American Utopia Review: Life-affirming film by David Byron and Spike Lee


Polygon is reporting from the remote edition of the annual Toronto International Film Festival, which gives you the first time you see theaters, streaming services, and upcoming films for the awards season. This review comes from a TIFF screening.

It is almost impossible to realize the lively performance on tape as it was at this time. But Talking Heads frontman David Byron is no longer a subject two Concert films, which somehow manage to be as vibrant and as life-enriching as their lively counterparts. First of all, stop making Sense, Debuted in 1984 and was directed by Jonathan Demme. Second, David Byron’s American utopia, Landing on HBO on October 17 and was directed by Spike Lee.

American utopiaA filmed version of Bern’s Broadway show (which was based on a concert, based on a studio album), Byron and a band of musicians, all wearing gray suits, but with bare feet. The show takes viewers through the songs of the album of the same name, along with a show-stop rendition of “Hell You Tallabout”, a protest song by Janelle Monae, a previous song from Bere’s Ouvre. The lyrics are broken by an occasional monologue from Bern, who highlights everything from the work of novelist and activist James Baldwin until he grows up.

David Byron and his bandmates.
Photo: HBO

From the moment the film begins, it is clear that Lee is not interested in capturing the show directly. He shoots it like a film, and not just like a theater performance. He takes the audience to places where they do not appear from the roof of the Hudson Theater, where the show was filmed, which takes place behind the beaded curtains that surround the cast from three sides. Far from reducing the astonishment of the show, these enhance the behind-the-scenes experience, capturing every aspect of the show’s stunning lighting and choreography.

As the show moves forward, the message Byron is trying to send becomes clear. As Beren warned, “How am I not your brother?” How are you not like me? “I Will Watch TV,” the back wall of the stage, is dominated by the colossal launch of Colin Kaepernick, an NFL player whose opposition to police brutality and systemic racism sparked national uproar. The image is the only projection used throughout the show. Bern’s longest monologue is about the importance of voting – and includes a note to the audience that volunteers waiting in the theater are registering to help them vote. The status quo must change, the show suggests, and we can’t wait for anyone else to do it.

This message becomes most apparent during “Hell You Tallabout”, which takes away from the dance-party spirit that characterizes most of the rest of the film. Up to that point, any shot from the audience features people dancing and bouncing their heads, or grooves with music to stand from their seats. When Byron launches into Mone’s song, which asks listeners to say the names of the police and black people killed by racial violence, the negligence goes away. Visible members (who are predominantly white) suddenly appear serious, and the dancing seems to have stopped. At the time, Byron and Lee were not out to show the audience a good time; They are trying to bring people into action.

Two men smile at the camera

David Byron and Spike Lee.
Photo: HBO

With each name – Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland – Lee turns away from the action on stage to show photographs of the victims, sometimes organized by members of their surviving families. And although their names were not spoken – the show was called off in February 2020 – Lee also includes photographs of recent victims Ahmed Arbe, George Floyd and Bryo Taylor. Lee demonstrated the way his version only changed through the film American utopia From each other’s experience in a completely new animal.

Even for those unfamiliar with Byron’s work, the film feels immediate and joyful as the cast, coming onstage after Caper and Cavour, choreography by Annie-Bee Parson. The lyrics are not narrative, at least not in the obvious way they would in a traditional melody, but their themes form a figure in Bayer’s hands, which surround the conflict that prevails in present-day America, and necessity. Be kind to each other, and work to create a better tomorrow. The eccentric bliss can be the sympathy that gives way to a pervasive sense of empathy that turns the instinct into dancing and acting.

American utopia The present moment before the epidemic will be lost, but in the cultural context of its upcoming release, it feels like both an electric current and a balm. Although it is still not a live concert experience, it is stop making Sense In coming closer, by mimicking the pure joy of attending a concert – or a protest – and suddenly feeling tied to the clutches of strangers. In times of quarantine, when isolation is still harsh for many, it is something special, and worth celebrating as a victorious piece of art.

American utopia The first film will be on October 17 at HBO.