David Byrne’s American Utopia (12)

 

David Byrne’s American Utopia (12)

Director: Spike Lee

Runtime: 1hr 45 minutes

 

Cast: David Byrne, Jacquelene Acevedo, Gustavo Di Dalva, Daniel Freedman, Chris Giarmo, Tim Keiper, Tendayi Kuumba, Karl Mansfield, Mauro Refosco, Stephane San Juan, Angie Swan, Bobby Wooten III

Synopsis: In his wildly popular Broadway show American Utopia, David Byrne reflects on human connections, life and how on earth we work through it. He joins the dots with his music and it all starts making sense.  Spike Lee here transforms the production into immersive, dynamic cinema that radiates with astounding performances, inventive contemporary dance and political urgency. American Utopia flows like an iridescent dream vision. Work by James Baldwin, Janelle Monáe and Kurt Schwitters is highlighted among exhilarating renditions of Byrne’s solo work as well as Talking Heads classics. According to the multi-hyphenate, we love looking at humans more than anything else. Anti-fascist and anti-racist, Byrne illuminates our responsibility to care for one another as he and his co-performers burn down the house.

American film director, producer, screenwriter, actor, and professor, Spike Lee [She’s Gotta Have It (1986), Do the Right Thing (1989), Mo’ Better Blues (1990), Jungle Fever (1991), Malcolm X (1992), BlacKkKlansman (2018) , Da 5 Bloods (2020)] documents the former Talking Heads frontman’s brilliant, timely 2019 Broadway Hudson Theatre show, based on his recent album and tour of the same name.

Deeply thoughtful and wildly exuberant, David Byrne’s theatrical concert American Utopia lit up Broadway last year with Byrne’s trademark mix of rhythm and ideas. Working with a vibrant new band and dancers, the former Talking Heads frontman turned his music into an antidote to America’s current divisions. Spike Lee’s latest joint brings all this joyous stagecraft to the screen in a vital call to connect with one another, to protest injustice, and, above all, to celebrate life.

The cerebral first song, ‘Here’, from Byrne’s 2018 American Utopia album, opens in a mood of  cool  reflection,  but  that  soon  builds  as  Byrne  is  joined  on  stage  by  vocalist dancer Tendayi Kuumba and dancer-vocalist Chris Giarmo, with their uncanny mix of artful gesture and dance-floor funk. Then, on come nine more musicians, including percussion masters from the US, Brazil, France — even Toronto’s own Jacquelene Acevedo. “Most of us are immigrants,” Byrne says at one point, “and we couldn’t do it without them.” They launch into ‘Everybody’s Coming to My House’.

The classics are all here, too, but transformed. ‘Once in a Lifetime’ is now a euphoric anthem. In a film of countless highlights, Byrne’s cover of Janelle Monáe’s ‘Hell You Talmbout’ is a showstopper, with the band chanting out the names of Black Americans killed by police. Lee’s powerful visuals bring it right up to the present.

 

Incredible, inspiring, moving, inclusive, and hopeful. The music, the instruments, the musicians, the choreography call on all of us to think, connect, engage and dance. David Byrne’s American Utopia is exactly what we need right now.

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes and Google Play

Images courtesy of: Universal