Jonathan Demme – The Hardest Working Man In Showbusiness?

Something Wild (1986) title treatment

Filmmaker, producer, screenwriter and arguably America’s most grounded multi-disciplinary filmmaker Jonathan Demme has been quiet of late. The last non-documentary feature he made was the critically divisive Rachel Getting Married in 2008 starring Anne Hathaway. Rachel was generally well received but one critic did compare it to “a two-hour colonoscopy”. For the last few years he’s been absorbed in producing a trilogy of Neil Young concert films, doing some television (including two episodes of the Laura Dern/Mike White drama Enlightened) and developing a film version of Stephen King’s doorstop of a novel 11/22/63. The King adaptation still seems to be simmering away as do future projects with his old actor/playwright friend Wallace Shawn (My Dinner With Andre) and author Dave Eggars (an adaptation of Eggars’ book  Zeitoun).

Denzel Washington in Philadelphia

It’s at times like these that it’s good to re-familiarise oneself with Demme’s prolific and seemingly seamless oeuvre. Demme is a filmmaker all too ready to own up to plagiarism. His gift for emulation is always born of love. Hitchcock’s hot breath is all over 1979 thriller Last Embrace starring the mighty Roy Scheider in one of his finest performances. His much-loved new wave rom-com thriller Something Wild owes as much to the films of Preston Sturges as it does to the ‘lovers on the lam’ B movies it brings more directly to mind.

Philadelphia and Silence of the Lambs showed his ability to move between disparate genres with the intelligence and individuality of Nicholas Ray or Elia Kazan. While documentaries Swimming to Cambodia (featuring the late great Spalding Gray) and Storefront Hitchcock were unique and fairly theatrical experiments in form. If anyone is overdue a retrospective of his work, it is Demme.

Do something really wild and book one or many of his films today. JD we salute you!


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