"Why a Big Suit?" David Byrne's questions as constitutive rhetoric in the Trailers for "Stop Making Sense" and "American Utopia"

Curator's Note

Cinematic trailers are designed to prepare audiences for the content of a film. They serve to introduce the story's characters, plot, and world. David Byrne’s pair of concert films, Stop Making Sense and American Utopia, both have accompanying trailers that show the audience a preview of the shows. One of the aspects of these trailers that ties them together is the questions that they ask the viewer. The audience, in each trailer, is directly asked questions that the films are, presumably, able to answer. Despite the queries being a uniting force of these trailers, they differ greatly in tone. It is evident that each trailer is directing their queries at remarkably different groups of people, implying that David Byrne views his spectators as having joined him on his artistic journey. To understand how these questions constitute different audiences, we must break down each trailer.

The trailer for Stop Making Sense poses five questions. The first is “Why stop making sense?”, which calls into question the very premise of the film. The second question is, “Why a movie?”, which seems to be astounded that Stop Making Sense was made in the first place. The third and fourth questions both comment on the content of the film itself- “Why a big suit?” and “Where do the odd movements come from?” Finally, the viewer is asked- “What will the band do next?” These questions have a tone of bewilderment about them, as if the viewer is seeing an otherworldly spectacle.

Juxtapose those questions with the beginning of the American Utopia trailer. David Byrne, in a voiceover, asks the viewer, “What if we could eliminate everything from the stage except what we care about the most?” He continues, “Without cables or wires, what would left? Well, it would be us. And you. And that’s what the show is.” Rather than leaving the viewer confused, Byrne poses a single, poignant question, and answers it immediately. He lets the audience know what is happening, rather than leaving then with a sense that the film captures something they cannot understand.

See also the American Utopia Official trailer:

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