2020 was a film year of asterisks, where the question “what constitutes a 2020 movie?” collided with the more existential question, “what constitutes a movie, period?”
Two of my favorite “movie” experiences last year were filmed versions of Broadway productions, released on streaming platforms.
Should Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton count as a movie? Would it count if it had been released in theaters, as was the plan pre-pandemic? What about David Byrne’s American Utopia, filmed by no less a screen titan than Spike Lee, but inherently a faithful depiction of his stage show?
In this very non-traditional movie year, the best film I’ve seen so far is Spike Lee’s presentation of American Utopia, a Broadway performance by David Byrne that ran between October of last year and February of 2020. The concert film is currently available for streaming on HBO Max.
Byrne’s show features a handful of tracks from his American Utopia album, released in 2018, but also cuts from the rest of his solo career and his time with Talking Heads. In between songs, Byrne opines on the state of America, offering an expansive and hopeful vision that couldn’t feel more welcome in this dark year.