News: Spike Lee to Direct David Byrne's American Utopia Music Film

In 1984 David Byrne and Talking Heads forever set the gold standard for concert films with their iconic Stop Making Sense, directed by Jonathan Demme. There is still a pretty wide consensus among both film and music critics that Stop Making Sense is the greatest concert film ever made; an unparalleled live performance captured with unique cinematic vision by Demme. However, Byrne may have topped the power of Stop Making Sense with his critically-acclaimed, almost-two-years-running American Utopia tour, supporting the album of the same name. NME said the tour “may just be the best live show of all time,” and it is certainly one of the most unique. The tour features an entirely mobile band of a dozen people – including a large percussion section, all carrying their drums marching-band style – going through elaborate choreography as they perform a wide cross-section of music from Byrne's entire career. That includes a whole lot of Talking Heads music, as well as most of the material from American Utopia itself, and plenty from in-between.

Earlier in the tour, Byrne had said that he probably would not be interested in doing another concert film, as that was something he had already thoroughly done with Stop Making Sense. But it appears that plans have changed: it was announced last night that Byrne is indeed developing a music film of the American Utopia live show... with none other than Spike Lee directing. It has not been specified exactly what the film will be – whether it will be a filmed version of the live show as it can be found on-stage, or if it will take a somewhat different artistic form in its new medium – but it is safe to say that it will be something different, and not just a rehash of what we've seen before. Spike Lee is certainly a filmmaker with a very different style from the late Jonathan Demme, and he has made a career of exploring different cinematic art forms, from movies to documentaries to filmed Broadway plays, all with his own bold style. Partnering with a filmmaker as distinctive and powerful as Lee is a fantastic choice to lend this already brilliant live show another twist of artistry.

The time is certainly right for a film of American Utopia: the album was written in large part in response to Trump's election and the division and animosity rife in our country, and it has a very political as well as philosophical tone in looking at our modern world. There is even a song on the album about an unnamed president facing a blatantly un-rigorous farce of an impeachment trial, as vacuous press coverage amplifies the circus-like quality of it all with a minimum of self-awareness. Other songs are more optimistic, in keeping with Byrne's own Reasons to be Cheerful project which seeks to highlight positive examples of activism and social justice, but the whole thing asks us the question, “what do we want to be as a society, and how do we get there?” Not to mention that it will capture an iconic musician at the height of his current resurgence, and at the top of his game in general.

In his announcement about the film, Byrne said, "Pinch me. This couldn't have worked out better for this project. Spike Lee directing and Participant producing — two socially engaged teams, well, three if you count us in the band, coming together in what I feel will be something moving, important, and unlike anything anyone has seen before."

Participant CEO David Linde said, "American Utopia is a true celebration from a great artist and a beautiful reminder to our nation that we are all born barefoot and wearing the same suit. We are incredibly excited to work with Mr. Byrne and the incomparable Spike Lee, along with RadicalMedia, River Road and Warner Music Group in bringing this one-of-a-kind event out of the theater to audiences around the world."

The film will be released later this year.

For a sample of what we might be able to expect, below is David Byrne and his American Utopia band performing one of the album's singles, “Everybody's Coming To My House” on Stephen Colbert, in the show's kinetic, untethered style.

- Christopher S. Jordan

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