by Eric Montesi, Form VI
5 min. read — November 10, 2021
From 1977 to 1988, Dire Straits released five studio albums that brought both commercial success and critical acclaim. Each of these albums is deserving of an article, but our focus is the album that saw Mark Knopfler and his crew come into their own musically and set the stage for them to become one of the greatest bands of all time. That album is Making Movies.
Released in 1980, Making Movies is the band’s third album. The recording process for the album was somewhat difficult, as David Knopfler, the brother of guitarist and singer Mark Knopfler, would quit the band midway through recording the album due to a severe falling-out with his brother. Although all his work had to be re-recorded with a new guitarist, the album was finished within a few months. Making Movies came hot off the heels of the band’s second album, Communiqué, an album that, while good, is one of the lesser entries in Dire Straits’ discography, as it feels like a weaker version of the first album. Despite the split in the band and a short recording period, Mark Knopfler, John Illsley, and Pick Withers would demonstrate their true potential in their new album, moving on from the passable Communiqué to produce an album that was both bolder and better. It featured longer songs and more complex music without sacrificing the moody, sometimes sentimental feel of the albums that preceded it.
Although it is the shortest album in Dire Straits’ discography, the band uses its 37 minutes and 14 seconds of runtime to evolve their sound of their earlier style of blues rock and broaden the scope of their work to something incredible. The album starts off strong, featuring some of the group’s finest work in the first four tracks. The band kicks off the new album and introduces their new sound in spectacular fashion with “Tunnel of Love''. It’s eight minutes long, and is Dire Straits’ first foray into the epics that would feature heavily in both Love over Gold and Brothers in Arms. Knopfler meets a girl at an amusement park one night and starts something that could never last, leaving nothing but a “keepsake and a kiss”. The song is a memory that is both comforting and sad, as Knopfler’s life carries on after that magical night like the ferris wheel that keeps on turning, “neon burning, up above”. “Romeo and Juliet” is next in the tracklisting and is another one of Dire Straits’ most famous songs. It was the album’s main single, and was inspired by Knopfler’s ex-girlfriend Holly Vincent, whom he felt was using him to boost her own, short-lived musical career. The line where Juliet says “Oh Romeo, yeah, you know I used to have a scene with him" is a reference to an interview given by Vincent where she says almost the same thing about Knopfler. The song uses swells between crescendos and quiet, tender moments much more boldly than the band’s earlier work, and it is all the more powerful for it. In the next track, “Skateaway”, Knopfler takes a break from romance, failed or otherwise, and instead sings about a girl who uses rollerskates to travel around the city at night. It’s just a story about a girl who’s free to be herself and skate as she listens to music all alone in the city, but the new sound of Making Movies is fuller and elevates the feeling of the track. The piano, guitar, and drums all combine with Knopfler’s vocals to create a clear depiction of the scene and celebrate the freedom of the roller girl.
The love songs return in the fourth track, “Expresso Love”. Knopfler is more optimistic in the song, as he’s singing from the point of view of a guy who just fell in love with a girl and wants to see if it’s going to be something real or just expresso love, a quick thrill that won’t last all too long. The instrumentals are fast when Knopfler is talking about his love, and although he does switch to moments of tenderness as he truly does want a serious relationship, he is also fine with the alternative. “Expresso Love” sees Dire Straits experiment with their sound again, as they try out something that gets closer to hard rock than anything they’ve done previously. Once again, the band is diversifying their sound to something that will bring them global fame. After riding out the high of “Expresso Love”, the audience comes down to reality with “Hand in Hand”, which is yet another song about a failed romance. This time, Knopfler is the one who ruined his relationship, and now he and his former lover live separate lives. Like “Romeo and Juliet”, the sound of the song is fuller and more dynamically variable than the band’s earlier work, lamenting what once was and what could have been. In the sixth track, “Solid Rock”, he sings about the shortcomings of society and says that he plans to make his life something more real, “sticking to essential reality” as he chooses to protect his heart and only embrace what he knows to be true. The track once again shows Dire Straits trying new things as it takes the fast-paced nature of “Expresso Love” and makes it almost frenetic in its frustration with the world. The song feels like a frustrated man venting his disappointment with reality, and after the heartbreak of earlier songs on the album, it could have been a good place to end. The actual closing track, “Les Boys”, is easily the worst song on the album. It suffers from the same fate as songs on Communiqué, as its sparse instrumentation feels like a pale imitation of the band’s debut album. It’s strange that Dire Straits chose to return to their old style of music to end the album that altered their sound.
Making Movies is imperfect, but it marks a turning point in the artistic evolution of the band that sees them move on from attempting to stick to the formula they created with their first album to make more daring and ultimately better songs. Dire Straits and Communiqué end up sounding like a prototype version of the band that has not yet gained that final element that will make them truly great. That final piece emerges in this third album as Dire Straits lays the musical groundwork for their eventual global domination.