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 »

The Atlantic: You saw that the Academy Awards recently held up your 2001 acceptance speech as the Platonic ideal of an Oscar speech. Did you have a reaction?

Soderbergh: Shock and dismay. When that popped up and people started texting me about it, I said, “Oh, it’s too bad I’m not there to tell the story of how that took place.” Well. I was not sober at the time. And I had nothing prepared because I knew I wasn’t going to win [Best Director for Traffic]. I figured Ridley, Ang or Daldry would win. So I was hitting the bar pretty hard, having a great night, feeling super-relaxed because I don’t have to get up there. So the combination of a 0.4 blood alcohol level and lack of preparation resulted in me, in my state of drunkenness crossed with adrenaline surge. I was coherent enough to know that [if I tried to thank everyone], that way lies destruction. So I went the other way. There were some people who appreciated that, and there were some people who really wanted to hear their names said, and I had to apologize to them.
~ Steven Soderbergh

 

“I have made few films in a way. I never made action films. I never made science fiction films. I never made, really, very complicated settings, because I had modest ambitions. I knew they would never trust me to have the budget to do something different, so my mind is more focused on things I know. So they were always mental adventures I wanted to approach and share. Working for cinema with no – not only no money, but also no ambition for money. I was happy and proud [to receive the honorary Oscar] because of that, that [the Academy] could understand what kind of work I have done over 60 years. I stayed faithful to the ideal of sharing emotion, impressions, and mostly because I have so much empathy for other people that I approach people who are not really spoken about. I have 65 years of work in my bag, and when I put the bag down, what comes out? It’s really the desire of finding links and relationships with different kinds of people. I never made a film about the bourgeoisie, about rich people. about nobility. My choices have been to show people that are, in a way, more common and see that each of them has something special and interesting, rare and beautiful. It’s my natural way of looking at people. I didn’t fight my instincts. And maybe that has been appreciated in the famous circle of Hollywood.“

Agnes Varda