Director Jonathan Demme died today, 73 years old. In the clip above, he and Paul Thomas Anderson (who’s a big fan) talk about the creative process behind Demme’s films at the 2015 Austin Film Festival. If you want to learn more about The Silence of the Lambs (1991), go ahead and listen.
Born in Baldwin, New York, Demme started out in showbiz as a writer and producer, working on Roger Corman’s movies in the 1970s. That’s also where he got his chance at directing, making low-budget exploitation and action/comedy films for Corman’s studio. He broke into the mainstream with comedies in the 1980s, such as Melvin and Howard (1980), Swing Shift (1984), Something Wild (1986) and Married to the Mob (1988), none of them outstanding but effective genre pieces.
This was also the decade when Demme made his mark as a documentary filmmaker. In 1984, he released Stop Making Sense, his first concert film, an incredibly dynamic experience starring Talking Heads; in the clip above, the band performs “Once in a Lifetime”. Demme also made music videos for several artists and other documentaries, such as Man from Plains (2007), about President Jimmy Carter. He cared about humanistic causes, which he frequently returned to in his documentaries.
In the 1990s, Demme abandoned comedies in favor of darker subject matters. The Silence of the Lambs became his greatest success, earning him an Oscar. A marvelously taut and scary thriller, it featured amazing performances and Demme’s deliberately subjective camera helped create a hypnotic atmosphere, as in the clip above, Clarice’s (Jodie Foster) first meeting with serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).
Philadelphia (1993) became known as Hollywood’s first real attempt at depicting the AIDS crisis. Even though Demme’s career went into decline after that, he still made Rachel Getting Married in 2008, a realistic, hand-held drama with lots of good live music throughout. In many ways, that film combined some of the director’s best traits.
Demme’s last movie was Ricki and the Flash (2015), starring Meryl Streep as an aging rocker. Seems like a somewhat appropriate way to end an admirable career.