Jonathan Demme (22 February 1944 – 26 April 2017)
Like many of his contemporaries, Jonathan Demme started his movie career working for Roger Corman. He wrote several screenplays, including The Hot Box (1972) and Caged Heat (1974 – which he also directed), and had several modest successes as a director in the mid-Seventies. He learned his craft well, and over the next decade Demme made a succession of well received movies as well as a string of music videos for bands such as Talking Heads and New Order (a group whose songs featured in pretty much all his movies from the Eighties onwards). Demme chose his projects carefully and as a result he wasn’t the most prolific of directors when it came to features, but he was a committed documentarian, making over a dozen during his career.
It was a certain Oscar-winning movie in 1991 that gave Demme his biggest exposure as a director, but though he could have used that success to helm any movie he wanted to, he continued to choose projects that most other directors would have passed on, from intimate documentary portrait Cousin Bobby (1992), to literary adaptation Beloved (1998), to the well intentioned but unsuccessful remake of Charade (1964), The Truth About Charlie (2002) (on the subject of remakes he never thought it was “sacrilegious to remake any movie”; for Demme it was “sacrilegious to make a bad movie”). He kept returning to music documentaries, and ventured into television, ensuring that he continued to have a varied, and sometimes eclectic career.
He was known primarily for his use of close-ups, for finding roles for his “stock company” (actors such as Charles Napier and Dean Stockwell), and for his work having had a profound influence on the writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. If anything, Demme was a mercurial director who never quite received the acclaim that his body of work deserved, but for anyone who has followed his career since those heady days working for Roger Corman, he was an intelligent, perceptive director whose talent and skill behind the camera meant that whatever project he was working on, it would always be worth watching.
1 – Caged Heat (1974)
2 – Melvin and Howard (1980)
3 – Stop Making Sense (1984)
4 – Something Wild (1986)
5 – Swimming to Cambodia (1987)
6 – The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
7 – Philadelphia (1993)
8 – Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006)
9 – Rachel Getting Married (2008)
10 – I’m Carolyn Parker (2011)