Stop Making Sense: Deluxe Collector’s Edition (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: May 12, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
  • Bookmark and Share
Stop Making Sense: Deluxe Collector’s Edition (4K UHD Review)


Jonathan Demme

Release Date(s)

1984 (May 8, 2024)


Arnold Stiefel Company (A24)
  • Film/Program Grade: A+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: A
  • Overall Grade: A+


Hi. I’ve got a tape I want to play.”

With those nine simple words, a concert film legend was born. Stop Making Sense actually opens in an even simpler fashion than that, with Pablo Ferro’s distinctive hand-lettered opening titles appearing over an otherwise unadorned shot of the stage floor of the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Once the titles conclude, lead singer/guitarist David Byrne strides confidently into the frame, puts down a boombox, and tells the eager crowd that he wants to play a tape for them. He hits “Play” and then launches into a riveting solo performance of Psycho Killer from the band’s first album Talking Heads: 77, the jagged rhythms of his acoustic guitar perfectly matched by the equally jagged rhythms of his angular body. The drum loop backing him up was actually being played offstage by the crew, not from the boombox, but the prop helps to set the stage for the overall design of this once-in-a lifetime Talking Heads concert film. Everything is going to be assembled by hand, one step at a time.

When Byrne finishes, bassist Tina Weymouth joins him on stage and the two of them perform a duet of Heaven from the band’s third album Fear of Music, with her clipped but still sinuously melodic bass lines now providing the primary momentum. (The two of them are also aided a little bit from offstage, with an unseen Lynn Mabry singing harmony during the chorus.) While they perform, stagehands are busy working behind them to piece together the drum platform, and when the song is over, drummer Chris Frantz leaps onto it and the trio launches into the galloping Thank You for Sending Me an Angel from their second album More Songs About Buildings and Food. Just like Heaven was a showcase for Weymouth, Thank You for Sending Me an Angel is propelled by Frantz’s boundless energy (and his machine-gun fills), so every step so far has showcased the talents of each member of the band. Keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison joins them next to perform Found a Job (also from More Songs About Buildings and Food), and with that, all four of the original band members are now in place. Harrison may have been the least overtly showy member of the quartet, but his multi-instrumental skills helped to hold everything else together, so now things feel complete. Found a Job was the ideal crest for this opening arc of the film, because in some ways it’s the quintessential Talking Heads song, perfectly blending their unique rhythms with whimsical lyrics that disguise some pointed social commentary.

And yet the band was just getting warmed up at that point. Over the course of the next two songs Slippery People and Burning Down the House, both from their then-current fifth album Speaking in Tongues, the evening’s expanded band members are also introduced: percussionist Steve Scales, backup vocalists Lynn Mabry and Edna Holt, guitarist Alex Weir, and keyboardist Bernie Worrell. Their performances as a group may have burned down the house, but it’s a house that had already been built up carefully one step at a time. Of course, there are still ten more songs to follow (in the theatrical cut, anyway) but Stop Making Sense somehow manages to keep the momentum building even after all of the primary pieces have been put into place. That’s thanks in no small part to the way that the show was designed by David Byrne, with stage elements like the background screens, lighting, and props being used to provide visual variety—to say nothing of costume designer Gail Blacker’s legendary Big Suit that he trotted out for Girlfriend Is Better. Yet all of that is just what was happening in front of the cameras; making it actually work together as a film required even more talent behind those cameras.

Stop Making Sense ended up benefiting from a happy accident in that regard. The members of Talking Heads had already been interested in documenting their upcoming tour, but fortune shined on them when the late Jonathan Demme happened to attend one of their last performances before they hit the road, and he told them that he’d love to film the show. Making that happen wasn’t quite so simple, however. Their record label Sire was owned by Warner Music, and in order to get Warner Bros. to put up the money for the film, the band had to put up their own royalties in exchange. Warner paid for it up front, but Talking Heads ended up paying on the back end. Regardless of where the money originally came from, Stop Making Sense was still an independent production—which must have been a relief to Demme, who was coming off a particularly unpleasant experience with his first major studio project Swing Shift (ironically enough, for none other than Warner Bros.). His collaboration with Talking Heads would be much more fruitful than his work with Goldie Hawn, who had used her clout in order to recut and reshoot his version of Swing Shift, so he ended up washing his hands of the whole thing and walking away from it.

Fortunately, everyone was on the same page with Stop Making Sense, from conception to production and eventual release. Demme and the band members agreed that they wanted to do something different than what was typically seen in other concert films, capturing the experience of actually being in the audience at the show. To that end, Demme made the decision to keep the cameras focused on the stage, not on the audience (at least until the finale Crosseyed and Painless, anyway), and also keep the cameras themselves out of the footage as much as possible. In order to do that while still getting all the shots that he needed, he actually filmed four different performances over the course of four consecutive nights, capturing different angles each time. Yet Demme was still flexible enough not to be married to that approach, and he always prioritized the quality of the performance over all other considerations. That means the cameras do creep into some shots, but they never call attention to themselves.

Piecing all of that disparate footage together required a herculean effort from editor Lisa Day, but thanks to consistently beautiful lighting from cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, night after night, it blends perfectly from shot to shot. It didn’t hurt that Frantz was listening to a click track every night in order to match the correct tempo for each song (in the film, he can be seen holding a pair of headphones to his ear at a few different points). The seams do show at times, with numerous continuity errors and occasional sync issues, but those end up nearly invisible during the experience of watching the film. The irresistible drive of the music is what really holds Stop Making Sense together.

The seams that are more noticeable are the ones that were already building up between the members of the band in 1983. Partway through, they perform What a Day That Was from Bryne’s 1981 solo album The Catherine Wheel, and near the end of the set, they play Genius of Love, which was from Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth’s album Tom Tom Club from earlier that same year. Byrne is conspicuously absent from the entire performance of Genius of Love, and it’s the only time that he isn’t on stage for any of the songs. (On the other hand, all of the other band members still backed him for What a Day That Was.) Granted, the obvious excuse was that he was backstage getting welded into Gail Blacker’s Big Suit for the next song Girlfriend Is Better, but his absence still speaks volumes about the tensions that were building between Byrne and the rest of the band. Byrne’s increasing prominence as a front man for Talking Heads (to say nothing of his controlling nature) was becoming a bone of contention with everyone else. Their final album Naked was released in 1988, and by 1991, Talking Heads was officially no more.

All four original band members did reunite onstage to do a Q&A on behalf of the 1999 re-release of Stop Making Sense, and then again in 2002 for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where they played Life During Wartime, Psycho Killer, and Burning Down the House one final time. That was their last major public appearance together until September 11, 2023, when they sat down at the Toronto International Film Festival to do a Q&A following the IMAX premiere of the 4K restoration of Stop Making Sense. It was cordial if a little awkward, with Byrne deliberately wearing a mismatched blue suit as a reference to the blue shirt that Frantz wore during the film. Still, just like their legions of fans, they were clearly able to recognize the inherent power of Stop Making Sense. There were many other concert films before it, and there have been plenty since that time, but few of them have captured its perfect fusion of sound and image. It’s a rare case where the quality of the performance is equaled by the quality of the filmmaking. In other words, it’s a legendary film of a legendary concert, and that’s a rare thing indeed.

Thanks. Does anybody have any questions?

Here’s a few of the answers, anyway. Jordan Cronenweth shot Stop Making Sense on 35mm film using Panavision cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. After jumping through multiple hands over the years, the rights to Stop Making Sense finally reverted to Talking Heads shortly before the film’s 40th anniversary, and they struck a deal with A24 to distribute a new restoration of the film. American Zoetrope’s James Mockoski was brought in to supervise the restoration, but none of the original film elements could be located. With a September deadline looming, he went on a desperate search and had almost given up when he located the negative at the MGM film library in Burbank, where it had been sitting untouched (and forgotten) for decades. It was in pristine condition, which made the restoration work relatively simple. As Mockoski explained to David Fear at Rolling Stone magazine, “being lost was the best thing to possibly happen to that negative.” This new 4K restoration of Stop Making Sense was initially shown exclusively in IMAX on September 11. It’s presented here in native 4K, graded for High Dynamic Range in both Dolby Vision and HDR10.

The final results of Mockoski’s efforts are spectacular, and everything held up perfectly even projected on a giant screen via 4K laser IMAX. Needless to say, it’s no less spectacular in the home. There’s one small scratch visible during the first part of the opening credits, which may have been inherent to the optical work, because it’s been left alone here. That’s about it for any flaws with this presentation. Jordon Cronenweth loved diffusion, and the cinematography in Stop Making Sense has his characteristically hazy, glowing look to it, so the image isn’t always highly resolved in terms of fine detail. That said, there’s still a lot of detail visible in this digital restoration that wasn’t noticeable previously. The first suit that Byrne wears is made of corduroy, and the ridges in it are now visible even in medium shots (although they do still fade away in long shots). It’s also now perfectly clear that Lynn Mabry and Edna Holt aren’t actually wearing the same tops prior to the wardrobe change midway through the show—one of them is either a knit or fleece fabric, and the other one isn’t. The bitrate hovers between 65-75Mbps for most of the film, which is more than adequate given how much of the image tends to fall off into shadow, and the encoding has no issues managing the natural film grain.

Speaking of shadows, it’s important to note that Cronenweth lit the stage, not the audience, and sometimes even just individual members of the band. Light sources tend to fall off quickly in Stop Making Sense, so the blacks can be somewhat murky, but there was never any detail in those shadows to begin with. The HDR grade does enhance the lighting during songs like What a Day That Was, where the band members are lit from beneath against a black background. The contrast is more pronounced during moments like that, with deeper blacks, but it’s still not too exaggerated compared to the surrounding footage. It’s also worth noting that like other films with strobe effects that have been enhanced via HDR, anyone who is sensitive to flashing lights will need to exercise extreme caution (it happens during The Genius of Love, right after the line “We went insane when we took cocaine.”)

Audio is offered in English Dolby Atmos, 2.0 Dolby Digital, and English Descriptive Audio, with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Stop Making Sense was originally released in a 4-channel matrixed Dolby Stereo mix, and then Jonathan Porath created a 5.1 mix for the 1999 re-release, which was also available on DVD and Blu-ray. (Note that the 2.0 tracks on those discs weren’t the original Dolby Stereo mix, but rather a new stereo mix based on the 5.1 remixes.) While Jerry Harrison wasn’t directly involved with either of those mixes, he did work with Eric “E.T.” Thorngren to create an alternate “studio” 5.1 mix for DVD and Blu-ray. Harrison was already hard at work on a new Dolby Atmos mix for the 40th anniversary release when James Mockoski managed to locate the original audio tracks, which proved invaluable.

There are significant differences between all of these mixes, and not just in terms of how the sound is balanced, either. For example, in original Dolby Stereo soundtrack, Chris Frantz ad-libbed the line “Too much of that goddamned snow white, all night” during the strobe light freakout in Genius of Love. That line was included with the theatrical soundtrack that was offered on both the original VHS and LaserDisc releases of Stop Making Sense, but it was replaced it with the different ad-lib "Everything is just jumping out of sight" for all of the 5.1 mixes. That was likely at Frantz’s behest, because he made a comment during the 40th anniversary Q&A that he wished he’d kept his mouth shut more during Genius of Love. In the new Dolby Atmos mix, the original line is restored, but it’s been dialed down so low that it’s barely noticeable unless you’re actively listening for it. (The “Everything is just jumping out of sight” line has been moved to a few bars later.)

There have a few more minor tweaks this time around. For example, Alex Weir’s off key “Break down!” during Burning Down the House has now been pitch corrected into something at bit more on tune. Harrison also made one interesting change throughout the entire Atmos mix that really does enhance the subjective experience of watching Stop Making Sense. Any time that the camera is focused on one of the band members, he subtly dialed up the sound of their instruments (or their voices), and not just during the solos, either—it happens even when the camera cuts to someone who is “only” playing rhythm. It’s a busy mix no matter what, especially when the full expanded band is onstage, but the new change makes it easier to focus on whatever the person in front of the camera is doing. As a result, details that were previously buried in the mix are now much clearer. The only minor quibble is that Harrison does sometimes let the keyboards swirl into the surrounds, which sounds distractingly unnatural. That only happens a few times, though, so it doesn’t take anything away from this stunning new mix.

Unlike the revised 2.0 stereo mix on the DVD and Blu-ray, this 2.0 track is the original theatrical Dolby Stereo mix, with encoded surrounds and all of the original quirks like the “snow white” line and Weir’s off tune singing intact. (It also includes the offscreen “Jerry!” shout during the band introductions in Take Me to the River, which hasn’t been included in any other mixes.) Unfortunately, it’s lossy Dolby Digital rather than uncompressed PCM like the revised 2.0 version on the Blu-ray. Win some, lose some. Still, while it’s nice to have it included here for archival purposes, the new Atmos mix puts it to shame. Yes, it’s that good.

A24’s 4K Ultra HD release of Stop Making Sense is currently available exclusively through their A24 Shop in a Deluxe Collector’s Edition. It’s UHD only, not a combo pack, since A24 decided to release a Blu-ray version separately. It’s in oversized Mediabook packaging with a 64-page booklet featuring a forward by Jerry Harrison, archival production documents, photographs, and promotional materials. It’s housed in a gorgeous clothbound hard case highlighting Pablo Ferro’s iconic titles (and in Chris Frantz blue, no less). Both the theatrical cut and a newly created version of the extended cut are included via seamless branching, as well as the original version of the extended cut (more on all of that in a moment). The following extras are included:

  • Stop Making Sense: 2023 Talking Heads Extended Cut (UHD – 99:44)
  • Stop Making Sense: 1985 Jonathan Demme Extended Cut (Upscaled SD – 98:55)
  • Audio Commentary with Jonathan Demme
  • Does Anybody Have Any Questions: Making Stop Making Sense (HD – 25:52)
  • 26 Minutes of David Byrne Dancing in Silence (Upscaled SD – 25:33)
  • Bonus Songs:
    • Cities (2023 Edit) (UHD – 4:04)
    • Cities (1985 Edit) (Upscaled SD – 3:51)
    • Big Business/I Zimbra (2023 Edit) (UHD – 7:41)
    • Big Business/I Zimbra (1985 Edit) (Upscaled SD – 7:47)

While Stop Making Sense featured 16 songs in its theatrical cut, the original VHS and LaserDisc releases were expanded versions that included three more songs: Cities, Big Business, and I Zimbra. (Like What a Day that Was, Big Business is a song from Byrne’s solo album The Catherine Wheel.) All three songs were omitted again from the DVD and Blu-ray releases, although they were offered as deleted scenes instead. That’s understandable, because the editing on the deleted songs has always been a little rough, presumably because they were dropped before the final cut was locked in. For this release, a new extended cut has been created in 4K featuring “previously unseen / newly restored footage.” Only the theatrical cut is available from the main menu, but both of the extended cuts can be accessed via the “Special Features” menu instead. Note that that the 2023 version is offered with Dolby Atmos audio only, since neither the theatrical audio nor the commentary track would have synced up with it. The original LaserDisc master for the old extended cut is presented in 2.0 stereo Dolby Digital only.

A24 describes the commentary with Jonathan Demme as “recorded in 1999, remixed in 2023 featuring previously unpublished archival audio.” That’s true enough, but it also omits something pretty important. The commentary that was originally recorded for the 1999 DVD release of Stop Making Sense was actually a group track that edited together Demme and all four members of the band, each of whom had been recorded separately. So part of remixing this in 2023 involved mixing the other band members out, and it’s not clear why that was done. While the new version does add back some other material that Demme recorded in 1999, it’s still quite sparse since there are large gaps where everyone else had been speaking previously. That said, there’s still plenty of good production information here, like the real reason why the audience wasn’t shown for most of the film, and why Cities and Big Business/I Zimbra were cut. You just have to be patient to get to all of it.

Does Anybody Have Any Questions: Making Stop Making Sense is a first-rate new documentary that’s primarily a roundtable discussion between all four members of the band, with producer Gary Goetzman and editor Lisa Day interviewed separately. It also includes some priceless archival video, like rehearsal footage, vintage performances, and even a clip of them doing an awkward interview with Dick Clark. They talk about where their unique body movements came from, how they designed the show, and the value that each of the expanded band members added (especially Bernie Worrell). They also discuss the restoration, with Harrison explaining how much he loved each player in the band, and the new mix let him be reactive to the camera movements that featured them.

26 Minutes of David Byrne Dancing in Silence is exactly what it says that it is: extended rehearsal footage of Byrne (with appearances by Mabry and Holt) practicing some of those unique body movements. Finally, the Bonus Songs are the deleted songs from the extended cuts, offered here in both versions (with 5.1 Dolby Digital for the new cut, and 2.0 Dolby Digital for the original one).

There are a few extras missing from the 2009 Blu-ray release of Stop Making Sense, including the unexpurgated commentary track; a clip of David Bryne interviewing himself; a strange promotional montage; the Q&A from the 1999 press conference; storyboard comparisons; some text about the Big Suit; and the trailer for the 1999 re-release. The 5.1 and 2.0 mixes from that disc have also been omitted here. It’s interesting that the new Q&A from September 11, 2023 hasn’t been included, either, which may or may not be due to the fact that Spike Lee was an absolutely atrocious moderator. (He opened by calling them “the Talking Heads,” and it only went downhill from there.) You’ll definitely want to hang onto the old Blu-ray for the missing extras and the alternate audio mixes, but in all other respects, this gorgeous new 4K Deluxe Collector’s Edition leaves it in the dust. It’s one of the best physical media releases of the entire year so far. Watch it on the largest screen possible, with the best possible sound system, accompanied by as many other Talking Heads fans as you can squeeze into your room without violating the local fire code. One final word in that regard:

On September 11, 2023, I was at the AMC Southdale 16 theater in Edina, MN to catch the IMAX Live 40th anniversary premiere of Stop Making Sense. It was quite the experience. I had already seen Stop Making Sense countless times in just about every format imaginable: 35mm film, VHS, LaserDisc, DVD, and Blu-ray. That means that this wasn’t my first rodeo in the theatre with an audience, but this was a sold-out show in a large auditorium that was packed with hardcore Talking Heads fans. I never got to see Talking Heads perform live before they broke up, although I did get to see David Byrne solo in 1992 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, shortly after the breakup was official. There’s an energy at a live concert that just can’t be replicated on film no matter how good the technology may be, but this was the closest thing to it that I’ve ever experienced. There weren’t any fans dancing in the aisles like at the Byrne concert or even the old midnight shows at the Uptown Theatre in Minneapolis, but modern stadium seating and the steep steps in the aisles precludes it. Despite that, the energy level from the unavoidably seated audience was still palpable. The whole experience was, in Eighties terms, quite the rush.

While the video and audio quality of this 4K Ultra HD version of Stop Making Sense can stand up proudly in comparison to 4K laser IMAX, something will be lost without it being accompanied by all of that energy from a live audience. So plan ahead, offer open invitations to all of your music-loving friends, and make it real shindig. You won’t regret it.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)