David Byrne’s ‘America’s Utopia’ encourages global concern for our fellow human beings

Less is more, keep it simple, untethered. All of these phrases accurately describe one of the most beautiful films I have seen in a long time.

Americas Utopia, originally a Broadway hit directed by David Byrne (who also has one of the leading roles), is as successful in this film version as the musician is in his live performances.

This movie is a sensational blend of beautiful voices, simple but proficient aerial camera work, and lighting techniques. In the scenes where the song is being performed, the lighting effects remind a viewer of the light switch being flicked on and off.

The point of this artistic project is just to get involved, to encourage the audience, to let us know, to spread to the world the importance of concern for our fellow human beings, and not merely about living to have a good time.

The movie begins with “talking heads” featuring Spike Lee (40 Acres and a Mule) as the director and producer, and David Byrne, the lead vocalist, as well as performer on guitar and percussion.  Waiting for the movie to begin made me feel like an impatient child. The 11 cast members were beyond great. Working with the most simple costumes (all dressed in light unicolored suits), they “strutted their stuff” barefooted, had simple earphones (no microphones), and no electrical cords spread all over the stage.  In other words, they were untethered, therefore, they were free.

That is the feeling one gets from this film. The cast appears to be so comfortable—my favorite was Bobby Wooten III, animated, and funny.

The cast members are from around the world—France, Brazil, Scotland, the United States, etc. That gives the movie a nice blend of voices and faces, making you feel like being on an international tour, and getting to know the people in any given country as though they are your family.

What is most noticeable is the quietness of the performers’ feet on the stage. As they dance around, it reminds one of two-year-olds pattering around having the time of their lives. This quietude is yet another of Byrne’s simplifying, essentializing strategies. With very little distracting noise, one can hear each and every one of the singers’ voices. The harmonizing was nothing short of gorgeous—mesmerizing, relaxing, and soothing. The great beats coming from the bassists and the drummers, however, could make you want to get up and just plain old rock the night away. One could feel the camaraderie among the cast, the fun they were having, and the overall satisfaction from a job well done. The songs are about revolution, love, companionship, and treating each other with dignity and respect while being sure to interject some fun into the equation.

In the opening scene, David Byrne is alone on stage, describes the mind of any very young child.  He tells how children are equipped with many, many more neurons than the adult brain, but as they grow older, the neurons begin to diminish. In this winnowing process, a person is left with themselves and who they are.

From then on, the cast makes its way onto the stage, and the excitement begins. Annie-B Parson is the director of staging and choreography. Yes, it was simple, but it conveyed volumes of stage knowledge and movement. Each cast member holds back on nothing, giving it their all. Daniel Freedman gives a rendition of being the “bobblehead” while seeming to be stuck inside his drum. Jacqueline Acevedo with her cute, shifty-eyed gaze gives off a somewhat sneaky effect.

The lighting techniques are also simple, manipulation of shadows helping the audience relax and enjoy the show. Spike Lee’s talent, plus his experience in production, make this one of the best of his works I’ve ever seen.

In the final scene, the cast members make their way into the audience, to establish contact with those who came to see the show. And you guessed it, the audience just loved it. It was about getting involved in something, making that connection with everybody, and being about the changes that we all need to make.

This is the best film I have seen in a long time, and as your humble reviewer, I suggest that everyone on this earth should see it!

The trailer can be seen here.


Jo Allen-Eure
Jo Allen-Eure

Jo Allen-Eure writes from Los Angeles.