Tribute: Jonathan Demme

Posted on April 27, 2017 at 5:43 pm

We mourn the loss of director Jonathan Demme, who died yesterday of cancer. A filmmaker of exceptional warmth, humanity, and range, his loss has been felt sharply, and it has been touching to see how many journalists and critics began their appreciations by talking about his kindness and courtesy as well as his award-winning films, including “Silence of the Lambs,” “Philadelphia,” “Rachel Getting Married,” “Something Wild,” “Handle With Care,” and “Married to the Mob,” along with documentaries and concert films like “Stop Making Sense” and “Neil Young: Heart of Gold.”

At rogerebert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz wrote about the music that was an essential part not just of Demme’s films but of the lives of the characters in those films. One of “Philadelphia’s” most striking scenes has an ailing lawyer played by Tom Hanks describing his love for “La Mama Morta.”

He had a musical performer’s spirit. It shone through all his movies, even when they weren’t officially about music. He never made an according-to-Hoyle musical where characters burst into song and dance, although he got reasonably close with the World War II romantic drama “Swing Shift,” about a riveter who falls in love with a musician, and 2015’s “Ricki and the Flash,” starring Meryl Streep as a rock and roller who abandoned her family to chase musical stardom. But there were points where all of his movies threatened to morph into musicals—even the nightmarish thriller “The Silence of the Lambs” and the earnest message picture “Philadelphia,” both of which feature scenes in which a leading character is seized by the spirit of the classical music he’s listening to and pretends to conduct it.

I loved the way Demme so clearly loved his characters, not just the leads but every single person who inhabited his films. May his memory be a blessing.

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