Jonahtan Demme achieved international success in 1991, when at the age of 47 he dazzled the world with The silence of the inocents. The thriller starring Jodie Foster was a box office phenomenon and swept the Oscars that year, taking home 5 awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.
After an extensive and successful career, marked by his great versatility, with forays into music documentaries, comedy and video clips, Demme passed away today at the age of 73.
According to IndieWire, the cause of his death was cancer of the esophagus, added to complications derived from heart disease. Demme was initially treated for his illness in 2010, but relapsed in 2015 and his condition deteriorated in recent weeks. In Cult, we remember three films that immortalize him in the cinematographic world.
The plot of this Demme romantic comedy revolves around Angela (Michelle Pfeiffer), the wife of a mobster, who tries to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. Everything gets complicated when her husband’s boss, Tony Russo (Dean Stockwell), begins to woo her, at the same time that Mike (Matthew Modine), an FBI agent, poses as a new neighbor to keep an eye on her, and also falls in love. her. Among the curiosities of the film, it stands out that the roles of Pfeiffer and Modine had originally been intended to be played by Jessica Lange and Tom Cruise, respectively. For his part, Stockwell excelled in his role as a mobster, for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
This was the first time that Demme used the song “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazzarus in one of his tapes, which he would later repeat in one of the most memorable scenes of The silence of the inocents. Later, as if it were Kabbalah, he would return with music by the same interpreter in Philadelphia (1993).
It is, without a doubt, the most successful film in Demme’s filmography. The Q Lazzarus track plays as we watch serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) in the privacy of his home sewing his human skin suits and dancing with his psychotic gaze fixed on the camera. In 1991, The silence of the inocents Became one of the few films in history to have achieved the feat of taking home the top five Academy Awards at the same time: Best Actress for Jodie Foster, Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins, Best Adapted Screenplay for Ted Tally, Best Director for Demme and Best Picture.
More about Jonathan Demme
The mythology surrounding the film is extensive. It is said, for example, that in the first meeting between Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) and Agent Starling (Foster), the mockery made by the murderer of her southern accent was improvised on the spot. Foster says her horror impression was genuine, that she felt personally attacked, and then thanked Hopkins for generating such an honest reaction.
For his part, Hopkins was chosen to play Hannibal Lecter for his performance as Dr. Frederick Treves in The elephant Man (1980) by David Lynch. When the actor learned of this, he told the director that Treves was a good man, to which Demme replied, “Lecter is a good man too, trapped in an insane mind.”
It is also said that the LGTBI community at that time did not agree that the murderer Buffalo Bill was transsexual, since it could generate hostility towards them. In turn, the FBI collaborated with the production, seeing it as a tool to recruit more female agents.
This film is one of the most dramatic and moving of his filmography. In it, Tom Hanks plays a young lawyer who discovers that he is HIV positive and is therefore fired from the prestigious law firm where he works. So he goes to an African-American lawyer played by Denzel Washington, believing that he would generate empathy with him by sharing the experience of exclusion and discrimination. However, the African American also has his prejudices about homosexuality. The development and outcome of the lawsuit is, at the same time, a story of friendship and learning, and they turned this film into a banner of struggle for human rights.
The director wanted people unfamiliar with AIDS to see the film, to raise awareness and reduce stigma towards the disease. The story of a man dying of HIV had worldwide visibility and won two Academy Awards that year: Best Actor for Hanks and Best Music, Original Song for Bruce Springsteen for “Streets of Philadelphia.”