At the start of “Ride, Rise, Roar,” as a white-suited David Byrne launches into an exuberant rendition of “Once in a Lifetime” backed by a perfectly attuned ensemble of similarly clad dancers, vocalists and musicians, it’s clear: This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no humdrum concert documentary. Alternating between black-and-white behind-the-scenes glimpses and full-color footage of live performances, filmmaker David Hillman Curtis offers a singularly satisfying package that may be more popular on homevid, but will play better in theaters where exuberant ticketbuyers can sway in their seats.

Pic follows Byrne and company on a 2008-09 tour — the performances on view are seamlessly assembled from several different concerts — with a playlist that nearly balances “greatest hits” (songs from Byrne’s Talking Heads heyday) and his more recent collaborations with composer Brian Eno.

Although Curtis is a tad too fond of using closeups and medium shots to fragment movements that might better be appreciated from the concert-hall audience’s p.o.v., “Rise” vividly conveys the excitement of live performance. Which, in turn, makes the backstage stuff — rehearsals, interviews, stolen moments onstage and off — even more intriguing.

Evincing his trademark mix of hipsterish cool and ingenuous sincerity, Byrne explains that, while planning this particular concert tour, he deliberately aimed for a mix of music and dance that would often make the audience wonder: “What the hell is that?”

Byrne frequently achieves his goal, with the help of choreographers Noemie Lafrance, Annie-B Parson and the Robbinschilds partnership of Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs. But any such audience musings will be prompted by amazement, not confused disapproval. Even the musicians and backup singers get into the act, repeatedly joining dancers Lily Baldwin, Natalie Kuhn and Steven Reker in the abstract but emotive terpsichorean displays.

Highlights include a thrillingly propulsive version of “Burning Down the House” performed by Byrne and company while wearing tutus, and the sinuously sexy movements (aptly described by a choreographer as “Fosse-like”) employed by one and all during “The Great Curve.” Here and elsewhere, Byrne rivets attention with a stage presence that suggests subzero heat — wild abandon under scrupulous control. The musicians, vocalists and dancers take their cue from him, to great effect.

It takes nothing at all away from Jonathan Demme’s groundbreaking Talking Heads doc “Stop Making Sense” (1984) to say that “Ride, Rise, Roar” might very well introduce Byrne to a new generation of fans.

Music and sound mix by Pat Dillett and Gregory Thompson is exceptional.

Ride, Rise, Roar


  • Production: A Ravel Films presentation of a Hillmancurtis production. Produced by Will Schluter. Co-producer, Ben Wolf. Directed, edited by David Hillman Curtis.
  • Crew: Camera (color, HD), Ben Wolf; music, David Byrne, Brian Emo; sound, Pat Dillett, Gregory Thompson. Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (24 Beats Per Second), March 15, 2010. Running time: 87 MIN.
  • With: With: David Byrne, Mark Degli Antoni, Paul Frazier, Mauro Refosco, Graham Hawthorne; Lily Baldwin, Natalie Kuhn, Steven Reker, Kaissa, RedRay Frazier, Jenni Muldaur, Noemie Lafrance, Annie-B Parson, Sonya Robbins, Layla Childs.