Film News

David Byrne's avant-garde dance film makes sense

AUSTIN, Texas (Hollywood Reporter) - “Stop Making Sense” is a tough act to follow, but David Byrne gives his younger self a run for his money with “Ride, Rise, Roar.”

This energizing concert film draws strength from young choreographers whose creations amplify both the weirdness and the idealism in Byrne’s songs and lend his stage performance a visual impact particularly well suited for big-screen exploration.

The feature debut for multimedia designer David Hillman Curtis has an arthouse appeal not only for Byrne’s fans but for urban sophisticates interested in the frontiers of modern dance. It also stands as yet another example of the way Byrne has remained a vital artistic force 20 years after the last Talking Heads record; given Byrne’s ability to connect with each new generation of pop’s avant-garde, it should have a strong shelf life on video.

Working with multiple cameras on many nights of the “Music of David Byrne and Brian Eno” tour, Hillman Curtis caught that production -- in which the band, backup singers, and three young dancers dressed entirely in white against a plain black stage -- from enough angles to make viewers feel it in three dimensions. The songwriter essentially invited three choreographers to wrap him up within their sometimes faux-naive, sometimes sexy, often transfixing compositions, and even fans who hang on Byrne’s every gesture may have a hard time keeping their attention off the dancers who leap over him, dart between him and his microphone, coast by him on office chairs and cavort abstractly around the stage.

Color performance footage is intercut with black-and-white behind-the-scenes material that offers some insight into the choreographers’ creative agendas and hints at the collaborative process that led to the latest Byrne/Eno record, “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.” Songs from that disc are outweighed in the film by more famous collaborations -- “Burning Down the House,” “I Zimbra,” and “Once in a Lifetime” among them -- but nothing about the set feels nostalgic.

Screening here at the Paramount Theater, which was a stop on the Byrne/Eno tour, the film was easily compared with the live experience, and packed a kinetic punch that audience members couldn’t get in person. In such songs as “I Feel My Stuff,” skillful editing by Hillman Curtis and Matt Boyd participated so fully with the instrumentalists, dancers and light design that the audience broke into spontaneous applause as if the performers were in the room.