‘Stop Making Sense’ Review: What is a Musical?

Posted in The Screening Room by - September 18, 2015

What is a musical? Is it any movie with well orchestrated sound design? Is it a film that tells a story through melody? Does a film version of the opera Carmen count as a musical, or should it be classified as something else? Does digital recording of a stage production count as a musical film instead of a stage production? How about Fantasia, when the film is less a film with music and more established music with an animation added to it? What about School of Rock, where only two full songs are actually performed by the cast and the rest of the audio is made up of well known classical rock? The films questioned here, and many others, are all perfectly entertaining pieces of work, but they run a large range of musical involvement, purpose, and intent. Often times people assume that the term “musical” references a much more narrow selection of films than it actually does. This week I was assigned a film that fell outside the usual standard used when movie buffs talk about musicals, Stop Making Sense.

If you don’t recognize the name of the band Talking Heads, I’d be willing to bet you’d recognize their music.

From Burning Down the House

and Psycho Killer

to Take Me to the River

Talking Heads have left a definite mark on the music industry, getting not only themselves, but three of their songs, inducted in to the hall of fame. They’ve been listed as one of the most influential musical groups of all time, and have been cited as influences for many modern artists including R.E.M., Vampire Weekend, and Radiohead.

More specifically to this week’s review, Stop Making Sense is a a digital video recording of multiple Talking Heads concerts from 1984 formed in to one, single, flowing concert movie. It’s an interesting example of a live performance, with the signature Talking Heads musical style, energetic on stage presence, and avant garde visual sensibilities.

However, I personally dislike concerts. Call me a neanderthal, but I like to listen to music as a tonal background to whatever else I’m doing, be it playing video games, toiling away at work, or going for a walk. I sing in the shower. I close my eyes, lean back in my comfy arm chair, and try to melt in to whatever audio is coming from the speakers. Unfortunately, concerts don’t provide me with the same atmosphere. Stand in a sweaty pounding crowd. Listen to music turned up so loud it blows out ear drums. Watch as the musicians play far far away on a stage you can barely see through the throng.

However, with a film of a concert you get many of those issues taken care of, but another, larger problem arises. If you’re at home, sitting in your chair, looking for something to watch, why choose a film of a live concert? You can listen to the Talking Heads on a medium with much clearer sound quality and still do something else. As much as I enjoy the music of the Talking Heads, I find the film version of a live concert to be similar to stand up comedy. I can watch it, I can be entertained by it, but I can’t, in good conscience, suggest it to people who’s tastes I don’t know.

Final Say: Skip It (Unless you really love both the Talking Heads and concerts)

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Born in Arizona, he currently resides in Denton, Texas. When he isn't watching movies he's playing board games and drinking whatever he can get his hands on. John watches Djimon Honsou movies because he likes Spawn, which had Michael Jai White.
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