Jonathan Demme (February 20, 1944 – April 26, 2017)
B. Ruby Rich
Jonathan Demme’s death has moved the film world. Jonathan Demme was a founding member of a cinematic generation. He started out with Roger Corman, then left Hollywood to go back East and hung his shingle in New York city at the exact moment when the independent film movement began.
His first feature Melvin and Howard was released in 1980 at the very moment that a new theatrical sector was opening up for his kind of movie. It’s hard to remember that the Talking Heads documentary, Stop Making Sense (1984) was made so soon after, accompanied by a music video, the “it” medium of the early 1980s.
The feature ushered in a new wave of music documentaries that insisted film could be a full partner to the music, not just the servant; he went on to make many films about kindred artistic spirits. He was in tune with his times, creating an oeuvre that crossed and recrossed the borderline between fiction and documentary, television and film, and mixing genres from romcom to thriller to social uplift. Always a New Yorker, he was beloved in his city.
Never an intellectual or theorist of his own work, he could be scorned as cinema-lite, yet the eulogies piling up reveal how universally beloved he was. FQ has always paid attention to Demme. Here are two articles from the FQ archives to mark his passing.
Mr. Dummar Goes to Town: An Analysis of Melvin and Howard
Stop Making Sense
Header image: Jonathan Demme (foreground) with Denzel Washington (background) on the set of Philadelphia (1993).