more get-togethers to come?
We caught up with Byrne later tonight following the screening, and the unfortunate answer is a continued “No.”