The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Jonathan Demme

Jonathan Demme

Jonathan Demme’s death is a huge loss – both to us film fans, as well as those who knew him personally. In the days since his death, former colleagues, assistants, friends, family, etc, all came forward with tales of how Demme was among the most gracious of Hollywood power players, with none uttering an unkind word about him. By all accounts in empathetic man, his film legacy stands toe-to-toe with any of his best contemporaries, including Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.

One thing worth taking note of is how THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS stands as the only horror film to sweep the Oscars. Not only did it win best picture, but also best director for Demme, best adapted screenplay, best actress (for the great Jodie Foster)and best actor. The four main categories, picture, director, actor, actress have only ever been won two other times, and none since SILENCE OF THE LAMBS took them. And don’t forget, before SILENCE, Anthony Hopkins was an almost anonymous British character actor (THE ELEPHANT MAN was probably his closest shot at stardom ten years before). After – he was a megastar, with Hopkins noting in a tribute that "he was one of the best, and a really nice guy as well who had such a great spirit. Every day being with him was a high five."

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS would have been enough to mark him as one of the greats, but there’s so much more to him. SOMETHING WILD stands as one of the most gonzo comedy-thriller hybrids of the eighties (in which he discovered Ray Liotta), MARRIED TO THE MOB is a pre-“Sopranos” gem with a career best performance by Dean Stockwell, PHILADELPHIA gave Tom Hanks his first crack at drama, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED established Anne Hathaway as one of the greats, and so on.

His Best Work

I love THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, but as a Michael Mann-devotee, I can’t help but have a slight bias against it for how it overshadows Mann’s MANHUNTER in the pantheon of Thomas Harris adaptations. Of Demme’s films, the one I return to most is PHILADELPHIA. Audiences nowadays may think PHILADELPHIA is a rather safe movie about AIDS, but in 1992, this was cutting-edge stuff. The disease just wasn’t talked about in major films, and depicting its ravages so evocatively, while also not shying away from homosexuality, then still wildly taboo in films, well – let’s just say this was the water-cooler film to end all water cooler films. It stands as a superb courtroom drama, with awesome acting by Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, and the type of movie Hollywood is too wimpy to try nowadays.

His Most Overrated Work

The one movie where I felt Demme phoned things-in was his remake of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. It’s just not a movie that ever needed to be remade (nor did CHARADE, which he remade as the much-maligned THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE). He puts some style into it, specifically through the Tak Fujimoto visuals and the oddball soundtrack selections (his soundtracks are always amazing), but overall the film is disposable, something none of his other films can be accused of being.

His Most Underrated Film

MARRIED TO THE MOB is too often dismissed as just a goofy mob comedy. To me, it’s part of a loose trilogy with Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS and David Chase’s “The Sopranos”, in that it depicts the human, day-to-day aspect of mob life. Others did it better, but Demme did it first. The movie has a wild style, with Tak Fujimoto again contributing far-out, new wave colors, while frequent subject David Byrne kicks in a propulsive soundtrack, filled with cool new wave hits, including New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle”. The performances are dynamite, with Dean Stockwell amazing as the amorous capo, and Mercedes Ruehl stealing scenes as his wife, jealous over her husband’s obsession with Michelle Pfeiffer’s widow.

His Most Badass Moment

What else can it be but that insane scene with Hopkins, as Lecter, it rolled out on a gurney, his face locked-up to avoid him taking a bite out of anyone. The sense of dread Demme built around this character is legendary, explaining how Hopkins won the Best Actor Oscar despite only being in the movie for twenty minutes or so.

His Five Best Films


Up Next

Demme’s final film, the Justin Timberlake concert doc, Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids, is on Netflix, and some of his more unconventional work, like the Talking Heads concert film, STOP MAKING SENSE, or his trilogy of Spalding Grey filmed monologues are just waiting to be discovered by the adventurous film fan. Rest in peace sir.

Source: JoBlo.com



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