Jonathan Demme (1944-2017)

GTY-jonathan-demme-02-as-170426_12x5_1600The world has lost another great creative force, director Jonathan Demme, who died yesterday from complications from cancer. He was 73. Many people will remember Demme primarily as the director of The Silence of the Lambs (1991), some erroneously thinking that was his first film. It wasn’t; at that point he’d been making films for close to two decades.

The first Demme film I saw was Last Embrace (1979), a movie I ultimately didn’t care for, but I admired what he was aiming for as far as the film’s atmosphere, tone and level of suspense. I remember his next film, Melvin and Howard (1980) as more compelling, but since 35 years have passed since that first viewing, I desperately want to revisit it.

Demme worked a lot with music and that passion for music comes across even in his non-music video endeavors. Just go back and focus on the soundtracks of some of his narrative films, not only The Silence of the Lambs, but also Something Wild (1986), Philadelphia (1993) and many others. Demme also directed several documentaries, many of them having to do with music. Just looking at his list of credits makes me want to explore all of his films.

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Obviously many will cite The Silence of the Lambs as their personal favorite Demme film, but my favorite has to be the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense (1984). I previously discussed the film a couple of years ago, but also check out this excellent review from Jeff Duncanson at filmscreed. The unabashed celebration of creativity, energy and joy of performing make Stop Making Sense nothing short of a revelation.  Demme was successfully able to translate all of that into a documentary that leaves the audience not only filled with wonder and awe, but also elevated in spirit. That’s a tremendous gift.

I certainly want to learn more about Demme, his philosophy of filmmaking, his worldview, and more. The Robert E. Kapsis book Jonathan Demme: Interviews (part of the Conversations with Filmmakers series from University Press of Mississippi) might be a good place to start, although the book was published in 2008. Hopefully a major biography and more comprehensive study of Demme’s work will be forthcoming. In the meantime, please join me in celebrating Demme’s life and work through his films.

Photos: ABC News, Oak Cliff Film Festival

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