At his best, Robyn Hitchcock is a sweetly peculiar songwriter who wanders into the realm of death and back, and laughs quietly at it all; at his worst, he's a dotty nostalgic with a weakness for the easy joke. Jonathan Demme's second concert movie is a simple but nicely presented document of a middling Hitchcock solo performance. Dressed in his habitual awful Hawaiian shirt, Hitchcock plays in front of an unseen audience in an East Village storefront, against a series of odd props and backdrops that appear and vanish for no reason. Demme's got the eye of a fan who wants to proselytize, and the movie is full of loving portraits of his hero's eccentric gestures, his crowlike posture, his delicate, spidery guitar playing.
But Stop Making Sense this is not, mostly because Hitchcock seems to be having an off night. Too conscious of the camera, his notorious free- associative between-song spiels uncharacteristically awkward, he takes half an hour or so to shake off his discomfort and settle into cheerfully mocking vile bodies and organized religion ("I don't know what kind of church you like to imagine. I like to imagine a church filled with carcasses"). Hitchcock is great at establishing rapport with an audience, timing his babble about minotaurs and duct tape to their reactions, but watching it on film means observing that rapport from a distance. And the set list dips generously into his lamest recent material, slow, repetitive tunes that meander through forced non sequiturs. Hitchcock enthusiasts will find things to love here some expansive, meditative guitar solos, a couple of monologues where he lets his id range freely but the unconverted may wish they could watch without listening.
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