Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Great Ear of Jonathan Demme

When I heard filmmaker Jonathan Demme passed away, my first thoughts weren't about blockbuster films like 'Philadelphia' and 'Silence of the Lambs.' I thought about his passion for music. Demme clearly had a thing for Talking Heads, New Order, Robyn Hitchcock and the Feelies. That made him one of us, didn't it? Obviously, there was 'Stop Making Sense,' arguably one of the most important concert films in a generation, but don't forget his work behind the camera on memorable music videos like "A Perfect Kiss" by New Order and "Away" by the Feelies. You may remember the New Jersey group also had a terrific turn as the Willies, the fictional band that performed at the high school reunion during Demme's 1986 film 'Something Wild.' I showed this clip not too long ago, but it's worth another look.

Although the Feelies as the Willies didn't appear on the soundtrack to 'Something Wild' (what a shame!), it has been an album I have had for more than 30 years now, and one that I pull out often. In fact, I pulled it out today in Demme's honor. Here is the song that opens the film.

David Byrne With Celia Cruz - "Loco de Amor (Crazy for Love)"

One of Demme's most interesting uses of music in a feature was for the 2008 film 'Rachel Getting Married.' To call this one a drama is an understatement. It's a difficult watch but one that's worth the 113-minute investment. Rather than a traditional film score, all of the music was performed by musicians on-screen in nearly every scene, messing about in the background. Robyn Hitchcock and his pals were in the film as the band that performed at the wedding. Sounds crazy, but the music, or lack of music in some cases, was very effective. This song was in 'Rachel Getting Married' and would show up on Hitchcock's 2009 album 'Goodnight Oslo' too.

Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3 - "Up To Our Nex"

Rest in peace, Mr. Demme. You made the world a world a better place. Wherever you are, I hope they have a great record collection.


Echorich said...

Our generation, in America - that portion that came of age in the 80's had two Film Directors we can call our own - John Hughes and Jonathan Demme. They made thoroughly different kind of films by the intersected when it came to using current, sometimes outside the mainstream music in their films.
If you started out with Hughes and his Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, you graduated to Something Wild, Silence Of The Lambs, Married To The Mob and Philadelphia.
I like some, not all Hughes films, and it can be said that artists that signed on the dotted line to include their music in his films may have been signing a pact with the Devil.
I love Demme's films from Swing Shift and Stop Making Sense to Married To The Mob and Silence Of The Lambs and Rachel Gets Married.
But in the end it all comes back to the video for Perfect Kiss for me.

Brian said...

I watched it today, Echorich. Not a bad one to hang your hat on. Hoping to watch Something Wild tonight before bed.

The Swede said...

Not forgetting 'Storefront Hitchcock' and a trio of Neil Young documentaries. Robyn posted moving tribute on social media overnight. I've never seen 'Rachel Getting Married', but I remember Robyn talking about the production and filming methods employed by Demme. Perhaps now's the time for me to catch up with it.

Brian said...

Absolutely, Swede. Left out due to time constraints. Thanks for mentioning.

drew said...

I loved Something Wild's soundtrack but Demme will always be remembered as the man who put the Fall on a major, major film. Hip Priest being used at the climax of Silence of The Lambs.

JC said...

Another fine post with equally fine contributions from the crew.

I went to see Stop Making Sense on its first release at the Edinburgh Filmhouse; went back to see it the following night in Glasgow; bought it on VHS later on and then upgraded to DVD a few years down the line.

If I may be so cheeky......

Brian said...

A great memory of seeing a great piece of work, JC. Two nights in a row shows what a special concert film it really is.