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Jonathan Demme has died.

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  • D.N. Nation

    The split scene where Clarice Starling is knocking on Buffalo Bill’s door and the FBI’s busting into the wrong house. Perfection.

    • Crusty

      Also those early dungeon scenes with Lecter and Starling. I think the accomplishment there was to take what could have been gory trash and elevate it. At least that’s what I tell myself when I stop to watch it when flipping through the channels.

      • wjts

        The source material is actually pretty good.

        • Judas Peckerwood

          And its predecessor Red Dragon is even better.

          • wjts

            I think I liked The Silence of the Lambs more, but they’re both very good thrillers. Hannibal, though, was pretty dire. (The book and the movie, not the TV show.)

            • Judas Peckerwood

              I count Hannibal as the single biggest literary letdown I’ve ever experienced.

              • wjts

                I’d say Denis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile.

                • Judas Peckerwood

                  Thanks for the tip, will avoid.

                • Crusty

                  I thought it was ok, though I’ve generally been a little disappointed with the work of Wire writers whose books I sought out, the other being Richard Price.

                • wjts

                  Did you read the other Kenzie and Gennaro books, or just Moonlight Mile? I can imagine it standing on its own as a competent but mediocre thriller, but as sequel to five excellent books in that vein it was a colossal let-down.

                  ETA: And re: other The Wire writers, I’ve had a George Pelecanos book on my shelf for a while now but haven’t gotten around to it. He’s supposed to be pretty good.

                • Hogan

                  I like Pelecanos a lot.

                • Crusty

                  Yeah, I read Moonlight Mile in isolation, without the others.

              • sharculese

                In all fairness, Thomas Harris was told “we own the IP and we’re making another movie. It’s your choice whether or not to write the book it’s based on, but, if you are, you’re writing it now.”

        • It really is, and strongly feminist to boot, not only in its subject matter – which spends a great deal of time talking about how all women are made to feel uncomfortable in their skins – but in featuring multiple relationships between women, including mentoring ones.

          Not to speak ill of the recently-dead, but Demme deserves some opprobrium for cutting a lot of that stuff from the movie. The fact that he removed Starling’s mother – who in the book is a major inspiration for her – and replaced her with a fairly standard daddy-issues backstory is basically everything that’s wrong with how Hollywood handles female characters.

          • BigHank53

            One of the handicaps of the feature film is its short length. Exploring a character’s relationship with his/parents can take more time than is feasible, making cliche the only option.

            • Yeah, there’s always an excuse, some supposedly neutral reason rooted in economics or limited resources. But somehow the outcome of those limitations always seems to shake out in a way that shortchanges people who are not white men. Say there was only room in SotL for one of Starling’s parents. Why did it have to be her father?

              • BigHank53

                Oh, I’m not defending the decision. Demme could have been lazy or he could have been told to chop ten minutes out of the script. Visual narrative and text are two very, very different things and what works in one can be a horrible indigestible lump in the other.

                I suspect this is one of the reasons behind the rise of the TV miniseries as a respectable artform.

              • Ahenobarbus

                That’s not necessarily on Demme. Was the change in the script, or was it actually filmed and cut?

          • wjts

            Which makes Hannibal even more disappointing.

            • D.N. Nation

              If you go into Hannibal thinking it’s going to be baroque nonsense, then it’s….not a terrible experience, I guess.

            • Assuming you’re talking about the book, I’ve always felt that it has a stealthy undercurrent of feminist intent. If Silence is a book about a woman triumphing despite the misogyny of the people and institutions arrayed against her, then Hannibal is a book about a woman who has been banging her head against that system for ten years, as each of her champions – women with power and men who aren’t afraid of strong women – are eliminated and replaced by misogynists, until she finally decides, fuck it, I’ll just eat you guys.

              I mean, it doesn’t work, and all the baroque nonsense in the Lecter half of the story is terrible (and all the more disappointing because Silence and Red Dragon are so spare), but I think the intent was there.

          • I’m not personally familiar with either the source material or the film (I suspect both would scare and/or nauseate the fuck out of me; I tried watching the TV series of Hannibal and had to stop after four or five episodes due to the extreme nausea it was causing me, despite its clearly amazing artistic qualities), but apparently part of the book clarifying that Buffalo Bill isn’t a real trans woman was removed from the film adaptation, which is quite unfortunate.

            Some of that, like people have said, probably has to do with how one has to trim a novel to adapt it for screen, but it’s unfortunate how there’s a seeming pattern like this among what gets cut. I also agree that this is probably a major reason we’re seeing an increasing number of TV miniseries (that, plus the fact that TV has just gotten way better).

            Not sure how much any of this can be blamed on Demme specifically, though; I’d assume the call for that would be on the screenwriter, if anyone. I certainly haven’t seen anything by Demme that wasn’t impeccably directed, at least. A major loss for sure; he probably had quite a few more great films left in him.

            Demme also seems to have realised in the aftermath of the film that there was an absence of positive portrayals of queer characters long before lots of other people in Hollywood did, which certainly speaks well of him.

    • It’s kind of unfortunate how it’s become a cinematic cliché, because the original still holds up even when you know it’s coming, but almost every imitation of it is so obvious that the real surprise would be if they ended up at the right house.

    • tsam

      Starling in the dark basement, and the view through the night vision–one of the great suspense scenes I’ve ever witnessed.

  • wjts

    Stop Making Sense is (justifiably) the Demme concert film people are most likely to think of, but I also like Storefront Hitchcock an awful lot. And The Silence of the Lambs is the best movie I’ve never been able to bring myself to rewatch.

    • Denverite

      My daughter has been on a kick of watching classic movies from the 90s over the weekend (last week was Shawshank, week before was Unforgiven), maybe we’ll do Silence this weekend.

      • Ronan

        Jesus, theyre calling movies from the 90s classics now? Im feeling old.

        • wjts

          I remember The Godfather being referred to as a classic around the time that Pulp Fiction came out and Pulp Fiction is closer chronologically to The Godfather than it is to any movie that will come out this year.

          • Denverite

            I was going to make exactly this point. Same movies and everything.

            • wjts

              I’m not surprised. You’re an old man like me and Ronan.

              • Denverite

                True enough.

                • rea

                  You young’uns. I’m old enough to have seen Ben Hur (the Heston version) first run.

                • Ronan

                  True, but youve had decades to reconcile yourself to that fact, rea. For us the epiphany is only hitting now. It’s only now i truly understand that every day truly is a blessing.

                • Ronan

                  Apart from today, which was actually kind of shit.

          • Ronan

            Fair points, gentlemen, though Im sure my equivalent from that epoch was as disconsolate as I am now.

          • tsam

            I remember The Godfather being referred to as a classic around the time that Pulp Fiction came out and Pulp Fiction is closer chronologically to The Godfather than it is to any movie that will come out this year.

            I refuse to accept this. It is NOT happening.

            • eh

              Nirvana’s “Nevermind” is closer to the Beatles than it is to now.

    • Lot_49

      In 2006 Demme made a concert film about Neil Young and his folks playing at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. If you like Neil Young, it’s a terrific movie; if not, not.

      • wjts

        I don’t have particularly strong feelings one way or the other about Neil Young.

        • N__B

          How does he feel about you?

          • Judas Peckerwood

            Don’t get him started.

          • wjts

            He left a message on my answering machine 15 years ago that started by saying he’d nailed a doubloon to his mic stand and promised it to whichever member of the road crew or the band spotted me first and ended with him swearing to chase me round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before he’d give me up. Unless it was a wrong number, I’m inclined to think he doesn’t like me very much.

            • Judas Peckerwood

              Don’t take it personally — he does that to everyone.

              • N__B

                Everyone who takes one of his legs, sure.

                • BigHank53

                  If I’d known he’d be that upset about it, I would have mailed it back years ago.

                • wjts

                  If that’s what this is about, I didn’t know he was using the leg when I took it.

          • Thom

            Doesn’t mean that much to him to mean that much to you.

        • Denverite

          After seeing Jimmy Fallon’s impression of Young I can’t watch or even listen to the real deal without cracking up.

    • cleek

      Storefront Hitchcock

      hear, hear

  • twbb

    Sad. I was filmed for some documentary project he was working on but never found out if it ever got made into something.

    • twbb

      (along with a bunch of other people as part of something on Haitian music, I was just part of the background)

      • jonp72

        Demme did a documentary about the Haitian radio host and activist, Jean Dominique, which was released under the title The Agronomist. That one did get a release, although not as widely as his more commercial movies.

  • Dilan Esper

    Married to the Mob is underrated.

    • Denverite


    • Davis

      I loved it, too, but I never thought of it as underrated. Maybe it was, but I don’t know anyone who didn’t like it, even the critics. Michelle Pfeiffer’s best role, I think.

      • JB2

        And career bests (or near career-bests) from Matthew Modine, Dean Stockwell, Mercedes Ruehl. Cool small rolls and cameos from Alec Baldwin, Chris Isaak, Oliver Platt, and Grandpa from the Munsters

        I LOVE Married to the Mob. Easily my favorite of his films.

        Also great use of the Pixies in the closing credits, before hardly anybody had heard of them.

  • I enjoyed Married to the Mob. “Some clown just tried to kill me!” cracked me up.

  • Russell Arben Fox

    I rewatched Philadelphia recently, and was really impressed at how effectively Demme framed close-ups to create a feeling of (often, but not always) sexual discomfort, with both the performers and the audience. A strong sub-theme of that whole plot is that there is at least one another closeted gay man at the law firm, who is, perversely, trying to crucify another gay man out some kind of twisted show of defiance. But who is that man? Or are we just allowing ourselves to believe that is the case? And doesn’t allowing ourselves to be drawn into the story in that way just implicate us all in some sort of latent homophobia? Not the most subtle of director tools, but I thought it worked impressively, even creepily, well.

    • A strong sub-theme of that whole plot is that there is at least one another closeted gay man at the law firm, who is, perversely, trying to crucify another gay man out some kind of twisted show of defiance

      Roy Cohn?

  • When I was a teen, there weren’t many underage clubs or shows in our town. So Friday nights after work, my friends and I would attend the midnight showing of Stop Making Sense to dance and meet girls. I probably saw SMS fifty times. It is a great film.

    RIP, Mr Demme.

    • njorl

      I went to see it fairly early after release, so most of the crowd didn’t know exactly what to expect. Partway in, whole rows of seats was rocking in time, threatening to snap their floor bolts. Less than halfway through people just got up and started spontaneously dancing in the aisles.

      • Nice. I saw it during its original run too (my dad took me!), but it was a mostly-empty theater.

    • osceola

      When I saw it, some of us went up front (to the side, so we weren’t blocking the screen) to dance, and we were told to stop.

      Also, I saw them the year before, and the film was the show I saw on that tour. Definitely in my Top Five favorite concerts.

      • Awesome! To my lasting shame, I never made it out to see them.

      • I saw them at the US Festival in 1982; one of the two or three most memorable performances I’ve seen. The Police closed that night, but as well as they did and as big a Police fan as I was, Talking Heads stole the show.

  • Something Wild the quintessential 80s New Wave film, as someone said.

    And one of my favorite Demme films is his Swimming to Cambodia which captures the incredible Spalding Gray in all of his focused thoughtful manic neurotic intensity.

    • Agreed – loved Something Wild and Swimming to Cambodia.

    • jeer9

      Thirded. SW is my favorite Demme film.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      I really disliked Something Wild when it came out. To the point that I used tell myself I dislike Demme as a director. But, in fact, I love a number of his films, especially Stop Making Sense and The Silence of the Lambs.

  • Hogan

    Melvin and Howard.

    • If I ever knew, I’d forgotten that was Demme, though I love that movie.

      The two most interesting actors in American Graffiti were Candy Clark and Paul Le Mat, but neither made much of a mark after that. It strikes me that Robert Urich somehow ended up with Le Mat’s career.

      • cpinva

        actually, I think Henry Winkler ended up with Paul LeMat’s career. but you’re right, those two had the most interesting parts, and made much of them.

        I don’t think I realized Mr. Demme was that old. for some reason, I always pictured him as much younger.

    • Davis

      Yes. Great story, well-told.

    • Bitter Scribe

      I was wondering if anyone would remember that one. Yes, it was great.

  • Crusty

    If you enjoyed Stop Making Sense you might want to check out Documentary Now’s Test Pattern episode.

    • wjts

      I usually can’t stand Fred Armisen, but I really enjoyed the first season of Documentary Now!, particularly the Grey Gardens and Nanook of the North episodes.

  • This is a really good piece on Demme’s directing of music videos (New Order’s The Perfect Kiss is IMHO the best of the lot and a personal favorite of mine.)

  • bobbo1

    I went to that concert at the Greek Theater but I missed the first 3 songs because I was stuck in fucking traffic. Fortunately there was a movie.

  • Thank you SEK, for teaching me how to read this clip: the framing, the long takes, when and why it switches to jumpier cuts.

  • Jake the antisoshul soshulist

    What? No love for Caged Heat?

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