TORONTO (AP) — You may find yourself in a movie theater with “Stop Making Sense” playing and the members of Talking Heads in the audience.
That was the once-in-a-lifetime scenario when the new 4K restoration of “Stop Making Sense” premiered recently at the Toronto International Film Festival. On screen was a young, elastic David Byrne. In the theater, he was dancing, too, along with a crowd who couldn’t stay seated for “Burning Down the House.”
“For a moment I thought, ‘Is it OK for me to get up and dance at our own movie?” Byrne says, laughing, the morning after. “But how could you not?”
For nearly four decades, “Stop Making Sense,” directed by Jonathan Demme, has exerted an inexorable pull on all who encounter the frenetic fever of arguably the finest concert film ever made. Its power to bring together — it opens with Byrne alone on a spare stage and swells into an art-funk spectacular — is such that it’s even managed to reunite the Talking Heads, too.
For the first time in 21 years, the Talking Heads are a band again, even if only in movie theaters. Byrne, the band’s principal songwriter and singer, keyboardist-guitarist Jerry Harrison, bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz — who last gathered together in 2002 for their induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — have assembled once more for the rerelease of “Stop Making Sense.”
“It feels normal,” says Weymouth. “I mean, this is our tour. We’re touring this movie.”
Since they officially broke up in 1991, the four members of Talking Heads have often squabbled, bitterly. Byrne has said he regrets his role in the band’s “ugly” dissolution. Frantz, who’s married to Weymouth, published a 2020 memoir that described some of the discord and lingering hurts. When Byrne mounted the acclaimed Broadway show “American Utopia” a few years ago, featuring many Talking Heads songs, Frantz was stung not to even be invited.
As the group congregated the morning after the “Stop Making Sense” premiere for an interview, though, they were cordial with each other. They're now all in their early '70s. “How you livin’, Jerry?” greeted Frantz. Byrne gazed out the window, contemplating a possible cycling route for the afternoon. He and Harrison sat on one couch, Weymouth and Frantz on another.
Their spirits were high. The film remains in light, a potent reminder of Talking Heads’ uniquely transfixing power. Harrison helped oversee the restoration from the long-lost original negatives. It opens on IMAX screens Friday and in other theaters Sept. 29.
“One of the things that happened to me in rewatching it and working on it, was realizing: ‘Oh my God is everybody good,’” says Harrison.
“I didn’t know I was cute,” smiled Weymouth, who nimbly bounces from one foot to the other throughout the film. “The whole band, they were so attractive, so beautiful.”
“Stop Making Sense,” filmed over four nights at Los Angeles’ Pantages Theater in 1983, hasn’t dimmed with time. “Same as it ever was,” you could say. What begins with a solitary Byrne, with an acoustic guitar and boombox, steadily accumulates as the members of the band join him, then others like Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell and guitarist Alex Weir. This jittery, wide-eyed musician singing of psycho killers to a syncopated beat attracts a legion. His movements are malleable and constant. The music grows euphoric. This IS a party. This IS a disco.
“It’s the unbridled joyousness of the performance, which snowballs,” says Frantz. “It starts off with ‘Psycho Killer,’ which is a thing unto itself. But it snowballs into this ecstatic experience. You can see it very clearly with the band members. They’re gettin’ more and more fever.”