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MOVIE REVIEW : Byrne's 'Between the Teeth': Music Takes the Front Seat

March 10, 1994|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

David Byrne and salsa music make classic star-crossed lovers. His yelpy, existential New York nervousness and the Latin music's tightly played, jubilantly felt release are unlikely enough suitors that only in irony the twain shall really meet, but there's a good amount of fun in the attempt. "Between the Teeth," an unadorned movie rendering of Byrne's 1992 tour, effectively documents the multicultural mirth.

Of course, it pales within the large shadow cast by 1984's "Stop Making Sense," arguably the best concert movie ever, filmed before Byrne made the bad career move of breaking up Talking Heads. Lately he's been less a rock force to be reckoned with than a commercially negligible pop anthropologist, rendering the solo album this tour was promoting, "Uh-Oh," a sales stiff. And Byrne's own co-direction of this filmic follow-up (with David Wild) follows the model Jonathan Demme set down with "Sense"--keep it simple, while shooting each song with a different philosophy of lighting, camera movement and editing--without really expanding on it.

But if diminished expectations are the order of the day, "Teeth" still has a pretty sharp sonic bite to it. Byrne's nine-piece backup band--including such heroes of world-beat as Cuban percussionist Oscar Salas and ex-Meters bassist George Porter Jr., plus a very busy horn section--cooks up a swell funk, equally percussive but more Brazil-based than "Sense's" African-dominated polyrhythms. For more xenophobic fans, there's a fair amount of Talking Heads traditionalism in the song choices and overall sound, too.

The best visual moments take in the scope of the big band on stage. But for variety, presumably, some songs leave the camera lingering tightly on the middle two-thirds of Byrne's sweat-beaded face, leaving lots of time to ponder whether he really does have anything caught between his teeth or not. For most fans the best bet may be to wait for the video or laser disc to come out and make an audiotape copy for the car. In lieu of dancing, the Byrne band's hyperdrive makes better music to motor to than to sit placidly through.

*

'Between the Teeth'

A Todo Mundo Ltd. presentation. Directors David Byrne, David Wild. Producer Joel D. Hinman. Cinematographer Roger Tonry. Editors Wild, Lou Angelo. Featuring David Byrne and Ten Car Pileup: Bobby Allende, Jonathan Best, Angel Fernandez, Ite Jerez, Lewis Kahn, George Porter Jr., Hector Rosado, Steve Sacks, Oscar Salas. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

MPAA rating: unrated. Times guidelines: Suitable for all.

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