Jonathan Demme: 1944 – 2017

Master director Jonathan Demme has passed on today from complications due to heart disease and Cancer. He leaves behind an impressive legacy of feature films in all genres, including a robust palette of documentaries and concert films. While Demme was never the household name a la Scorsese, Spielberg or Hitchcock, he was always making films that have stood the test of time, and had major cache from cinephiles; from his early years in the Roger Corman school of exploitation trash, such as Caged Heat and Black Mama White Mama (the latter of which he wrote the screenplay for), through-out the eighties with underrated films like Something Wild and his magnificent documentaries on Spalding Grey (Swimming to Cambodia) and The Talking Heads (Stop Making Sense!) His 1998 comedy Married To The Mob, might just be the most underrated comedy of that decade.

His profile rose considerably with the Oscar sweep of horror-procedural-camp The Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Throughout the 1990s Demme films were consistently recognized come awards time: Philadelphia, which ‘elevated’ Tom Hanks from a comedy actor to a capital “S” serious drama guy, and also brought major mainstream attention to gay issues in America, and Beloved, adapted from Toni Morrison’s slavery novel, which put TV icon Oprah Winfrey in front of the film camera to great effect.

While his remake of The Manchurian Candidate was quietly forgotten, I know Andrew around these parts will always shout the praises for his low-key stylized wedding drama, Rachel Getting Married – which gave serious actor credibility to Anne Hathaway, due to her wonderful performance. Demme continued to support her now very successful career, making a point of showing up to the TIFF premiere of Hathaway starring Colossal.

I personally have not kept up with his recent work of the past 5 or 6 years, but the films always get wide play on the A-list festival circuit, including his 2016 documentary on Justin Timberlake.

I suppose that was the wonderful thing about Jonathan Demme, as a director and a storyteller (and I am guessing here, as a person), he made sure everyone involved looked good, and his own directorial flourishes were only ever in service of the story and the characters of his films. As one of Americas premiere filmmakers, and a key influence on the current wave of A-list directors (P.T. Anderson to Alexander Payne and Wes Anderson have all payed homage to his style of close-up for emotional effect) he will be sorely missed.

The Guardian has more.

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Andrew James
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So sad to hear about this. I’m ashamed I’ve not seen anything by him since 2008 – which is quite a load of stuff! But Kurt’s got my number with “Rachel Getting Married” (which I saw in Toronto the first (of five theatrical viewings) time). It will always be one of my favorites of all time and is still at the top of my LetterBoxd profile since day one.

Thanks to our 1984 project from last year I was joyous over “Stop Making Sense” and consider it to be one of (if not the) best concert docs of all time – despite me not really being a huge fan of Talking Heads.

Luckily he’s left us with a huge and varied filmography that I have not seen a lot of. So there’s still gas in that engine.

Sad to see you go sir!

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