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.