Saturday, 29 April 2017

RIP Jonathan Demme

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For the second time this month, the film community has lost an extremely talented visual artist. Following the death of Michael Ballhaus, we now have to say goodbye to Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme, who has died at the age of 73.

Much of the tributes and praise for Demme has focussed, quite rightfully, on The Silence of the Lambs. To this day it remains one of only three films (the others being It Happened One Night and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest) to have won the 'big five' at the Oscars - Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. While many Hannibal Lecter purists would hold that Michael Mann's Manhunter is better, or lament the way the series subsequently progressed, 'Lambs still holds a lot of its original power, thanks in no small part to Demme's deft means of dealing with actors. Like Billy Wilder before him, Demme's background in screenwriting allowed him to keep character empathy at the centre of his film, making his stylistic choices feel constantly naturalistic.
But there was much more to Demme than his Oscar triumph. His career had many twists and turns, bringing us a number of classics in each of their given genres. With Stop Making Sense, he gave us one of the greatest concert films of all time, catching Talking Heads at their peak and showing that there was still life in the format in the same year that This Is Spinal Tap called it into question.
Married to the Mob still holds up as both a great vehicle for Michelle Pfeiffer and a very funny comedy sending up the conventions of the gangster film. And Philadelphia - which earned Tom Hanks his first Oscar - is a powerful drama which played an important role in bringing the AIDS crisis to wider attention in America. Even his weaker films, like his remake of The Manchurian Candidate, still have a spark to them thanks to Demme's energy behind the camera.
If you want to pay tribute to Demme, any of the films I have mentioned above would be appropriate; I would personally opt for a double bill of Stop Making Sense and The Silence of the Lambs. I'll leave you with this wonderful behind-the-scenes image from the latter. RIP.
Daniel

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