Film Review: David Byrne’s “American Utopia” brings to light the dreams of a simpler America

By Meagan Kennedy

Elm Staff Writer

As the world continues to face an uncertain future, former Talking Heads frontrunner David Byrne and director Spike Lee strive to capture that unknown feeling through their film adaptation “American Utopia” — with the same sentiment of facing an unpredictable tomorrow.

Formed in 1975, the American new wave rock band Talking Heads became known for albums like “Speaking in Tongues,” “Remain in Light,” and “Stop Making Sense.” 

Originally classified as “art rock” or “post-punk,” the music of members Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, and Jerry Harrison is considered a staple of the 20th century. Since their official breakup in 1991, the former members have pursued solo careers across different music platforms. 

More recently, lead singer David Byrne’s Broadway show “American Utopia” premiered on Oct. 17 to audiences at home through HBO and HBOMax. With classic songs, interpretive choreography, matching gray suits, and themes of social justice, the film takes fans through Byrne’s favorite and most popular songs throughout his career, like “Burning Down the House,” “Dog’s House,” “Lazy,” and “Everybody’s Coming to My House.”

Alongside Lee, Byrne captures the experience of the beautiful essence of the “not concert” yet “not musical” that is “American Utopia.” 

With a minimal group of dancers, vocalists, and musicians, Byrne moves freely across the stage,creating his own utopian world from the grey, plain platform. The stage is stripped of props and rebuilding with the only lightening and a grey background, while the ensemble allowed for such a focus on the music. This style, created by Byrne, displays a simple art reminiscent of his lengthy musical career.

“The stage look is arty and stark, [and] everyone’s dressed in grey suits and barefoot. The entire band enacts choreography by Annie-B Parson that seems equal parts modern dance moves and whatever geeky gyrations Byrne uses in his videos,” National Public Radio’s TV critic Erin Deggans said. “The combination is visually stunning, turning the band into living sculptures who capture the spirit of every song.” 

There was a raw beauty in the balance of synchronicity between the ensemble and the free and loose choreography they performed. Each movement felt inspired by the emotion and heartbeat, bringing life to each individual song.

Featured Photo caption: The brainchild of former Talking Heads frontrunner David Byrne, alongside director Spike Lee, “American Utopia” seeks to match the civil and social unrest occurring throughout the U.S. today. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia.

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