Jonathan Demme leaves a legacy

Oscar-winning filmmaker Jonathan Demme died April 26 of esophageal cancer. He left behind a body of great work. 

Demme started small, working with Roger Corman on a couple of low budget exploitation flicks.  His first film was “Caged Heat” in 1974 followed by “Crazy Mama,” which involved 1950s pop culture in America and starred Jim Backus from TV’s “Gilligan’s Island.” Demme had a major career boost with the 1979 suspense-thriller “The Last Embrace” featuring the star power of Roy Scheider.  

In 1980, Demme steered actress Mary Steenburgen to a Best Supporting Actress win for the fictional “Melvin and Howard.”  The film starred Jason Robards Jr. as Howard Hughes who befriended the unlucky Melvin E. Dummar (Paul Le Mat), and changed his life forever.

Throughout the 1980s Demme dabbled in the world of music and music videos, most notably with David Byrne, the front man of the band Talking Heads. In 1984, came the documentary “Stop Making Sense,” which was essentially a concert movie about the group.     

That same year, he directed real-life couple Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn in “Swing Shift.”  “Something Wild” with Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith followed in 1986.  The next year, he directed the documentary “Swimming to Cambodia” with Spalding Gray. 

 “Married to the Mob” came out in 1988 and was a big hit for Orion Pictures.  It received an Oscar nomination for supporting actor Dean Stockwell. 

In 1991 he had a huge success with “The Silence of the Lambs,” wining Best Picture, Best Actress for lead Jodie Foster, a Best Actor win for Anthony Hopkins, Best Screenplay for Ted Tally and Best Director for Demme. In 1993 he steered Tom Hanks to his first Best Actor win in “Philadelphia.” 

Demme went on to work with Oprah Winfrey on the Toni Morrison adaptation of “Beloved.”  It did not fare as well as expected, but still garnered placement on several end-of-the-year “best of” lists.

Remakes and updates followed with “The Truth about Charlie,” (a “Charade” update starring Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton). Then came “The Manchurian Candidate” in 2004 with Denzel Washington headlining in the Frank Sinatra role.  It also starred Meryl Streep as the matriarch in the role previously occupied by Angela Lansbury in the 1962 version.

“Rachel Getting Married” did so-so at the box office in 2008.  It followed the Anne Hathaway character’s daughter who spent the better part of a decade attending various rehab facilities. 

Demme worked with musician Neil Young on three separate occasions.  The first was the 2006 concert documentary “Heart of Gold.”  They worked together again in 2009 and 2015.  Demme re-teamed with Streep again for the little-seen “Ricki and the Flash” in 2015.

Demme leaves behind his wife, artist Joanne Howard, and three children.