Directed by Spike Lee, most notable for his politically-charged films Malcolm X and Blackkklansman, American Utopia is a live recording of musician David Byrne’s latest hit Broadway show. Featuring music from Byrne’s 2018 album of the same name, along with music from Byrne’s career as a solo artist and as one of the members of the new-wave seventies group Talking Heads, American Utopia is an innovative collaboration of two very distinct creative minds, Byrne and Lee.
Combining live music, whimsical choreography and politically charged topics such as Black Lives Matter and voting, American Utopia is creative expression at its finest. The film explores the darker side of humanity and the issues causing a great social divide in the United States such as immigration and the classic red (Republicans) versus blue (Democrats) debate.
With each performer decked out in the same simple grey suit, this film lets the music and dancing do all the talking, avoiding elaborate set and lighting designs in favour of a minimalistic and somewhat barren stage that features nothing but hanging chains. This creative choice ensures that there is nothing to distract the audience from the music and the themes being explored within Byrne’s stage show.
Elevated by Lee’s direction and Ellen Kuras’s eclectic cinematography, this is a real treat for musical theatre aficionados who missed out on live theatre in 2020. It has a way of making you feel like you’re right there in the audience.
As a creative often known for pushing the boundaries, Byrne’s latest performance is somewhat of an extension of his previous work such the 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense. An uplifting and unique piece of artistic expression, American Utopia may be a little too existential for some movie-goers, however, it is sure to delight those who enjoy films that are unconventional and somewhat thought-provoking.