Home / General / LGM Film Club, Part 296: David Byrne’s American Utopia

LGM Film Club, Part 296: David Byrne’s American Utopia


I watched the 2020 Spike Lee concert film of David Byrne last night. It was widely loved by the critics, being near or at the top of many Best of 2020 critics list. Of course, that was an unusual year due to most movies just not being released because of the pandemic. But still, it was widely loved. I’m not sure why. It’s fine–it’s most certainly no Stop Making Sense though. I wouldn’t have connected Lee and Byrne, but they are both singular artists of a certain generation so it makes some sense when you think about it. Lee does a great job framing the shots and using some of his bag of tricks. But there are a couple of problems here. First, everything is so, so choreographed. To me, that level of choreography is somewhat counter to the meaning of rock and roll. This is a personal aesthetic choice more than anything, but the lack of anything remotely spontaneous means the lack of anything particularly interesting. I’m sure it’s a good show to see live. But the knowledge that every show is going to be exactly the same dampens my enthusiasm.

The other down side of the movie is whenever Byrne talks. Although at the peak of the Talking Heads era, his weird brain produced some of the most iconic and unusual songs in rock history, today, he’s just another aging Boomer liberal without that much interesting to say. There’s a reason no one really listens to the albums he’s put out in the last thirty years or so. They aren’t bad, but they are also just kind of whatever, cut rate Talking Heads albums with fewer and fewer insights from him. He tries to get political, but other than when he covers Janelle Monae’s Black Lives Matter song she did at the Women’s March (and Lee does a great job with this song of course), the politics are just as bland as can be. He goes off on this thing about how WE JUST NEED TO VOTE!!!

Now, I know that around here, that’s a popular thing too. I have never and will never understand why liberals need to tell each other to vote all the time. What do you think the voter registration rate is at a David Byrne show? I would guess it’s the same as the LGM comment section–100.0%. And yet, it’s a bit political statement to have a voter registration desk at the show. Everyone gets to cheer and feel so civic! Meanwhile, liberals, including Byrne, continue to miss the point here–it’s not whether you are registered to vote, it’s who you vote for! And that’s not his politics. So it just comes across as bland as possible. After all, we’ve seen spiking voting rates for years now and the upshot of it is that just as many new voters go for fascism as preexisting voters. The idea that THE PEOPLE WILL SUPPORT MY IDEAS IF WE REGISTER THEM TO VOTE is a total fallacy.

In term of the film though, it’s just boring. I certainly don’t mind politics in film. But the politics need to improve the film. They very much do not here. Again, he’s just an aging white liberal. No problem with that but it doesn’t need to be filmed either. And I believe that is why the movie critics loved the film so much–they like hearing other aging white liberals talk about voting.

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