Jonathan Demme

April 7, 2011

Jonathan Demme

Demme was sort of king of the minimal slice-of-life films for me (not counting his Roger Corman years). He went Hollywood with Silence of the Lambs and sucked after that (although his documentaries during this time are ok).

Citizens Band (Handle With Care) – You remember CB radios don’t you. Everyone had one in the 70’s. We sure did when we traveled cross country on family vacations (keepin’ an eye out for the Boy Scouts with their Bubblegum Machines). My oldest brother used to have one in his room. A nice little character study (don’t expect Smokey & The Bandit type action). I think this is the first Demme film where you can play “spot Charles Napier (fellow Kentuckian),” who began appearing in most of Demme’s films.
Melvin and Howard – Follow Paul LeMat over from Citizens Band. Sorta based on the story of Melvin Dummar who claimed to have met Howard Hughes by the side of the road. Nice little film that got Oscars for screenplay and Mary Steenburgen.
Swing Shift – It’s not bad. This is where Kurt Russel and Goldie Hawn met (and the best movie they did together). Christine Lahti was very good in her Oscar nominated performance.

Something Wild – This is an odd one. Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith are very good, but Ray Liotta steals the show. I was watching this at home in the late 80’s while my grandparents were visiting. Suffice it to say, this was not my grandmother’s cup of tea (she would’ve been in her mid to late 80’s at the time).

Swimming to Cambodia – The Late Spalding Gray recounts the story of his time on set of The Killing Fields. For you trivia buffs, Spalding appeared in a 70’s porno, The Farmer’s Daughters.
Married to the Mob – This is a goofy little mob movie. Don’t expect any Scorsese type realism here. This was actually the first time I thought Michelle Pfeiffer had any acting chops (before she was just eye candy). There is a little drama mixed in with this (at least it’s dramatic to me). When Paul Lazar says “Don’t,” before getting blown away by Special Agent Chester Desmond, I always feel sorry for him. This is probably the best thing Matthew Modine has done (no…it wasn’t Vision Quest). I’m on the fence on whether Dean Stockwell should’ve gotten the Oscar that year. He had some good competition with the award ultimately going to Kevin Kline for A Fish Called Wanda.
The Silence of the Lambs – Who knew something like this was in Jonathan Demme? This was his biggest studio film, yet he brought some indie sensibilities to it. I saw a sneak preview of this and had read the book years earlier. I thought this was really good, and earned it’s awards. Jodie was much better in this than in The Accused. I’ll even forgive her Southern accent, which was pretty good. I’m surprised that longtime Demme cinematographer, Tak Fujimoto wasn’t nominated that year. Surly the photography in here was better than The Prince of Tides, and could’ve replaced that in the running.

And then that was it for Demme for a very long time. He did some documentaries that are supposed to be pretty good but I haven’t seen them.

Rachel Getting Married – Demme does Dogme 95. Hmm, I’m on the fence about this one. The film is a little too self conscious in its style approach. Too many medium close ups in the first part of the film, but it gradually evened out. I don’t buy Anne Hathaway in her Oscar nominated role. Sorry Annie, you’re cute as a button and you’ve got some skills, but there’s an innate (or do I mean inane?) sweetness about you that doesn’t allow me to buy you in harder edged roles. I know you were trying to break away from your kid friendly roles with stuff like Havoc (awful, and unbelievable) and Brokeback Mountain (don’t ever wear another blonde wig like that again). I just don’t believe you as an addict. For most of the film I was aware of you acting. Maybe you stood out because you were surrounded by non-actors and they, combined with the hand held camera, lent the air of realism. When you came on, you looked like an actor. However, the scene with your sister in the bathroom (when you’re shaving your pits in the tub), was your purist scene. In that scene I was looking at Kym Buckman, not Anne Hathaway. You said everything with your face, and that’s the best kind of acting.

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