Director Jonathan Demme has died at the age of 73. To celebrate his remarkable, diverse and wide-ranging body of work, Fandom has picked our four favourite films from his back catalogue.
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
With Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme was responsible for making horror respectable, and opened the door for a wave of big-budget, sophisticated horror films. It was the first scary movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture, which it bagged at the 64th Academy Awards ceremony in 1992. It’s still the only horror film to win. Demme, of course, also picked up Best Director.
The film won another three awards that year – for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Based on the bestselling novel by Thomas Harris, the film follows fledgling FBI agent Clarice Starling – Jodie Foster in a career-defining role – on the hunt for a serial killer. She seeks the help of the frighteningly intelligent, erudite and charming Hannibal Lecter, memorably and chillingly portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, an incarcerated psychopath who plays mind games with the dogged yet wet-behind-the-ears Clarice.
It influenced a host of serial killer thrillers that followed in its wake, notably David Fincher’s Seven and Zodiac.
One of the first mainstream movies to actually acknowledge AIDS, Demme’s Philidelphia signaled a shift in the mainstream media to more accurately represent the LGBT community.
Philidelphia’s powerful and timely story, along with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington’s expert performances, also meant that this film went down in history as one of the greats. How it dealt with compassion and emotion was regularly devastating, full of so much meaning and guts that it rendered viewers inconsolable, but in all the right ways.
This film pulled no punches and personified the sincerity with which Demme always handled his subject matter.
Back in the 1980s, Jonathan Demme was dipping his toe into comedy waters. 1986 comedy crime caper Something Wild paired an effervescent Melanie Griffith with regular Joe Jeff Daniels.
She’s the wild and sexy Lulu – aka Audrey – who offers him a lift one day, but instead of taking him to his office like she promises takes him with her to visit her mum, and on to her high-school reunion. When they run into her ex-con ex-husband Ray, played by Ray Liotta, things get a lot more complicated, with Charlie’s life thrown into complete disarray.
A cult 80s flick, Something Wild is more than just a comedy and you can see early signs of Demme’s work to come. It also has a pretty awesome soundtrack, which comes complete with a New Order track – a band for whom Demme has shot music videos.
Stop Making Sense (1984)
Shot over three nights at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre in December 1983 and released in 1984, Stop Making Sense captures Talking Heads live, and is without doubt one of the greatest concert movies of all-time. The film kicks off with lead singer David Byrne walking onstage alone and performing an acoustic version of “Psycho Killer”. With each successive song a band member joins him, until the full line-up finally tears through a powerhouse performance of “Burning Down the House”. It’s live music at its best, made all-the-more-memorable by the eccentric Byrne wearing a suit that gets larger as the gig progresses.