Demme. Demme’s strengths are really his dedication to his chosen aesthetics. He’s made a political thriller remake (Manchurian Candidate), a courtroom drama (Philadelphia), an odd romance (Something Wild) and a serial killer potboiler (Silence of the Lambs) and they all look like Demme films— specifically the close-up on a face. He only has 1 top 500 film (a weakness) but the consistency is there visually even if it’s in a film that’s no better than the 20th of 2004 (Manchurian). He’s influential, and a style-plus director tied to a very important stylistic trademark.

Best film:  The Silence of the Lambs

  • An unbelievably taut and entertaining 118 minutes
  • Demme’s main aesthetic visual choice here is the close-up (close to the extreme close up eyes by like Leone in the shootout sequences of good the bad and the ugly) with actors facing the camera. He utilized this for the first time during the climax of something wild and it was stunningly effective and gorgeous there. Very few films in cinema history use the close up as often and as effective as the silence of the lambs and it aids the intensity of the scenes and performances
  • Tak Fujimoto is the DP here- he also worked with close-up aesthetic extraordinaire Tom Hooper on john adams in 2008
  • It’s a demme film so are cameos galore. We have a very small role here for Tracey Walter, one for Roger Corman, Chris Isaac
  • It’s simply one of Howard Shore’s greatest musical scores
  • Hopkins performance lives up to spot it still holds today in cinema and pop-culture. It’s an unflinching and uncompromising performance. There’s little blinking and the close-ups of Demme help tremendously. It would be impossible to duplicate this performance without that choice— his diction is just immaculate—works like “tedious” and of course popular ones like “chianti”
  • Like many great films many of the attribute seem cliché because it’s been copied so often. This has happened to goodfellas and pulp fiction as well. It’s so influential that the psychological profiling and jargon now seem worn—but we should recognize this for what it is—it’s a brilliant screenplay
  • Foster is the film’s vehicle and her performance shouldn’t be overlooked because it doesn’t quite match Hopkins. She deals with real male stare throughout the film (cops at the funeral home, with Scott Glenn, with Lector, the Dr. Chilton character).—she’s a character with grit and balls to put it bluntly and crudely—she’s intelligent, ambitious, and inherently good.
  • Shockingly high amount of close-ups. The lector encounters, the finale with night vision, Ted Levine’s buffalo bill putting on makeup through a mini-montage sequence
  • Like all demme films the music is done to perfection- not just the score by Howard Shore but the “goodbye horses” haunting scene with Levine’s dance and the “American girl” Tom Petty song introducing us to Brooke Smith’s Catherine Martin victim character. That scene tells us everything we need to know about her and creates instant sympathy
  • Much has been made of the false editing sequence switching the establishing shot of the house outside Chicago and the house (with buffalo bill) in ohio. We have the false door buzzer as well. I don’t get too moral about these things. I think it is done fairly and, more importantly, it’s wildly effective. The punch wears off after your first viewing but the admiration for the editing craftsmanship still stands (I’ve seen the film 10 times probably). It’s so well done. Another scene, the lighting during the killing of the Charles Napier cop character (gorgeous use of lighting as Hannibal strings him up outside of his little bird cage like prison cell). It’s not practical to the world of the film but it doesn’t take you completely out of it as a viewer so I’m left just admiring the gorgeous mise-en-scene and use of lighting
  • There’s detail in the mise-en-scene I’m still picking up on. They said here “he used to try and be a lot of things”- from Hannibal and then in Bill’s house there is older, worn, nazi flyers and swastikas all over the place if you watch carefully
  • The final shooting reminds me of heat. Her skill and expertise give her a split-second edge after a bright lighting (from his mask the noise here vs pacino with the light and shadow from the jet at the airport)
  • There are intermittent uses of flashback surrealism within the sequences. Cut to her of a young girl in scene. This reminds me a little of midnight cowboy cutting to Joe Buck’s past
  • I absolutely love the “having an old friend for dinner” coda/epilogue—it’s not quite Casablanca’s last line but close
  • Masterpiece
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the close-up to show the suspense and intensity of the moment
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total archiveable films: 7

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films: 1 (The Silence of the Lambs)

getting incredible performances

top 100 films of the decade: 3 (Something Wild, The Silence of the Lambs, Rachel Getting Married)

most overrated:  There’s nothing in the overrated category for Demme. Demme only has 1 film in the TSPDT consensus top 1000 and that’s Silence of the Lambs. I have it as #208 and the critical consensus has it way down at #382—not awful for a film from the last 30 years or so—but still.  

most underrated:    Something Wild. It didn’t make the top 1000 for TSPDT and it certainly would for me.

  • Something wild is an odd mainstream movie, part of demme’s yuppie trilogy in the 80’s that reminds me of blue velvet but has some wild tonal shifts that I thin throw a lot of people off
  • the tonal shifts have to do with the speed of the film. There will be wild (sorry) periods (like the first 20 minutes that are intoxicating) and the big showdown finale but there are also moments where demme lingers, like the long musical (if you know demme he is going to stay awhile and enjoy music) sequence and dancing randomly at the reunion- he lingers. I love both shifts- I love how he airs it out at times and I love how he ramps it up
  • Daniels is the kyle maclachlin character from blue velvet, Liotta is dennis hopper and Griffith is sort of both Rossellini and dern—sort of starts as Rossellini and then turns into dern with the hair dying transformation
  • For the first 20 minutes it’s Melanie Griffith’s film. She’s so incredibly captivating. She’s gorgeous, has the hair and name from lulu from pabst’s Pandora box)—you are completely under her spell- just like daniels who is the vehicle ride of normal living into the wild world of Griffith and then, it gets terrifying, to Liotta
  • Liotta shows up at 50 minutes and takes over the film. He’s magnetic and piercing. This is one of his better performances (goodfellas and narc come to mind)
  • It’s a demme film- so lots of music—some of the reggae I don’t get—but I love the wild david byrne opening
  • Also because it’s a demme film we have big cameos—tracey walter (playing a crazy straight role), sayles, john waters
  • I hate the weird wipe transition edits
  • Very 1980’s conservatism meets 1960’s
  • It’s a great unique romance of a film
  • The ending is the only time demme really goes for it with his (later) trademark close-ups like in Philadelphia and silence of the lambs– the killing of Liotta and showing his face and then daniels’ reaction. It’s a fantastic scene.
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to increase the drama in scene

gem I want to spotlight:  Philadelphia. Overrated at the time in 1993 (from an artistic standpoint) for the groundbreaking story and content—it’s now underrated artistically. It features two dazzling trademark close-up scenes on Hanks’—the red lighting opera scene, and the hat/Springsteen pause scene—dejected exiting another lawyer who turned him down.

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Demme holds this pivotal scene here

stylistic innovations/traits:  There’s actually a fair amount here but we have to start with the close-up of the face. Now, Demme did not, by any stretch, invent the close-up. DeMille was shooting Lillian Gish back in 1915 and Demme didn’t come along with archiveable films until the 80’s. Certainly with Dreyer in The Passion of Joan of Arc we have the close-up as an artform (if it wasn’t already before) and that’s back in 1928. Leone is another. However, Demme’s perfection of the face close-up or extreme close-up cannot be ignored. He turned it into trademark and you can feel the impact of this stylistic choice in his film (it can be disconcerting moments, emotionally heighted moments, stressful) and in the performances (he got great work out of the best actors of the era). Actors love the close-up and Demme’s films are loaded with great actors and performances from Anthony Hopkins to Jodie Foster to Tom Hanks to Ray Liotta to Anne Hathaway.  Demme utilized this close-up technique for the first time during the climax of something wild and it was stunningly effective and gorgeous there. Very few films in cinema history use the close up as often and as effective as the silence of the lambs and it aids the intensity of the scenes and performances. The use of music is important to many auteurs but for few is it as crucial as Demme. The Howard Shore score in Silence of the Lambs is fantastic but so many of the most indelible Demme scenes include crucial music drops like Springsteen in Philadelphia, the haunting “Goodbye Horses” and mirror dance by Ted Levine in Silence of the Lambs or the opening David Byrne number in Something Wild.  Long before Adam McKay there was the celebrity or key cameos in Demme’s work. Tracey Walter shows up in just about everything but you have Roger Corman, Chris Isaac and many others in his ensembles. Demme’s influence, specifically with his penchant for and high technical abilities relating to close-ups of faces, can be seen in everything from PT Anderson (specifically The Master) to Barry Jenkins (there’s no If Beale Street Could Talk without Demme) to Tom Hooper (King’s Speech).

top 10

  1. The Silence of the Lambs
  2. Rachel Getting Married
  3. Something Wild
  4. Philadelphia
  5. Melvin and Howard
  6. The Manchurian Candidate
  7. Married to the Mob

By year and grades

1980- Melvin and Howard HR
1986- Something Wild HR
1988- Married To the Mob R
1991- The Silence of the Lambs MP
1993- Philadelphia HR
2004- The Manchurian Candidate R
2008- Rachel Getting Married MS

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives