One of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers is up to that great “Theater in the Sky”. Jonathan Demme, known for his work on films such as Married to the Mob and the introduction of Sir Anthony Hopkins’ take of the maniacal Hannibal Lecter, Silence of the Lambs, lost his battle with cancer at the age of 73 yesterday.
Born on April 26, 1944 in Baldwin, New York, Demme got his start in the film industry under the legendary Roger Corman, doing exploitation films in the 1970’s. His first film was Angels as Hard as They Come, a motorcycle film due in the style of Akira Kurosawa‘s Rashomon. Demme only co-wrote and produced the film along with that film’s director Joe Viola with the duo working on 1972’s The Hot Box.
In 1974, Demme made his directorial debut with Caged Heat, which became a pioneering film in the famed “women in prison” subgenre of the exploitative action film with Corman serving as producer. He would go on to direct two more films with Corman’s New World Pictures, Crazy Mama in 1975 and Fighting Mad in 1976.
Throughout the 1980’s, Demme’s attempts to go into the mainstream were met with resistance. This was notable on the set of 1984’s Swing Shift, in which he and star Goldie Hawn had creative differences on the set, which led to Demme denouncing the film. He would go on to direct the concert film Stop Making Sense with The Talking Heads and the underrated comedy Married to the Mob with Michelle Pfeiffer in 1988.
In 1991, Demme finally hit the major mainstream when he adapted Thomas Harris‘ novel The Silence of the Lambs. The film feature exhilarating performances by Jodie Foster as agent Clarice Starling and Sir Anthony Hopkins as the incarcerated cannibalistic killer turned ally Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The horror film was a major hit at the box office and Demme would go on to earn the Best Director award at the 64th Academy Awards in 1992 and the film itself would be the only horror film ever to take the top prize of Best Picture.
Demme proved lightning can strike twice with his riveting drama Philadelphia in 1993, which earned Tom Hanks the Best Actor award at the Academy Awards for his portrayal of a businessman who affliction with AIDS leads him to be improperly fired from his job. He would continue to make interesting films such as adapting Toni Morrison‘s Beloved in 1998, a remake of The Manchurian Candidate in 2004, and the 2008 indie drama Rachel Getting Married.
Demme is survived by his three children, Ramona, Jos, and Brooklyn. His nephew, Ted Demme, was another filmmaker who passed away in 2002 at the age of 38.
World Film Geek sends its condolences to the family of Jonathan Demme. As a final tribute, we present Jonathan Demme winning his Best Director award at the 64th Academy Awards for Silence of the Lambs in 1992:
Rest in Peace, Jonathan Demme.