RIP Jonathan Demme

Yesterday, the cinematic world and world at large lost one of the most versatile directors around. Jonathan Demme, known as a filmmaker who could do just about anything, passed away from cancer at the age of 73. He was the sort of artist who never did the same thing twice. Whether in fiction, non fiction, or music, he left a mark. Demme still had a lot left to say in film, so this loss definitely stings for the industry. Hollywood is a lesser place without his presence. Especially considering how he was just starting to get back into narrative work, Demme was taken from us all too soon.

Demme won the Academy Award for directing The Silence of the Lambs, helping to shepherd that film to all of the major Oscars. Having a Best Picture winner on your resume is something, and even more impressive when you win Best Director as well in the process. Remember, he convinced voters to go head over heels for not just a genre film, but a fairly gory horror outing at that. Consider that for a moment. Who else can say that? Essentially, no one. Nobody did what he did. The statue that he received is as well deserved a prize as any director has ever had. Getting that sort of movie over the hump is nearly impossible, but Demme did it.

Obviously, the movie that will ring true for most is the aforemetnioned The Silence of the Lambs. Beyond the awards, just watch it again and look at how perfectly crafted it is. There’s a beauty to the horror and a rhythm to all of the scares. A quality serial killer procedural at its core, Demme helped take a fantastic novel and arguably make an even better film out of it. Any list of the best horror flicks of all time has to include The Silence of the Lambs, and pretty high up on the list too. If there’s a title he’ll always be known for, it’s this one.

Personally, as great as The Silence of the Lambs is, I slightly prefer Philadelphia. Another film to win his leading man an Academy Award (Tom Hanks took Best Actor here, while as you all know, Anthony Hopkins took Best Actor with the aforementioned title, to go along with Jodie Foster winning Best Actress as well), this is one of the most moving films ever made. It’s also notable for me in that Demme convinced Bruce Springsteen, whom he had collaborated with on some music videos, to write the original song Streets of Philadelphia for the film. It would go on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song and become a hit on its own.

Here is how I would rank Demme’s ten best films:

10. The Manchurian Candidate
9. Jimmy Carter Man from Plains
8. Married to the Mob
7. Something Wild
6. Ricki and the Flash
5. Neil Young: Heart of Gold
4. Stop Making Sense
3. Rachel Getting Married
2. The Silence of the Lambs
1. Philadelphia

Looking at that list, you can clearly see that this was a man who could do just about any type of movie. There were classic musical documentaries, genre outings, a classic horror film, and prestige drama. The sky was always the limit for him. Even when he remade classics like The Manchurian Candidate, Demme was able to bring something interesting to the table. He will certainly be missed. That much is all too clear already. Go put on Philadelphia or The Silence of the Lambs this week and celebrate the man’s career. He was one of the best, that goes without saying.

Rest in Peace Mr. Demme…

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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