Sunday, April 30, 2017

Auteur Watch - Jonathan Demme

Today we say goodbye to a living legend.  My first introduction to the work of Jonathan Demme, like most people of my generation, would probably have to be through MTV and Stop Making Sense.  This was when MTV just showed videos... as far as I know.  But Hollywood was catching on.  Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer packed their '80s movies with music, then had cross-promotional videos to promote the movie.  Spielberg had something for his The Goonies... a two-parter, if memory serves!  Well, Jonathan Demme wanted in, and he got it with the Talking Heads.  The aforementioned Stop Making Sense.  They turned the movie into a couple music videos, and promoted the movie proper as well on the once beloved channel.  I guess that's how it works.  You do something that will leave executives scratching their heads.  "Well, THIS has certainly never been done before!  Okay, why not?  Let's let our hair down a little bit... reminds me, call my barber, will you?"
So, there's that.  I can't vouch for Demme's Roger Corman years, but he clearly had what it took to go on to more prestigious things.  Take his mid-80s flick, Something Wild.  This is where he led the way for Scorsese's GoodFellas.  First, there's Ray Liotta in the aforementioned Something Wild.  Then there's 1988's Married to the Mob, which sort of clears the way for Karen Hill's half of GoodFellas.  But how to account for Demme's triumph with The Silence of the Lambs?  How do you go from Stop Making Sense to that?  We may never know the answer, but surely it merits at least one documentary?
In the meantime, it's pretty much downhill from there.  I mean, sure, Philadelphia won some awards, and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner's on "Homeland" now.  But after that?... oh, incidentally, Denzel Washington makes a reference to "Making Flippy Floppy."  We may never know if that's what the Talking Heads song of the same name is about... but surely it merits at least one documentary or two?
So while he wasn't able to repeat the success of The Silence of the Lambs, he did manage to stay near Oscar turf.  Take Rachel Getting Married, for example... seriously, take it, because it's the only one.  He died a few years after Ricki and the Flash, which I guess turned out as well as could be hoped.  Was Diablo Cody (aka Brooke Busey) happy with it?  Or is she turning into Larry Gelbart, who apparently winced every time he saw his own work butchered by the endless parade of amateur hacks that attempted to breathe life into his written word?  I'm thinking the latter, because... why, look!  She's directing now, too!  Something called Paradise... no, wait, that's just a cheap Blue Lagoon knock-off with Phoebe Cates.  Then again, maybe it's the other way around!  I mean, who would you rather have?  Brooke Shields or Phoebe Cates?  You know, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and what not?  Anyway, back to Paradise... no, not that one.  That's with Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, and I guess you'd call it a meta-comedy or something.  I mean, there's an awful lot of domestic strife in this so-called paradise, am I right?  Don't leave me hangin', bro!

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