By Rose Kuo rkuo@me.com

A Farewell To Jonathan Demme

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Jonathan Demme is the only person I have ever known who could decline an invitation you made in such a way that you still experienced the joy of his presence, even in his absence. Jonathan enthusiastically agreed to serve as a filmmaker-mentor during my tenure as the executive director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. He would pass on red carpet walks and skip the fancy gala dinners. Instead, he would slip in quietly to a theater to see the new film by an unknown filmmaker, and afterwards, enthusiastically share his excitement about the discovery.

Many will write about his accomplishments as a distinguished filmmaker of Oscar-winning films like Silence of the Lambs, Beloved, and Philadelphia, and my personal favorite, Stop Making Sense, the music documentary about the Talking Heads. I remember him as an artist who brought a holistic approach to sharing his creative gift with others. He engaged with anyone who had a passion for film, art or music—young and old, neophyte and jaded veteran. All held his rapt attention, experienced his endless patience for listening deeply, and benefited from his wisdom and random acts of kindness.

His brought a kinder and gentler sensibility to the world he occupied.

Sometimes, he would write a note to point out an omission when he noticed an artist had been overlooked, or to suggest something he had seen. He loved to lend support to new work and emerging filmmakers. And he was always, always willing to devote time to mentoring and helping young talent. He will be remembered mostly for his many achievements as a film director, but I am sure he would feel no slight to be remembered as simply a great human being.

So in afterlife, as in his life, Jonathan will make us feel his presence, even in his absence. And his presence and influence was, fortunately for all of us, everywhere.

Rest in peace, JD.

2 Responses to “A Farewell To Jonathan Demme”

  1. Thomas Zorthian says:

    I first became aware of Demme when I saw Last Embrace on cable. I loved the stylistic flourishes of that film and noted the director’s name. I decided that I wanted to see more from this auteur. I was filled with joy and awe when I saw Something Wild at the theater. When The Silence of the Lambs came around, it cemented my faith in Mr. Demme. I was shocked when I read of his untimely demise, but am thankful for all the great films that he gave us. A luta continua.

  2. Ed SAXON says:

    Gorgeous and so very true.

Quote Unquotesee all »

What’s up with your people mover shot, where it seems like people are kind of floating along?
Oh, my signature shot? That’s just a new way for people to move! It’s really become my Alfred Hitchcock cameo. I did not invent that shot, but Ernest and I did it on the set of Mo Better Blues, when Shorty had to walk [through the park], and I thought, “Let’s try it.” But after that, we tried to have a reason for it. For example, that wonderful sequence in Malcolm X where you hear the great song, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” The final scene is like that, Malcolm floating along to his destiny. In 25th Hour, after Philip Seymour Hoffman has kissed Anna Paquin, we did a shot like that, and it shows his state of mind. In Inside Man, after Denzel thinks he’s witnessed the murder of a hostage, we did the floating shot there.

So you just like the way it looks?
Yeah!
~ Spike Lee To Matt Zoller Seitz

“I never accepted the term contrarian. I think that’s offensive, frankly. And my response to that is: if I’m a contrarian, what are other reviewers? What I strive to do is be a good critic, not somebody who simply accepts the product put in front of me. I guess it scares people to think that they don’t have any originality; that they don’t have the capacity to think for themselves.

“There’s a line a lot of reviewers use that I don’t like at all. They say ‘accept the film on its own terms.’ What that really means is, ‘accept the film as it is advertised.’ That’s got nothing to do with criticism. Nothing to do with having a response as a film watcher. A thinking person has to analyze what’s on screen, not simply rubber-stamp it or kowtow to marketing.”m

“To me, everything does have a political component and I think it’s an interesting way to look at art. It’s one way that makes film reviewing, I think, a politically relevant form of journalism. We do live in a political world, and we bring our political sense to the movies with us – unless you’re the kind of person who goes to the movies and shuts off the outside world. I’m not that kind of person.”
~ Armond White to Luke Buckmaster