Friday, April 28, 2017

JONATHAN DEMME (1944 - 2017)


I have been looking back on the life and film career of Jonathan Demme, who passed away on April 26th at the age of seventy-three after a lengthy battle with cancer, and I am truly stunned by how many amazing eclectic works of cinema this exceptional filmmaker has left behind. I had always admired the director considerably and became a life-long fan ever since I saw my first film from him, "Something Wild", the 1986 road-trip comedy that helped make names out of little-known actors at the time, Melanie Griffith, Jeff Daniels and Ray Liotta. I later caught up with the films he made before this and certainly saw almost everything he made afterwards.

He began his film career working for low-budget indie producer, Roger Corman and worked his way up to directing such titles as "Crazy Mama", "Caged Heat" and "Fighting Mad". He eventually went Hollywood with "Melvin and Howard" (which won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Mary Steenburgen) and "Swing Shift" but he had such a difficult time on the film with star and producer, Goldie Hawn due to creative differences that Demme soon retreated back to independent films.

He made two charming comedies, "Something Wild" and "Married To The Mob" before moving on to make two dramas that would make him an important name in cinema; "Philadelphia" which starred Tom Hanks (who won his first Oscar for his role) and Denzel Washington in one of the first Hollywood films to address the AIDS crisis. And "Silence of The Lambs", a traditional yet highly well-made horror-thriller that improbably won an impressive five Academy Awards with Anthony Hopkins for Best Actor, Jodie Foster for Best Actress,  Best Adapted ScreenplayBest Director and Best Picture.

Demme was a big music fan and made some outstanding concert films and documentaries involving musicians such as the Talking Heads concert film, "Stop Making Sense", "Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids" and three concert documentaries with Neil Young.

I'm sad to say they don't make filmmakers like Jonathan Demme anymore. He worked confidently in all genres of cinema and did them all well with style, passion and introspection. He was interested in simply telling good stories and far less concerned about catering his films for commercial appeal or box-office glory. Jonathan Demme was an artist in the truest sense of the word and will be greatly missed.

If you have not seen many (or any!?) of Mr. Demme's films, do yourself a huge favor and binge as much as you can of his incredible work. I have posted the trailers of some of my personal favorites: