David Byrne’s American Utopia

Movie Information

Spike Lee’s filmed version of the beloved stage show is one of the all-time great concert films.
Genre: Concert film
Director: Spike Lee
Starring: David Byrne, Chris Giarmo, Angie Swan
Rated: NR

Martin Scorsese made 2019’s two best films: Rolling Thunder Revue and The Irishman. A year later, Spike Lee may very well claim similar honors with his one-two narrative/documentary punch of Da 5 Bloods and David Byrne’s American Utopia.

No stranger to creatively lensing acclaimed stage shows, Lee delivers 105 minutes of pure joy that extend through the end credits and truly makes viewers feel as if they’re inside Broadway’s Hudson Theatre, reveling in the Talking Heads’ frontman’s titular stage show.

Thoroughly charismatic from the opening note, Byrne passionately shares an enchanting mix of songs from his revered band’s catalog and his solo American Utopia album, performed live by a talented ensemble of instrumentalists and vocalists, all of whom also prove gifted at choreography.

Their imaginative visual and sonic efforts are captured via a stunning array of camera angles, bringing viewers closer to the action than any audience member, and frequently inspiring wonder regarding just how Lee and cinematographer Ellen Kuras pulled off certain shots.

As awe-inducing as these sights are, Lee’s filmmaking isn’t confined to the stage. During Byrne’s cover of Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout,” in which performers chant the names of Black victims of police brutality with tear-jerking intensity, the director cuts to portraits of the deceased, some of which are held by a surviving relative.

This powerful, unexpected tribute solidifies the greatness of an already masterful collaboration, which, like the Byrne-centric Stop Making Sense, is likely destined to go down in history as one of the all-time best concert films.

Available to stream on HBO Max starting Oct. 17

About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA).

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