#TIFF2023 Reviews: Stop Making Sense, American Fiction

Stop Making Sense | Directed by Jonathan Demme | Written by Demme and Talking Heads

Whatever superlatives that’ve been attached to this classic 1984 Talking Heads concert film it deserves, but anyone who really wants to see it should do their best to check it out in its current form: a 4k restoration with at least one song retrieved from the cutting room floor (“Cities”) and screened in IMAX. Never have I been so sure of something: This is the best way to see Stop Making Sense unless you were actually there. As I watched it in a screening room full of people, we all applauded at the end of songs like we were, um, actually there.

The film captures Talking Heads at a peak, before the band’s in-fighting tore it apart. (They reunited for TIFF earlier this week and were interviewed by Spike Lee — none of them stuck around for this screening today.) Each member, from ringmaster David Byrne to Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Bernie Worrell, Alex Weir, Steve Scales, Lynn Mabry and Edna Holt, they all bring something special to this high-energy mix of art rock, punk, new wave, and funk. I gather Byrne and Demme worked out lighting designs and stage particulars which gave the whole affair an odd, theatrical vibe, but, boy, is it fun.

There’s no pretension to be had when Byrne, who’s working as hard here as anyone to keep the energy high, puts on that ginormous, iconic suit. Big props to Mabry and Holt — their backing vocals and harmonies feel like the glue that brings this show together.

My favourite tracks? “Slippery People,” “Swamp,” “Life During Wartime,” and “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody).”

American Fiction | Directed by Cord Jefferson | Written by Jefferson from the book Erasure by Percival Everett 

I couldn’t have chosen better than this, my final film at #TIFF23. It’s a warm-hearted satire, which I’d generally say is a contradiction in terms, but here it mostly works. Jeffery Wright is Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, a writer and educator who hasn’t published in awhile, much to the chagrin of his agent (John Ortiz). Monk is pissed off at the way African-American stories frequently manifest — the violence, the rappers, the misery, and the slavery — like in the books the glamorous Sintara Golden (Issa Rae) writes. In a fit of pique he writes something that indulges in all the cliches, and to his surprise and dismay this new project becomes a hot property. The bigger problem is he can’t ignore the money — his mother needs care as she’s been struck by dementia, and he’s got other family issues, like an estranged brother (Sterling K Brown, terrific) who’s just coming out and doing a lot of coke. And just then he meets a possible romantic prospect (Erika Alexander).

That media satire is the high point of all of this, Monk’s struggle to control the beast he’s unleashed and his pain in compromising his values. When Jefferson spoke at the screening he said his intent was never to critique the artists who’ve gone in this direction, it’s the system that props them up and makes their work so popular — why do people want it? Especially white people? Some of the family stuff here is maybe a little too soft in comparison, but the performers are all so winning by the end you’re on board. I enjoyed that the film, briefly, seemed in conversation with Ethan Hawke’s Wildcat.

Here’s the director on stage this evening:

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.