David Byrne's American Utopia Documentary

Enlightenment Through Song: A TIFF Review of ‘David Byrne’s American Utopia’

September 11, 2020Ben MK

You might know Spike Lee for such films as Do the Right Thing, BlacKkKlansman and Da 5 Bloods, but what you might not know is that he's also an accomplished documentary filmmaker, having tackled such varied subject matter as Brazil's socioeconomic place in the world, the life of pop superstar Michael Jackson, and the career of basketball icon Kobe Bryant.

Now, in David Byrne's American Utopia, Lee turns his attention to former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne's 2019 Broadway show of the same name. However, if you're expecting something like the filmed version of Hamilton that's streaming on Disney Plus, think again. Rather, Byrne's eclectic, eleven-musician stage show — which in turn owes its moniker to his 2018 studio album — has become a documentary unlike any other, giving viewers a front-row seat — and sometimes a perspective directly from the back of the stage — to a spectacle that is part concert, part art house performance, with Byrne using his trademark wit along the way to draw the audience's attention to issues ranging from poor voter turnout to racial injustice.

It all adds up to something of a polarizing experience, especially for those who might not be very familiar with Byrne's body of work. Nonetheless, fans of the British-American rocker's music and unique point-of-view will find this concert documentary just as mesmerizing as being there in person.

David Byrne's American Utopia screens under the Gala Presentations programme at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 45 min.

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