An outdoor concert in the Maine summer might be a just about perfect way to spend an evening. But what about an outdoor concert film? Well that’s pretty good, too, especially if it’s free. And especially if it’s “Stop Making Sense,” the 1983 film from the late director (and longtime Maine summer resident) Jonathan Demme that documented a show by new wave art rockers Talking Heads right after the release of their seminal album “Speaking in Tongues.” Widely lauded as the greatest concert film ever made (famed film critic Pauline Kael called it “a dose of happiness from beginning to end”), “Stop Making Sense” is showing as part of the Bayside Bowl Summer Rooftop Film Series at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 28.
Co-presented by Space Gallery, the “Stop Making Sense” screening is, in part, a tribute to the acclaimed, Oscar-winning Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs,” “Philadelphia”) who died in April. But “Stop Making Sense” is a movie that, as Kael hints, isn’t about anything but joy. (Roger Ebert said it gave off “the overwhelming impression … of enormous energy, of life being lived on an enormous high.”) Again, the legendary movie critic got it right.
Watch the trailer for “Stop Making Sense”
Most concert films are pretty straightforward affairs; we’re there for the music, after all, right? But the best concert movies capture not just the sights and sounds, but the spirit of the band, somehow deepening the experience. There’s a mounting sense of excitement all through “Stop Making Sense,” Demme’s camera catching the prankish, jittery soul of the Talking Heads and its frontman David Byrne, who appears alone on stage to start the film, just a boom box and his acoustic guitar accompanying his inimitable hollow warble on the Heads’ enduringly catchy yet weird “Psycho Killer.” From there, the band literally assembles itself piece by piece — bassist Tina Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz, keyboard guy Jerry Harrison and a passel of background singers and musicians all coming out one song at a time, until all hands are on deck for the showstopper that is “Burning Down the House,” easily one of the most thrilling live performances ever caught on film.
Yes, “Stop Making Sense” is that good. Head to bayside Bowl on Wednesday and see it. As ever, Bayside screenings are free. Also as ever, seating is limited, so get there early, although, should you get shut out, here are my picks for some equally fine concert films to watch at home. (And how you can watch them.)
“The Last Waltz” (1978): If Demme’s “Stop Making Sense” is the best concert film, then it just nips Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz” at the finish line. Meticulously orchestrated by master director Scorsese, the film captures the last-ever performance of country-rock band The Band. Opening with the legendary line, “This film should be played LOUD,” and boasting guest performances by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Emmylou Harris, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and even Neil Diamond (who’s actually pretty good), “The Last Waltz” is as elegiac as “Stop Making Sense” is joyful, and just as exhilarating. At your neighborhood video store: Portland Public Library, Bart & Greg’s DVD Explosion! in Bruswick. Streaming: You can rent it on iTunes.
“Awesome; I F*#%in’ Shot That” (2006): The opposite of Scorsese’s elegant control is the exuberant chaos of this film, where the Beastie Boys handed out 50 digital video cameras to members of their audience and told them to do anything during the show, as long as they never stopped filming. Simultaneously intimate and distanced by the multiple points of view, the tightly edited resulting movie turns the concert film into a uniquely inclusive, energetic experience. Availability: Look to borrow your cool friend’s DVD. It’s out of print.
“Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” (2005): The combined talents and pull of standup and sketch comedy superstar Chappelle and director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) made possible this wildly entertaining neighborhood jam. On a Brooklyn street corner, the pair pulled together the illusion of an impromptu concert that just happened to include Kanye West, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, The Roots, the reunited Fugees and more (including a high school marching band). They let it rip, with the ever-hilarious and clearly delighted Chappelle emceeing the whole, glorious celebration. At your neighborhood video store: Portland Public Library. Stream: Cinemax Go, or rent it on iTunes.
“Storefront Hitchcock” (1998): To close out with another tribute to Jonathan Demme, the director took another tack with this film of a performance by brilliantly strange British singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock. Constructing a concert experience as singular as the literately eccentric Hitchcock’s mind, Demme set up his cameras inside an empty London storefront, where the small indoor crowd — and puzzled and curious passers-by outside the plate glass window — could marvel at Hitchcock’s lovely, strange music. A great concert film finds a way to make great music even better. Streaming: Rent it on iTunes. Otherwise, it’s out of print. You cannot borrow my DVD.
“Stop Making Sense” screens on Wednesday, June 28 at 8 p.m. as part of the Bayside Bowl Summer Rooftop Film Series. Info at space538.org
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
PORTLAND PUBLIC LIBRARY
Thursday: “A Home At The End of the World.” The library’s June Pride Month movie celebration continues with this lovely adaptation of the first novel by Michael Cunningham (“The Hours”), about three friends navigating their intertwined relationships through joy and tragedy. Starring Robin Wright and Colin Farrell.
Tuesday-Sunday: “Risk.” After her Oscar-winning “Citizenfour,” about noted whistleblower Edward Snowden, director Laura Poitras turned to another controversial cyber-figure with this documentary portrait of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.