In the mid-'80s high school and college students flocked to the Rocky Horror Picture Show-esque midnight screenings of Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense at the River Oaks Theatre. The now-famous director's filmic chronicle of a series of Talking Heads shows in Hollywood was a cult classic, a perfect concert experience that could be had over and over again. About a third of the way through the film, we'd all jump out of our seats to dance and sing and cheer in that shallow ribbon of no-man's-land that stretches between the first row of seats and the projection screen, while lead singer David Byrne jiggled above us in a big white suit. It was thatkind of film, and back then we were grateful for it. At the time, the midnight rock-and-roll movie alternatives were Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same and Pink Floyd's The Wall, somber films that, for all their visual luxury, did not induce dancing.
Demme set out to document Byrne's vision of the Talking Heads stage show: a minimal yet funky high-energy carnival with slide projections, guest musicians and, of course, the big suit. But the best part of the film was and still is Byrne himself. A perverse hybrid of Franz Kafka and Roxy Music's Brian Ferry, Byrne struts, frets and contorts his bone-thin frame throughout Stop Making Sense's gleeful 88 minutes of pure musical havoc. Meanwhile, the band plays an exceedingly bright blend of edgy '80s punk-pop and old-fashioned funk that builds in intensity until "Once in a Lifetime," the film's apex and one of the best pop songs ever written.
Now in its 15th anniversary rerelease, Stop Making Sense has aged well probably better than we have. In 1984 Talking Heads lampooned the Reagan-era middle-class everyman and sounded a call for play, rebellion and absurdity. Now that the everyman and many former midnight moviegoers carries a cell phone and lives in a gated community, can we even comprehend Stop Making Sense's cultural satire? We should try. The remedy to our chronic obsession with safety and security is simply to stop playing it safe. Stop obsessing about propriety and mortgage payments and choosing the right Montessori school and whether or not you'll be able to afford a Cancun vacation next year. In short, stop making sense.
Stop Making Sense opens Friday, August 20, at Landmark's Greenway Theatre, 5 Greenway Plaza. Call (713)626-0402 for showtimes.