Jordan Cronenweth/Courtesy of A24
In the conversation of best concert films, there’s a clear winner: Stop Making Sense. Jonathan Demme’s 1984 film, a gorgeous capture of one of Talking Heads’ live shows, is a gift to both music fans and cinephiles: a record of an all-time great band at its all-time greatest. Back in theaters Sept. 29 in honor of its 40th anniversary, following a weeklong run in glorious IMAX, the newly restored film has never looked or sounded better. It’s a near-perfect concert film in its most-perfect state.
But deciding which of Stop Making Sense’s performances is best is another story. Is it “Girlfriend Is Better,” when frontman David Byrne dons an instantly iconic big suit? Is it “This Must Be the Place,” when the band performs in the glow of nothing but an ornate, standing lamp? What about “Once in a Lifetime,” which is almost filmed like a horror film, made at once comic and rousing by Byrne aping the choreography from the song’s MTV-famous music video, Buddy Holly glasses and all?
For my money, the film’s greatest sequence is “Life During Wartime.” It’s the seventh song of the 90-minute, 16-song tracklist—relatively early for a showstopper. But show-stopping it is, thanks to the Fear of Music track’s raucously funky reworking. The song’s crowd-pleasing tendencies shine through in the live setting, benefitting from the twice-as-big, twice-as-danceable onstage band. No matter how many times Byrne insists that “this ain’t no party/ this ain’t no disco,” the band’s performance of “Life During Wartime” insists that Stop Making Sense is absolutely both.