Sunday, April 30, 2017

R.I.P. Jonathan Demme (1944-2017)

Jonathan Demme
On April 26, 2017, director Jonathan Demme passed away a the age of 73 in Manhattan, New York from complications involving esophageal cancer and heart disease. Over the course of a career spanning over 45 years, he created one of the most diverse bodies of work that ranged from studio comedies to prestige thrillers to iconic concert documentaries. He leaves behind such great movies as The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, Stop Making Sense, and Rachel Getting Married. No matter how varied his career became, he still managed to influence with his unique style of close-ups and his ability to find tension in otherwise conventional scenes. His work was as influential as it was unpredictable, and that's just some of the reasons that he'll be missed greatly.

Demme was born on February 22, 1944 in Baldwin, New York. His early career owes a lot of credit to producer Roger Corman, who allowed him to co-write and produce the 1971 film Angels Hard as They Come: a motorcycle movie "loosely based" on Rashomon. From there, he became active in Corman's New World Pictues starting in 1974 with Caged Heat. He went on to work with Paramount Pictures on Handle with Care in 1977, but found that the acclaim didn't match the promotion and poor box office performance. By 1984, he was directing Warner Bros.' proposed prestige picture Swing Shift, starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. The film was mired in production issues and visions by Demme and Hawn. This conflict would lead Demme to step back from Hollywood films to direct the Talking Heads concert documentary Stop Making Sense, which would become considered one of the best concert movies of all time. By 1987, he founded his own production company with Edward Saxon and Peter Saraf called Clinica Estetico.

In 1991, he released his most acclaimed and successful film The Silence of the Lambs. Despite being a crime thriller, many considered it to be the only horror movie to win Best Picture. The film also was only one of three to win the "Big 5": Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster), and Best Original Screenplay. The film spawned a franchise revolving around serial killer Hannibal Lecter, though none were as critically successful. The film was praised for its great direction and the shots of actors staring into the camera to create a more menacing tone. However, there was backlash from the LGBT community regarding gay villain Buffalo Bill. While not entirely the reason, it inspired Demme to make Phliadelphia next: the first major studio AIDS drama, which also lead Tom Hanks to his first of two back-to-back Best Actor wins.

His career continued to flourish as he branched out into other forms. Along with occasional studio films, he created documentaries such as Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains that focused on the former president's book release of "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." He would later develop a handheld documentary style for the film Rachel Getting Married, which lead actress Anne Hathaway to her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress. His style continued to be revered and imitated by directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Alexander Payne, and Wes Anderson.

As some of his work would suggest, he was a political man whose liberal desires often showed in his work. He always stayed busy and never got too bogged down in one style of directing. Before his death, his final fictional film was the Mamie Gummer/Meryl Streep vehicle Ricki and the Flash, written by Diablo Cody. He also directed the Justin Timberlake concert documentary Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids. His work was great until the end and his passion for culture showed in all of his work. Even in passing, he leaves behind work that will be discussed at length and reverently for decades to come. There may be plenty that copied his style, but few actually did it as well as him.

No comments:

Post a Comment