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The Concert Film 'American Utopia' Is A Joyous Experience

You know you’re looking for something to distract you tomorrow night so you’re not stressing out every single minute as votes are counted. And I’ve got just the thing.


HBO has a new concert film of musician David Byrne’s American Utopia production, which toured the U.S. in 2018 and eventually ended up on Broadway. Byrne, of course, was with the group Talking Heads, who, with director Jonathan Demme, made what nearly everyone agrees is the best concert film of all time, 1984’s Stop Making Sense.


If somehow Demme wasn’t a big enough name for you, American Utopia is directed by none other than Spike Lee, who brings as much artistry as you’re likely ever going to see from a concert film. I was lucky enough to see Byrne’s concert live a few years back, which was an incredible experience, but also one that was very different from this film. The tradeoff here is that we lose the majesty of seeing the entirety of the production and choreography at all times, but we gain the intimacy and energy of being right in the middle of the musicians, who march around the stage in bare feet, everyone moving in time and in rhythm. You can see up close the joy on their faces, and while nothing can ever replace live performance, this film gives us images we’d never be able to see otherwise.


American Utopia is an invigorating, joyous experience, though also one that’s deeply socially conscious. Byrne and Lee place the performance right in the context of the social upheaval of our current time, and while a couple hours of extremely danceable music would be enough, they come together to make this far more.


On another note, a long overdue celebration of the life of local luminary and KMUW’s longtime movie critic Jim Erickson will be held this Thursday evening at 7:00 at the Starlite Drive-In, including video clips from Jim’s past and some words from those who knew him. The event was rescheduled from its previous date due to weather, you can find more information on Facebook.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.