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DAVID BYRNE’S AMERICAN UTOPIA: 4 ½ STARS. “a joyful gem of a concert pic.”

Jonathan Demme’s “Stop Making Sense,” his movie of an iconic a 1983 Talking Heads live show is considered one of, if not the greatest concert films of all time. Elegant and exciting, it made everything before it seem old fashioned and everything that came after feel like an imitation.

What “Stop Making Sense” was to the 1980s a new concert film, also starring Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, is to these uncertain times. “American Utopia,” directed by Spike Lee and now playing on HBO Max, is a joyful film about everything from protesting injustice and police brutality to optimism and the celebration of life.

It’s got a good message and you can dance to it.

Filmed during the show’s 2019 Broadway run at New York’s Hudson Theatre, the film captures the cerebral but exuberant concert that features Byrne, alongside eleven musicians, all dressed alike in skinny grey suits, and all unfettered from amplifiers and the like. With wireless guitars, keyboards and all manner of other instruments on an empty stage with no other gear or risers, Byrne and Company fill the space with intricate choreography, eclectic songs, new and old, and an uplifting social message of fellowship and faith in humanity. Byrne’s enthusiasm is infectious and Spike Lee, using a combination of you-are-there camera angles, including a beautiful overhead shot, captures the jubilant postmodernist performance in glorious fashion.

It is so much more than a Talking Heads greatest hits package. There are familiar songs like “Burning Down the House,” “This Must Be the Place” and “Once in a Lifetime,” but they seamlessly blend with Byrne’s originals, written for his 2018 solo album of the same name.

Highlights, and there are many, include “Everybody’s Coming to My House,” Byrne’s ode to inclusivity and a potent cover of “Hell You Talmbout,” Janelle Monae’s protest song about police brutality. The latter song, a call and response featuring names the names of African Americans killed by police, is given extra clout by the addition of Spike Lee’s graphics that update the names mentioned in the song to include dozens of others. It is a powerful moment and an urgent call for change.

“American Utopia” is a gem. A concert film that, like “Stop Making Sense” redefines what live performance can be.

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