David Byrne’s American Utopia: Film Review

David Byrne's American Utopia

I wouldn’t generally watch concert films starring a band or artist I’m not a mega-fan of, but I had heard so much praise for David Byrne‘s American Utopia coming out of the film festivals this year that I decided to give it a watch anyway, and I’m really glad I did.

The movie, directed by Spike Lee, is a filmed version of the 2019-2020 Broadway production of the same name. The stage set-up is simple – Byrne and his 11 dancers/musicians perform on an empty stage surrounded by metal chains and are barefoot and dressed in identical grey suits. It is a cleverly choreographed concert, with the musicians playing their instruments wirelessly as they move about the stage.

I wouldn’t have called myself a fan of Byrne before watching this. I don’t know his music particularly well (I thought I didn’t know any of his songs but it turns out I recognised three tracks) and yet I still enjoyed it – so I can only imagine what a fan must feel like watching this. Regardless, I don’t think you need to be well-versed in his music or a particular fan to appreciate the talent and skill involved in this production. It is so clever and meticulously detailed and choreographed. It was fascinating to watch his music being brought to life in this way – I loved the movement, the lighting and sound design, and how freely the musicians could move about.

I sometimes think that filmed versions of stage productions don’t work because they’re quite static and you don’t feel involved but that’s not the case here. Lee’s direction means you are fully immersed in the show and sometimes feel like you’re up on stage with the ensemble.

I didn’t think David Byrne’s American Utopia would float my boat because of my lack of knowledge about his music – but this is about so much more than that. How it is visualised is incredible. It must have been amazing to have seen this on Broadway!

Available on digital download on 14th December and DVD on 11th January

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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