A new 4K Imax restoration of Jonathan Demme’s “Stop Making Sense,” the classic concert film of Talking Heads playing a series of shows at Los Angeles’ Pantages Theater in December 1983, had its world premiere on Monday night at the Toronto International Film Festival, with the band in attendance.
“This is why we come to movie theaters,” said Heads frontman David Byrne during a post-screening Q&A that took place in the city’s Scotiabank Theatre, led by filmmaker Spike Lee. “This is different than watching it on my laptop.”
“It’s so good to be here with my bandmates tonight,” added drummer Chris Frantz. “It’s been a long time.”
The members of the group — Byrne, Frantz, bassist Tina Weymouth and keyboardist Jerry Harrison — had not appeared on stage together since 2002 when they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The band’s notoriously fractured relationship, a schism that pitted an increasingly dominant Byrne against the other three for artistic control, led to the split that set them on separate career paths after their final studio album, “Naked,” was released in 1988.
None of those tensions were on display tonight, the band exuding deference toward each other and a happy demeanor, invigorated by the crowd’s response.
“One of the reasons for the lasting power of the film is you can see how much fun we are having onstage,” said Harrison. Bassist Weymouth remembered, “I love that show — it was magical. Everything about it was so special.”
“This is the greatest concert film ever,” declared moderator Lee, who directed the film of Byrne’s Broadway show “American Utopia,” which opened TIFF in 2020. “I’m going on the record, around the world.” (Tonight’s Q&A was simulcast to several Imax theaters.)
While there was speculation beforehand of the band possibly performing acoustically, this did not happen. In lieu of that, attendees got a mini-masterclass about the genesis of the film and the creativity of its late director, the Oscar-winning Demme, who died in 2017 at age 73.
“Jonathan came to see the show,” said Frantz of that initial serendipitous pairing. “He came backstage and said ‘I would love to make a movie.’ It was as simple as that.”
“He saw it as an ensemble film,” Byrne said, recalling watching Demme’s cut come together with the editor Lisa Day. “You get to know the characters one by one.”
The shoot was logistically challenging: Six cameras were deployed each night, utilizing a sync-sound system developed by Hal Ashby. Uniquely in “Stop Making Sense,” viewers can see black-clad crew members moving risers and platforms into place, resulting in a documentary about process as much as music.
“I remember it took a while for the crew and grips and everybody to get used to being onstage and being visible,” Byrne recalled. “It seemed like it had kind of a progression to it, a story.”
Prior the Q&A, all four band members sat through the movie (in separate rows). The screening itself took on an increasingly joyous momentum as it became hard to tell who was cheering: the Pantages audience from 1983 or the Toronto crowd in attendance.
When TIFFers seated next to Byrne rose to dance during “Burning Down the House,” the frontman got up and joined them. And during “Once in a Lifetime,” Lee got up from his seat to mirror Byrne’s iconic choreography onscreen. (Good job, Spike, with that smack-your-head move and arm chop.)
Lee asked the band about Byrne’s “big suit,” the white jacket and pants of oversized proportions that became a cultural sensation — and an emblem of the 1980s.
“I was told that everything should be bigger onstage,” Byrne recalled. “I thought, Oh, my suit should be bigger too.”
“It was really big tonight,” cracked Frantz, to laughs from the audience.
Presented by A24, the restored “Stop Making Sense” will roll out exclusively in Imax beginning Sept 22 for one week. Then the film will go into general release Sept. 29.