moving & living ft. talking heads
a couple weeks ago on saturday i went to watch the newly remastered talking heads concert movie, STOP MAKING SENSE, in a theater near my new home (that has immense historical significance i discovered afterwards). it was my first time having seen this film, and it left a pretty strong impression on me.
my experience with talking heads (it's not THE talking heads, it's just talking heads without the "the" in it, which is confusing) has been limited but stretched out longer than i'd initially thought. this is due to their status as a classic rock band - i'm not sure how their music was taken at the time but "psycho killer" has persisted through the decades since its release as a pretty good song from the 70s and/or 80s you hear in movies and TV shows from time to time. my earliest memory of hearing the song was from the 2008(?) simpsons treehouse of horror special, whichever dang number it was, where it plays over a sequence that i don't remember. the song stuck out more than the sequence. i remember liking it! the lyrics are memorable.
in the 15ish years since then i've been aware of their work, but only in the same way i'm aware of most popular artists - i knew like, two or three of their songs. but more recently i'd hear murmurs and mentions here and there of their legacy. earlier this year i binged a bunch of todd in the shadows videos, in which no doubt the band would have been referenced (though never the main topic). i watch a lot of vinny vinesauce streams, who plays in the band red vox and so draws influence from all kinds of rock music. he has, no doubt, brought up talking heads a plethora of times due to this - they're an influential and important part of rock history that even a music baby like me knew about. it's just sorta one of those bands you hear mentioned here and there.
i don't remember specifically what caused it, but over this past year i began to listen to their work. i knew i'd heard and liked the song "once in a lifetime" for its sort of ethereal wild-sounding melody and existential lyrics, so i guess i started from there. and then, in march, a teaser was released for an upcoming anniversary rerelease of their concert movie, STOP MAKING SENSE, and i knew i had to see it. something about that suit, man.
the fact it would be screening stuck in the back of my head for the following 5 months, until its release date was announced around august, which is also when i started to listen to the band's discography in order. that is, until where the concert film would have originally released. i coincidentally reached "speaking in tongues" (from 1983) before i stopped for some reason unknown to me. there's other music from other artists, after all. i promise this wasn't on purpose, but it was a good decision anyway.
so anyway, fast forward to september 23rd, the day i move out of my family home to go live on my own in The Big City [undisclosed] for university. about a week later, STOP MAKING SENSE would release in theatres, but i was sorta broke for a hot moment there so it took me another week to go see it. £5 movie ticket.
i hadn't ever entered it before, but the theatre i watched this movie in was prestigious. even though my expectations of the movie were uncertain, the environment made it feel very special. and then i watched a guy stim autistically to his own music for two hours. i loved it. STOP MAKING SENSE is referred to as one of the best concert films ever made, and i can definitely see why - david byrne's passion for music is demonstrated so naturally by his performance. i have no clue how much of it was choreographed or just his own instinctive dancing. he obviously cares for his talent, and the expert technical aspects of the movie enhance that love even further. the music rules, too.
i didn't really know what to make of it at first, since watching a band perform 40 years ago in a theatre of maybe 15 other viewers on a saturday afternoon was a little surreal and awkward (my sister who lives nearby watched it the night before, that would have been far less awkward but i didn't know at first!), but in the couple weeks since watching this movie i haven't stopped thinking about it. it's incredibly personal, and the knowledge that david byrne is in fact autistic makes it ultra relatable. its music echoed in my mind for a bit, and upon re-listening i came to notice aspects of the lyrics and emotions that resonated with me in an unprecedented period of my life. "this must be the place" went from a track i'd heard before as chilled-out and relaxed to this heavy, melancholy piece about how we find our own places in the world. maybe i'm reading what i want to read, but it's the kind of song i needed to hear while i'm struggling to find my own sense of home away from home.
after the soundtrack to STOP MAKING SENSE reverberated through my ear holes for a week, i ended up discovering something i maybe ought to have known sooner. david byrne, main guy of talking heads, had directed his own narrative feature film in 1986 named TRUE STORIES. i didn't know a single thing about it, i didn't know what it would be about, but i did know it had to be good. if this guy had a movie to make and a story to tell, it would have to be something truly special. and it is!
also, editor's note, it was picked for the GOBLIN BUNKER FILM CLUB about a month ago right before THE MAGIC HOUR (which i discussed here). if i knew what the deal was, i could've and would've checked it out sooner.
TRUE STORIES is about a small town in texas that encapsulates and demonstrates every major facet of american culture of the time, while also showing us the beauty, humor, and nature of the people living there despite the zeitgeist. it's to do with our individual experiences and talents as human beings, while the world around us is changing all the time. i find that alone really beautiful, but the other aspect that initially left an impression on me was byrne's presence as the narrator (in addition to being director, writer and composer).
throughout the film we see him presenting the town to us like a tour guide, but he's not really there. he drives a car but it makes no sound. he's part of the environment and even interacts with other characters, but the whole time he's floating and jumping from place to place as a narrator would. this framing got me to think this was how the guy views the world around him, that he doesn't believe he conforms but is part of the crowd anyway. that maybe he feels like he IS just going from place to place and noticing the things surrounding him but never feeling quite like he's there.
it's a little hard to explain what i feel, but it connected with me. the knowledge that david byrne is autistic and directed this film with that perspective makes it hard to believe it isn't an expression of the dissonance one may feel when being neurodivergent. that social standards are all over the place and difficult to grasp or outright don't make any sense is what i thought TRUE STORIES was getting at. not in a negative light at all, but more in a curious external point of view. the whole movie's based on real tabloid articles, ones that highlight the strange behaviour people will have, particularly in the united states. the narrative is critical of consumer culture for example, but doesn't try saying people are bad for partaking in that - in fact it celebrates the beauty of individual expression through these conventions.
i've lived most of my entire life knowing i have autism and wondering how it makes me different from other people, while also questioning what the standards are anyway. i relate to this sort of external perspective because i've spent much of my life wondering how people would live Without autism. it's caused a lot of spite and childish annoyance in the past, but over time it's reached a point where i know it really doesn't matter the way i thought it did. i'll see how other people around me act, and find curiosity in why they're like that and i'm not. it's become an especially frequent feeling now that i'm living with a whole batch of new folks in my student dorm who all act wildly different not just from me but from each other.
byrne's optimistic curiosity of the (albeit fictional and exaggerated) world around him just about matches up with my own. at the end of the movie he describes the process of noticing how everything in a new place is different, even in little ways, like the colour of paper or the way people walk, before gradually becoming used to it and forgetting those details. the way the movie looks reflects this, with a lot of its colours being a little dim or hue shifted and many shots being perfectly symmetrical to go against conventional composition. if you've seen a wes anderson movie, then you know that guy is also notorious for doing the whole symmetry thing, and he even similarly makes movies about humanity and silly personal experiences, but byrne still brings a different perspective from whatever's going on there, largely with the power of music to further characterize the townsfolk of the story. i feel like, with all the wes anderson films i watched back in june, i was looking for something more like TRUE STORIES.
everything is exaggerated to emphasize the way neurodivergent folks might find neurotypical people to be unusual, small things like the mayor's random hand gestures or the various awkward conversations that take place. the tabloid stories that inspired this movie spotlight the strange behaviors of humanity, and here we see them as presented by someone intensely, instinctively curious of those behaviors while celebrating them. we know byrne doesn't quite exist on the same plane of reality as them, but he attempts to mingle regardless, in the same way someone neurodivergent will attempt to understand and fit in with those surrounding them. even the way he talks is a little different!
so yeah go watch this movie it's the most relatable thing i've watched maybe ever also listen to the stop making sense live album it sorta bangs