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Jonathan Demme 1944 – 2017

Jonathan Demme has passed away. He was one of the few directors I wanted to work with but unfortunately (for me) I never got that chance. We met when he was one of my instructors in a directing class I took many years ago. I strongly think that if I had taken the film director path in my career, I would have patterned it after Jonathan’s. I love (and share in my own way) his broad mix of genres. I completely understand his deep passion for music and its effective use in films.

Here is a list of the films he has directed. Most are fiction (or fictionalized) — but he was a fine documentary film director as well.
Caged Heat
Crazy Mama
Fighting Mad
Handle With Care
Last Embrace
Melvin and Howard
Swing Shift
Stop Making Sense
Something Wild
Swimming to Cambodia
Haiti: Dreams of Democracy
Married to the Mob
The Silence of the Lambs
Cousin Bobby
The Complex Sessions
Storefront Hitchcock
The Truth About Charlie
The Agronomist
The Manchurian Candidate
Neil Young: Heart of Gold
Man From Plains
Right to Return: New Home Movies From the Lower 9th Ward
Rachel Getting Married
Neil Young Trunk Show
I’m Carolyn Parker
Neil Young Journeys
Enzo Avitabile Music Life
A Master Builder
Ricki and the Flash
What’s Motivating Hayes
Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids

I’ve seen most of these films but not all of them. Of the ones that I have seen, each was terrific. I look forward to viewing the rest of Demme’s oeuvre with great anticipation.

Like me, Demme received a big break and entry into the world of film making from Roger Corman. Jonathan’s first three films as a director were made for Roger. Prior to that, Jonathan had written the screenplays Angels Hard As They Come and The Hot Box for Corman.

As a documentary filmmaker, Jonathan knew when to get out of the way and let his subject tell its story. His concert documentaries like Stop Making Sense and Neil Young: Heart of Gold, as well as his filming of Spalding Gray’s fascinating monologue Swimming to Cambodia are fine examples of this.

Something Wild and The Silence of the Lambs are my two favorite Jonathan Demme movies. Something Wild really took me by surprise. Demme was fantastic with actors and had a real sense of their possibilities. Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith are both amazing in this film, yet the biggest scene stealing in this movie resulted from the terrifying screen debut of Ray Liotta (Liotta’s only screen appearance prior to Something Wild was a part in The Lonely Lady). Something Wild is one of a small genre of films I love in which the lead character who seems at first to be the story’s victim refuses to take that role and instead, through wit and intelligence, is constantly one-upping the story’s monstrous villain (another superb example of this genre is the 1978 Canadian film The Silent Partner with Elliott Gould, Christopher Plummer and Susannah York).

It’s no secret that I love horror films. Jonathan Demme directed the only horror film to win the Best Picture Academy Award: The Silence of the Lambs. The Silence of the Lambs, in fact, won what are considered in Hollywood to be “The Big Five” Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best (Adapted) Screenplay and Best Director. I’ve seen nearly every horror film that’s ever been released, so I’m subject to a numbing effect (plus, I work in The Biz; when I watch a film I’m constantly analyzing what’s working and what’s not, and how certain effects were achieved). Sadly, it takes a very special film to really scare me and lose me in its story. The Silence of the Lambs is one of those films that made me forget I was watching a movie. It sucked me right in; and when Buffalo Bill turns of the lights near the end of the film, I was terrified.

Shame on me for not seeing all of Jonathan Demme’s movies. But Lucky Me! — for I’ve got plenty of wonderful films to look forward to viewing.

Rest In Peace to a great storytelling talent and a fellow music aficionado: Jonathan Demme.

1 thought on “Jonathan Demme 1944 – 2017

  1. If Rachel Getting Married is one you missed you should get to that one soon. I really liked it quite a bit

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