At this point, “American Utopia” has been experienced in almost every medium available. David Byrne released it as an album in 2018. It was then the basis of a stage production that wound up on Broadway in 2019. And that Broadway show was shot by Spike Lee as a concert film that made the rounds of the fall 2020 film festivals before its scheduled October 17 debut on HBO. The film screened at the New York Film Festival on October 3, where Byrne and Lee discussed it with NYFF Director of Programming Dennis Lim. Watch their Q&A above.
“This just seemed like the obvious thing … This had to be a film,” said Byrne about the decision to reach out to Lee to helm a movie version of the show, which features Byrne alongside 11 other musicians and dancers who explore humanity and social justice. “Because this show does deal with the world we’re living in, I thought, Spike’s going to get that. That’s the water Spike swims in.”
Lee was likewise eager to work with Byrne. They had crossed paths before, and Lee was already a fan of Byrne and the iconic band he fronted, Talking Heads. “I mean he’s just a beautiful cat,” Lee explained. He loved the veteran musician’s “vibe” and “his whole essence … I knew right away that this, to use sports terminology, was in my wheelhouse. This was a big, fat, juicy one right down the middle of the plate. And I knew I could knock it out of the park because it was great already.”
The film has already been acclaimed by critics, scoring 92 on MetaCritic as of this writing. Are you excited to get a glimpse of this show on HBO so soon after “Hamilton” also brought Broadway to the screen earlier this year on Disney+?
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