David Byrne is a fascinating character, but a lot of the time that has to do with what he himself is fascinated by and his willingness to be drawn in by it, often to deconstruct and examine it on a cellular level. Back when he was the frontman for The Talking Heads, there were always larger concepts and visual elements surrounding the music, which already consisted of some fairly ambitious sonic explorations in its own right. Sometimes that had to do with something like the unique packaging on the physical LPs, the group members rotating who would be in charge of the artwork for each release — Jerry Harrison modeled the embossed cover of Fear Of Music after rubber, black diamond-plate-style flooring; Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz’s Remain In Light design became one of the first uses of computer imagery on album art; and Byrne recruited artist Robert Rauschenberg to create elaborate limited edition packaging for Speaking In Tongues. Anyone that’s seen the brilliant 1984 Jonathan Demme-directed concert film, Stop Making Sense, already knows how elaborate and imaginative the project could get, from the visuals (David’s over-sized suit, the stage setup, etc) to the the way that the stage show methodically unfolded. But while the group was always a product of everyone involved, Byrne quickly began to venture out and display how expansive his talents and vision could be apart from the standard rock band format, even an outfit as groundbreaking and impossible to define as The Talking Heads.
David Byrne‘s artistic endeavors and interests have often proven not only both visual and visionary, but incredibly theatrical, as well. In 1981, a pre-“Hey Mickey” Toni Basil, who he was briefly seeing and later co-directed the Talking Heads “Once In A Lifetime” video with, choreographed a video for “Crosseyed And Painless.” The video, which featured breaking by Fresno‘s Electric Boogaloo dance crew, was not only the first to be made for one of the band’s tunes, but would have also presented the world with an example of the “moonwalk” (aka the “backslide”), two years prior to Michael Jackson ever busting that shit out at the Motown 25 television special, if only MTV hadn’t rejected it for being “too black.” Later that year, while dating internationally renowned dancer/choreographer, Twyla Tharp, Byrne scored the music to her Broadway dance performance, The Catherine Wheel. This led to him also composing music for the Knee Plays portion of stage director/playright, Robert Wilson‘s 5-part theater production, the CIVIL warS, and later collaborating directly with composer, Philip Glass. In 1985, Byrne released one of my all-time favorite movies, True Stories, a musical inspired by various tabloid stories that he had come across. David has provided and/or composed music for numerous other project (The Last Emperor won him the 1988 Oscar for “best original score“) and remained active in an array of mediums over the years. In 2005, he began working with Fatboy Slim on Here Lies Love, a concept album/musical about former Philippines first lady and noted shoe hound, Imelda Marcos, which has existed in various forms, including a studio release as well as an off-broadway performance that has recently been revamped and will be hitting the stage at the Seattle Repertoire Theatre later this year. Once all of this history and the scope of his work is understood and considered, the fact that David Byrne is about to release a documentary centered around flag wielding synchronized dance troupes shouldn’t be all that surprising.
The following details are excerpts taking directly from the press release for the CONTEMPORARY COLOR, which is slated for a March 3rd theatrical release:
“In the summer of 2015, David Byrne staged an event at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to celebrate the creativity of Color Guard: synchronized dance routines involving flags, rifles, and sabers, colloquially known as “the sport of the arts.”
“Byrne recruited performers including the likes of St. Vincent, Nelly Furtado, Devonté Hynes, Zola Jesus, Ad-Rock, tUnE-yArDs, and Ira Glass to collaborate on original pieces with 10 color guard teams from across the US and Canada.
“The result is CONTEMPORARY COLOR, a bold and irrepressible snapshot of a one-of-a-kind live performance.“
Just the fact that David Byrne was fascinated with the color guard enough to stage, film, and release such a performance alone is enough to intrigue me. I remember reading that, when he was working on getting True Stories together, it was received with some apprehension from his band members — specifically, Tina Weymouth — who had concern about its potential to be exploitative. In the end, the film was beautifully and poignantly delivered with a palpable reverence and compassion for the subjects that he was presenting. I have enough respect and confidence in David as an artist to believe that, if he sees something of value in the color guard, then it’s definitely there, and whatever it is that has won him over that beauty will be manifested in an affecting manner onto the screen.
Directed by the team of Bill Ross and Turner Ross and produced by Byrne, CONTEMPORARY COLOR “premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, where it won awards for Best Documentary Cinematography and Best Documentary Editing.” Handling the release is Oscilloscope Laboratories, which was founded by the late Beastie Boy, Adam “MCA” Yauch and modeled after the indie record labels that he grew up around. The production company, which includes a DVD distribution and production arm, will also be handling the physical release after the theatrical run.
David Byrne offers the following perspectives about the project:
“CONTEMPORARY COLOR is an otherworldly blend of athleticism, grace, spirit, and art captured in an unbelievably electric and creative way. Watching CC isn’t just watching a film, it is experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime performance that is so much more than the sum of its set list.”
“The teams and the musicians created this glorious, inspiring thing that runs counter to much of what is happening in the world right now – and the Ross brothers were the ones to feel that and capture it. We need an antidote, and here it is. The world is better than we think it is.“
Check out the trailer below.