Deadline is reporting that Jonathan Demme, acclaimed director of films like Stop Making Sense, Philadelphia, and the seminal The Silence of the Lambs has died. He passed away from esophageal cancer in his home in New York City. While no memorial plans have been announced, his family has asked that people support his favorite charity, Americans for Immigrant Justice.
Jonathan Demme is the type of director someone like Brett Ratner wishes he could be. While I wouldn’t add him on my list of greatest directors of all time, his work on The Silence of the Lambs alone should put him on the list of best directors of the 90’s. Capturing the essence of the great novel from Thomas Harris and adding in the legendary Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, he created a movie that was a tour de force. For a movie that was considered horror as well as being released in February, two knocks against it come award time, it ended up winning five Oscars.
His best trait as a director was his ability to add personality and humanity to characters that in the hands of others would be two dimensional stick figures. Take the movie Red Dragon. Directed by Brett Ratner, it starred Anthony Hopkins and had some cameos from actors in The Silence of the Lambs, yet the film lacked one thing. Heart. You didn’t believe in the characters. I think of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the film who played Freddy Lounds. In the book, Francis Dolarhyde sets Freddy on fire after gluing him to a wheel chair. While the scene happens much the same in the movie, when Freddy Lounds wheel chair is speeding down the road with him on fire, the audience I was with in the theater laughed.
The Silence of the Lambs had a similar scene where Lecter kills a guard in a prison cell in a dramatic, almost operatic way. In the wrong hands, the audience would be laughing like they did in the Brett Ratner atrocity. Yet in Demme’s hands, you’re on edge, scared. The scenes aren’t too different but show the ability, or lack thereof, of the director’s involved.
So what do you think? What was your favorite Jonathan Demme movie? What will his legacy be on the movie industry? Sound off in the comments section below.
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