The great filmmaker Jonathan Demme died this morning in New York, Indiewire reports. Demme had been suffering from esophageal cancer and complications from heart disease; he’d been treated for cancer in 2010 and suffered a relapse two years ago. He was 73.
Demme got his start in Roger Corman B-movies, directing grindhouse classics like Caged Heat and Crazy Mama before graduating to studio movies like Melvin And Howard and Swing Shift. In the ’80s, he directed the truly great screwball comedies Something Wild and Married To The Mob, then went onto win a Best Director Oscar for The Silence Of The Lambs and to make acclaimed movies like Philadelphia and Rachel Getting Married.
This is, of course, a music site, and we don’t often cover the passings of filmmakers, even great ones. But Demme belongs in a rare pantheon. He understood music more than just about any other director. And he’s the man responsible for directing the Talking Heads in Stop Making Sense, my pick for the single greatest concert movie ever made. Over the years, he directed a number of concert movies, including three with Neil Young, one with Robyn Hitchcock, and, most recently, one with Justin Timberlake. He kept making these movies when he was an A-list director who could’ve been getting paid more to make bigger movies. He loved them.
Demme got John Cale and Laurie Anderson to score Something Wild and David Byrne to score Married To The Mob. He got the Feelies to cover David Bowie’s “Fame” in Something Wild. He gave Fab 5 Freddy multiple cameos. He cast TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe in Rachel Getting Married and got him to sing Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend.” In his final feature, 2015’s Ricki And The Flash, he cast Meryl Streep as an aging rock star and filled her band with ringers like Bernie Worrell. He was, quite simply, one of us.
Let’s all enjoy some of the great musical moments that Demme gave us. (If I include way too much Stop Making Sense, I’m sure you’ll understand; I can’t just pick one video there.)