Jonathan Demme, a director whose works defined a generation, passed away at the age of 73 in Manhattan from complications with esophageal cancer and heart disease, on Wednesday April 26th. Demme was perhaps best known for his work as director of the Oscar-winning films “The Silence Of The Lambs” and “Philadelphia” but he’ll forever have won the hearts of music devotees for films such as Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense”. The 1984 documentary is widely regarded as one of – if not the – best concert film of all time, gaining the praise of film and music critics alike. Lead singer of Talking Heads, David Byrne, wrote a tribute to the late director saying in part, “I met Jonathan in the ’80s when Talking Heads were touring a show that he would eventually film and turn into Stop Making Sense. While touring, I thought the show had turned out well and might hold up as a movie, and a mutual friend introduced us. I loved his films ‘Melvin And Howard’ and ‘Citizens Band’ (aka ‘Handle With Care’). From those movies alone, one could sense his love of ordinary people. That love surfaces and is manifest over and over throughout his career. Jonathan was also a huge music fan—that’s obvious in his films too—many of which are jam-packed with songs by the often obscure artists he loved. He’d find ways to slip a reggae artist’s song or a Haitian recording into a narrative film in ways that were often joyous and unexpected.”
Demme’s venture into filmmaking was something of chance; at first wanting to be a veterinarian, he flunked out of college chemistry, and so after writing movie reviews for his college newspaper for a semester and dropping out of college altogether, he gained a publicity job with “The Pope of Pop Cinema”, the cult movie director Roger Corman. Corman asked Demme to try his hand at writing screenplays and after loving the results became something of a mentor to the future “Stop Making Sense” director, with Roger Corman’s 1971 movie “Angels Hard As They Come“and 1972’s “The Hot Box” being co-written and produced by Demme. The director’s cult movie resume was further cemented by films such as 1974‘s “Caged Heat“, “Crazy Mama“, “Fighting Mad“, and in 1986 the screwball comedy “Something Wild” starring Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels. Among other side projects, Demme directed the 11-minute music video for ‘The Perfect Kiss’ by electronic post-punk gods, New Order, and ‘Away’ for The Feelies. Jonathan Demme leaves behind his wife, Joanne Howard, and three children.