Born February 22, 1944, in Rockville Centre, NY; son of Robert (a publicist and magazine editor) and Dodie Demme; married Evelyn Purcell (a film-maker), 1970 (divorced 1980); married Joanne Howard (an artist), 1987; children (second marriage): Ramona. Education: Attended University of Florida.
Homem— New York, NY. Officem— c/o Lee Winkler Global Business Management, 9000 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90069. Agentm— Bob Bookman, Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Film director, producer, and screenwriter. Film critic for Florida Alligator and Coral Gables Times-Guide, 1963-65, and Film Daily, 1966-68; worked in publicity departments of United Artists and Embassy Pictures; salesman for Pathe Contemporary Films, and in London as promoter of American films, 1969; New World Pictures, staff screenwriter and director, 1971-76. Director of films, including Caged Heat, 1974; Crazy Mama, 1975; Fighting Mad, 1976; Citizens Band (later released as Handle with Care), 1977; The Last Embrace, 1979; Melvin and Howard, 1980; Swing Shift, 1983; Stop Making Sense, 1984; Something Wild, 1986; Swimming to Cambodia, 1987; Married to the Mob, 1988; The Silence of the Lambs, 1991; Cousin Bobby, 1992; Philadelphia, 1993; Storefront Hitchcock, 1998; Beloved, 1998, The Truth about Charlie, 2002; The Agronomist, 2003; and The Manchurian Candidate, 2004. Producer of films, including Angels Hard as They Come, 1971; (co-producer) Something Wild, 1986;Miami Blues, 1990; Philadelphia, 1993; The Truth about Charlie, 2002; Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, 2003; and The Agronomist, 2003. Director of television films, including Murder in Aspic, 1979; Who Am I This Time? (broadcast on American Playhouse series), 1982; "Surviving a Family Tree," for series Trying Times, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 1984; and Haiti Dreams of Democracy, 1988. Producer of Subway Stories (miniseries), 1997. Director of music videos for performers, including Suzanne Vega, UB40, Chrissie Hynde, New Order, Fine Young Cannibals, Neville Brothers, and Artists United against Apartheid. Actor in The Incredible Melting Man, 1977, Roger Corman: Hollywood's Wild Man, 1978, and Into the Night, 1985.
New York Film Critics Circle Award for best director, and National Society of Film Critics Award for best film, both 1980, both for Melvin and Howard; National Society of Film Critics Award for best documentary, 1984, for Stop Making Sense; National Board of Review's D. W. Griffith awards for best film and best director, 1991, New York Film Critics Circle awards for best film and best director, 1991, Academy awards for best picture and best director, 1991, and Directors Guild of America Award, all for The Silence of the Lambs; Chicago International Film Festival Award, and East Lansing Film Festival Award, both 2003, and Mountain Film Award, 2004, all for best documentary, all for The Agronomist.
(With Joe Viola) Angels Hard as They Come, New World Pictures, 1971.
(With Joe Viola) The Hot Box, New World Pictures, 1972.
(Author of story) Black Mama, White Mama, 1972.
Caged Heat, New World Pictures, 1974.
Fighting Mad, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1976.
(As Rob Morton) Ladies and Gentlemen . . . the Fabulous Stains, Paramount, 1982.
(As Morton) Swing Shift, Warner Bros., 1984.
Stop Making Sense, 1984.
Perfect Kiss, 1985.
(With others) Haiti Dreams of Democracy, Bravo, 1988.
The Truth about Charlie, MCA/Universal, 2002.
Hailed by New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael as "one of our three or four most talented directors" and "American commercial cinema's most reliable and direct link to the avant-garde," filmmaker Jonathan Demme began his career as a protégé of "B" movie giant Roger Corman, developed his craft through a series of lyrical sketches of rural Americana, and came to widespread recognition with his critically and commercially acclaimed 1991 thriller, The Silence of the Lambs. Since the release of that film, Demme has also directed the critically acclaimed Philadelphia, the story of an AIDS victim, and the award-winning documentary The Agronomist. A master stylist, Demme has defied Hollywood conventions while making films that reflect his own idiosyncratic vision. From screwball comedies to terrifying thrillers, from a concert film to a one-man stage play, from documentaries to music videos, Demme has consistently resisted critics' attempts to pigeonhole his work. This diversity of work was noted by Phillip Williams in MovieMaker magazine who explained that "Demme has never shied away from exploring the often shadowy and troubled contours of the American story landscape. He's been equally successful at revealing a rich universe of uniquely American eccentrics who engender both laughter and compassion, covering the nation's story in sunshine and in rain as well as anyone."
Early Love of Movies
Demme was born in Rockville Centre, New York, and grew up on Long Island. The son of a publicist and magazine editor, he was named for his lineal ancestor Jonathan Edwards, a well-known eighteenth-century American theologian. After attending elementary school on Long Island, Demme's family moved to Miami, where his father took a job as a publicist at the Fountainbleau Hotel. While in high school Demme worked as an usher at a neighborhood theater, fueling an early interest in film. "I was really hooked on movies at a very young age," Demme told Ray Pride in Movie City News, citing as particularly influential the films The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, Fail-Safe, and Dr. Strangelove. These "anarchistic black-and-white American movies did things that you just didn't do in American movies, especially in the realm of irreverence toward politics and government institutions and the Army. I was what, 16, it was shocking, it was thrilling." Although he loved all types of movies, Demme told Esquire contributor Roy Blount, Jr. that he never dreamed he would ever make films: "It never crossed my mind that you could do that. I wanted to watch movies. Never thought I'd be involved in the process. Why would I want to be? Just go see 'em is the best!"
Since childhood Demme had planned on becoming a veterinarian, and he spent his after-school hours working as a vet's assistant. However, after failing a chemistry course at the University of Florida, he realized that a career in medicine was unlikely. During his freshman year Demme learned that the school newspaper, the Florida Alligator, lacked a movie reviewer, so to feed his moviegoing habits he volunteered for the position. This experience led him to take a second job as film critic for the Coral Gables Times-Guide, a biweekly shopping guide.
While these jobs necessarily exposed Demme to hundreds of movies, his first real encounter with the film industry came, as he told Washington Postcontributor Hal Hinson, "by pure luck" with "no motivation whatsoever," when Demme's father introduced his son to movie producer Joseph E. Levine, who docked his houseboat across the street from the Fountainbleau Hotel. As Demme recalled to People contributor Joshua Hammer, Levine "opens my scrapbook, he's thumbing through the reviews, and he gets to Zulu, which was one of his pictures. I had written a rave, and he goes, 'Ya like Zulu? Ya got great taste, kid. Ya wanna come work for me?' I said, 'Sure, I'd love to.' 'So where do ya wanna go? New York, London or Rome? I got offices in all three places.'"
In addition to being a film director, Levine was the founder and president of Embassy Pictures, and after a brief stint in the U.S. Air Force in 1966, Demme took a job in the publicity department of Embassy's New York office. For the next several years he held a series of film-related jobs before a friend secured him an interview for a publicist's position with Roger Corman's New World Pictures. Impressed with Demme's enthusiasm and knowledge of his films, the king of "B" movies enlisted Demme to write and produce two films for him: a biker story loosely based on Akira Kurosawa's classic 1951 film Rashomon titled Angels Hard as They Come, and The Hot Box, a nurses-in-bondage picture Demme shot in the Philippines amid typhoons and political bombings. As he told Williams, "When we were shooting The Hot Box we had really bad weather and fell very far behind schedule. It became necessary to have a second unit and I became the de facto second unit director. I went out with this wonderful young Filipino cameraman and a bunch of soldiers to do some battle shots and instantly fell in love with this process of making my own shots up."
Makes Directorial Debut
During his five-year apprenticeship with Corman, Demme worked on four feature films before making his directorial debut in 1974 with Caged Heat, a movie made to cash in on the "girl gang" genre popular at the time. Its stylistic flair, however, transcended the genre. Dealing with women's solidarity in a cruel prison farm, the film introduced a novel themem—characters, particularly women, struggling to take control of their livesm—that would appear in Demme's later films Swing Shift, Something Wild, and Married to the Mob. The following year Demme wrote the screenplay to and directed his second feature, Crazy Mama, a film about four generations of women who brazenly blaze a trail of crime from California to Arkansas in their pursuit of the American Dream. Both Caged Heat and Crazy Mama, as well as Demme's 1976 film, Fighting Mad m—a revenge tale in which a young farmer battles strip miners who try to force him off his landm—have become cult classics.
With the release of Fighting Mad Demme felt it was time to leave New World Pictures and strike out on his own. For his first non-Corman project, he worked with Paramount to produce Citizens Band, an eccentric story about the CB radio craze which was then at its height. Although more than a dozen directors had passed on the script, Demme was attracted to the screenplay's quirky character studies and oddball sense of humor. Low-key and darkly comic, Citizens Band consists of a series of vignettes ranging from the whimsical to the disturbing, concerning CB operators who come to be dominated by their radio personalities. While the film's limited distribution affected its commercial success, critics responded enthusiastically, Newsweek reviewer Charles Michner calling the film "a wonderful redneck comedy," and adding that "you had to be smart to know it wasn't dumb." As Time critic Richard Schickel noted, "There is affection without patronization here, an unforced appreciation of eccentricity that . . . is wonderful to be hold." In spite of such critical acclaim, however, the film played to nearly empty theaters upon its 1977 release. In fact, Demme later joked in a New York Times interview, Citizens Band grossed a grand total of $1.50 one afternoon in a Denver movie house.
Although Citizens Band was a commercial disappointment, two producers at United Artists admired the film and invited Demme to direct a picture for their company, a murky, suspenseful romance titled The Last Embrace. Based on Murray Teigh Bloom's novel The Thirteenth Man, The Last Embrace is a Hitchcock-influenced thriller about Harry Hannan (played by Roy Scheider), a top-secret government agent who witnesses the brutal murder of his wife and soon comes to believe that he will be the next to die. The Last Embrace received mixed reviews; Pauline Kael reflected the view of several critics who found the attempt at Hitchcockian suspense somewhat derivative by dubbing the work "a little hand-me-down" in her New Yorker review. Although writing that The Last Embrace is "never quite so entertaining as its parts," New York Times critic Vincent Canby nonetheless commended the film's cast and style. Noted Canby, "The principal pleasure of Jonathan Demme's Last Embrace is noting the way the director is able to keep this very slim tale moving forward without totally alienating common sense. The secret is impeccable casting. More than any other new director Mr. Demme recognizes good actors and knows how to use them."
Discouraged as he was by the reception of The Last Embrace, Demme continued to keep his eyes open for interesting screenplays. When the head of production at Universal Pictures sent him a quirky script by screenwriter Bo Goldman (who had won an Oscar for One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest) titled Melvin and Howard, Demme was hooked. Based, perhaps, on a true incident, Melvin and Howard recounts a bizarre encounter between gas station attendant Melvin Dummar (Paul Le Mat, who had played a bigamist truckdriver in Citizens Band) and eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes (played by Jason Robards). The film recounts Dummar's unsuccessful attempts to collect the $156 million inheritance Hughes supposedly left him in return for Melvin's rescuing of the billionaire after a motorcycle mishap. Melvin and Howard was the opening entry in 1980's New York Film Festival and acclaim for the film was virtually unanimous as critics applauded its subtly satirical examination of American class values. In her New Yorker review Kael claimed that in Melvin and Howard, Demme "shows perhaps a finer understanding of lower-middle-class life than any other American director." She added: "Demme's style is so expressive that he draws you into the lives of the characters, and you're hardly aware of the technical means by which he accomplishes this. . . . The comedy doesn't stick out; it's part of the fluidity." Newsweek reviewer Charles Michner also praised Demme's characters, calling Melvin and Howard "a classic folk tale, lovingly told. . . . The scenes flow with a deadpan, uncondescending grace." Although hardly a box-office runawaym—the film barely broke evenm—Melvin and Howard did garner a number of prestigious awards, including Academy awards for the contributions of actress Mary Steenburgen and screenwriter Bo Goldman and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for best director and the National Society of Film Critics Award for best film.
The period between the 1980 release of Melvin and Howard and Demme's next film was a trying one for the director as he found himself increasingly embroiled in conflicts with Hollywood studios over scripts, casting, and other aspects tied to film production. Unable to find a screenplay to his liking, Demme waited until 1984 before beginning work on his next film, Swing Shift. Considerably different in subject matter and tone from his wry portraits of small-town America, Swing Shift was Demme's first movie with a major Hollywood star (Goldie Hawn, who was also the film's co-producer) and it was eagerly anticipated as the director's commercial breakthrough.
Set in working-class Santa Monica, California, during the 1940s, Swing Shift tells the story of Kay Walsh (Hawn), a previously compliant wife who, when her husband goes off to serve in World War II, takes a job on an aircraft assembly line against her husband's wishes and eventually falls for the charms of Lucky Lockhart (Kurt Russell), a foreman at the factory. Despite its promising premisem—the mass entrance of women into the American work force during the warm—and its high-caliber cast, the critical reception of Swing Shift was disappointing. Although Vincent Canby praised the film's "assured" direction and deemed Swing Shift "a sweet romantic comedy," Time critic Richard Corliss wrote that the film "moves like a show horse with a faulty sense of direction." Maclean's writer Lawrence O'Toole noted that, "although amiable and well directed, Swing Shift constantly promises to be funnier, more dramatic and more moving than it ever actually is."
The idea for Demme's next picture came while the director took a break from editing Swing Shift to attend a Talking Heads concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. An enthusiastic fan of contemporary music, Demme had long been an admirer of Talking Heads' unique musical style and, as he told a New York Times Magazine interviewer, seeing them live he was struck by how cinematic the group's performance was. "As I came out of the concert, I thought, My God, that's a movie waiting to be filmed." After several meetings with lead singer David Byrne, Demme was able to convince the hesitant band leader to allow him to film the group in concert.
Films Talking Heads Concert
A landmark concert film of Talking Heads' 1983 tour, Stop Making Sense draws on four of the band's performances at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. Foregoing the typical concert film footage of "candid" backstage scenes of the band and images of screaming crowds, Stop Making Sense instead concentrates almost exclusively on highlighting the group's subtle and sophisticated stage show. Critical response to Demme's concert film was over whelmingly positive. For David Ansen, Stop Making Sense ranked as "one of the most exciting concert films ever" and exhibits "an extraordinary sensitivity to the music." Claiming that Stop Making Sense is "a rock concert film that looks and sounds like no other," New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin noted that the film "captured both the look and the spirit of this live performance with a daring and precision that match the group's own." In addition to being a critical and commercial success for Demme, Stop Making Sense also began a fruitful relationship between the director and bandleader Byrne, who collaborated with Demme on the eclectic soundtrack to the director's next picture, a combination screwball comedy and film noir titled Something Wild.
Something Wild begins as a romantic comedy but abruptly veers into farce and, eventually, terror as it recounts the story of Charlie Driggs (Jeff Daniels), a staid tax accountant who is nabbed by the sexy and eccentric Lulu (Melanie Griffith) and taken for a sometimes nightmarish joyride through rural America. Seeing similarities between Demme's picture and films such as After Hours and Desperately Seeking Susan, Ansen described Something Wild as "the latest in a long line of comedies in which a square gets himself thoroughly discombobulated and disestablished by a 'kook.'" Like these films, Ansen added, Something Wild is "an anti-Yuppie romp that forces the hero to recognize that there's more to life than a well-managed stock portfolio." Employing rapid editing, sharp camera angles, and a breakneck pace, Something Wild stands apart from the slower, more lyrical pace of Demme's early films. While some reviewers found fault with the film's abrupt mood changes, others were impressed by its pacing and style. According to Ansen, "Something Wild can't entirely transcend the fairly predictable confines of [screenwriter E. Max] Frye's plotting, but it hums along with great vitality and style, propelled by the hippest of rock scores. For Charlie and for the audience, this Demme-monde can be a kicky place to visit."
Although Orion Pictures promoted Something Wild with a well-advertised nationwide release, the film only managed to break even. Since he seemed unable to produce a commercially successful picture, Demme next turned from the mainstream to direct Swimming to Cambodia, a film version of an hour-and-a-half-long monologue by performance artist Spalding Gray about a number of topics revolving around Gray's minor role in the 1984 movie The Killing Fields. Calling the film "a two-man undertaking, one that shows off both Mr. Gray's storytelling talents and Jonathan Demme's ability to frame them," Janet Maslin of the New York Times compared Swimming to Cambodia to the work of director Woody Allen, noting that the picture has "an episodic and deceptively random structure, as if its various elements could be easily reshuffled." As in previous Demme features, music plays an important supporting role in Swimming to Cambodia as Laurie Anderson's eerie electronic score punctuates Gray's monologue and the film's few clips from The Killing Fields.
While it was clearly not aimed at the same mass audience as Swing Shift and Something Wild, Swimming to Cambodia was enthusiastically received by critics and art house audiences alike. Pauline Kael found the film to be "serenely assured and elegant" and"a superlatively skillful piece of filmmaking," adding: "Working on a minimalist basis . . . with nothing but Spalding Gary and his props, Demme uses the lighting and shifts in camera angles and a musical score by Laurie Anderson to virtuoso effect." Deeming Swimming to Cambodia Demme's finest work yet, Stanley Kaufmann noted in the New Republic that the film is "funny, pungent, obliquely grave, and its interest never flags." In spite of such accolades, Demme seemed to remain forever poised on the brink of achieving commercial success. His next film, however, a stylish take-off on gangster lifestyles, was destined to change this.
Married to the Mob imagines the tribulations of Angela De Marco (Michelle Pfeiffer), the young wife of a minor New York mobster who attempts to flee mob life following the murder of her husband, only to fall in love with an earnest FBI agent (Matthew Modine). Like Something Wild, it tells the story of ashy, slightly goofy man who is seduced by a sexier, more adventurous woman, and each film involves a protagonist who attempts to escape from the strictures of a confining middle-class existence. Brian Johnson described the film in Maclean's as "a chic cops-and-robbers romance . . . a candy-colored confection of cool kitsch and some nifty comedy, with a soundtrack so good that almost nothing else seems to matter." Though most reviewers were impressed with the exuberance of music and color in Married to the Mob, many seemed to agree with New York Times critic Maslin's assessment of the film's plot as"amiably thin." David Ansen commented that "perhaps it's surly to complain that Married to the Mob is'merely' entertaining." The Newsweek critic added that Demme's "brushstrokes are broad," and while Married to the Mob "is a lot of fun, . . . it never gets under your skin."
After having directed eleven pictures in fourteen years, including five films between 1983 and 1988, Demme decided to take time off before beginning work on a new project. However, when Orion Pictures sent the director a copy of Thomas Harris's best-selling 1988 novel, The Silence of the Lambs, Demme found himself immediately drawn to the book's characters, particularly its strong female protagonist. As he told Film Comment contributor Gavin Smith: "Ever since my days of working with Roger Corman, and perhaps before that, I've been a sucker for a woman's picture. A film with a woman protagonist at the forefront. A woman in jeopardy. A woman on a mission. These are themes that have tremendous appeal to me as a moviegoer and also as a director."
Serial Killer Brings Fame
The Silence of the Lambs tells the story of earnest FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), who is chosen by the head of the bureau's behavioral science department to conduct an interview with Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant, suave psychiatrist who is also a mass murderer fond of killing his patients and eating their organs. The FBI hopes that, through Starling's meeting with the psychiatrist, Lecter will be able to provide insight into a serial killer known as Buffalo Bill, who kidnaps and kills women, then removes large swaths of their skin. In exchange for information about Starling's painful buried past, Lecter provides hints on how to find Buffalo Bill, who has unwittingly kidnaped the daughter of a Tennessee senator. The film's plot develops into a race against the clock as Starling and the FBI use Lecter's insights to track down Buffalo Bill before he kills again.
With The Silence of the Lambs Demme once more took a genre picture and stood it on its head. As Newsweek reviewer David Ansen wrote, the film "makes its cliffhangers, fake-outs, and penny-dreadful devices seem newly minted: it breathes fresh, contemporary air into the damsel-in-distress genre." Other reviewers commended Demme for resisting the possibilities for exploitation inherent in the film's subject matter and instead focusing on the psychological impact of the events on the film's central characters. In her New Yorker review, Kael praised the film's unique angle on its subject matter: The Silence of the Lambs presents "artful pulpm—tabloid material treated with intelligence and care and a weird kind of sensitivity." She added that the film "is even more disturbing than its grisly subject suggests, because Harris and Demme don't allow the audience to distance itself in any of the usual ways. The movie has an unnerving intimacy; when it's over, you feel rattled and uncertain, as if you'd just received a threatening phone call."
Given its subject matter, The Silence of the Lambs was not without its detractors, however, as some reviewers questioned the film's stylish treatment of its disturbing themes. For example, Maclean's reviewer Johnson found the film to be "of dubious moral valuem—a triumph of technique rather than ideas," while Kael, though she deemed The Silence of the Lambs "a brilliantly effective piece of filmmaking," noted that "it's a difficult picture to resolve your feelings about." Several critics particularly objected to the film's depiction of Buffalo Bill, particularly the presentation of the killer's sexuality. Typical were the comments of New York Magazine critic David Denby, who wrote that "Buffalo Bill . . . shrieks and does revolting things to himself," and "the explanation of Buffalo Bill's compulsions could be made a lot clearer. Some people might take him for an ordinary gay man who got carried away: The movie runs the risk of arousing fear and hatred of homosexuals." Similar criticism came from Stuart Klawans, who opined in the Nation: "Granted, there's some double talk in the dialogue about the killer's not really being homosexual; but if you dropped him into the middle of a Mel Brooks movie, most people would get the idea. He has long blond hair and a yapping little dog named Precious and he flounces around in a nightgown. To Mel Brooks, that would make him a figure of fun. In The Silence of the Lambs, it makes him evil incarnate."
Despite their caveats, critics were nevertheless united in their feeling that The Silence of the Lambs serves as a powerful example of moviemaking. Johnson described the film as "a clever, creepy, and extremely compelling drama" that, "as a pure thriller, . . . ranks with the classics." Similarly, Denby, who dubbed the film "the most exciting thriller in years," claimed that "at times, Demme achieves levels of tension that Hitchcock would have been proud of." A huge box-office hit and the winner of numerous prestigious awards, including Academy awards for best picture and best director, The Silence of the Lambs has been easily the greatest critical and commercial success of Demme's prolific career. It was also the film that unquestioningly solidified his position as one of American cinema's top directors.
In 1993, Demme took on controversial subject matter once again by directing and producing Philadelphia, which starred Tom Hanks as Andrew Beckett, a gay lawyer with AIDS. When his law firm fires Beckett, he takes them to court. An essayist for the International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers noted: "Upon the film's release, gay activists complainedm—sometimes bitterlym—that the film soft-pedals its subject. However, Philadelphia was not produced for those who already are highly politicized and need no introduction to the reality of AIDS. The film was made for the masses who do not live in urban gay enclaves, and who have never metm—or think they have never metm—a homosexual, let alone a person with AIDS. As a drama," the writer added, Philadelphia "is not without flaws," but "does succeed in showing that homosexuals are human beings, people who deserve to be treated fairly and civilly." Demme achieved his intended goal; the film enjoyed a wide viewing and was a box-office success; in addition Hanks won an Academy Award for his role in the film.
Documentary about Haiti
Demme's 2003 documentary, The Agronomist, is the story of Haitian activist Jean Dominique. Dominique operated the only independent radio station in Haiti, from which he consistently opposed that country's dictatorship. Twice sent into exile for his outspoken political beliefs, which included strong support for a democratic change in government, Dominique was murdered in 2000. Demme met Dominique in the 1980s and the two quickly became friends. Over a period of years, Demme filmed a series of interviews with the activist that grew to become The Agronomist. According to Julian Roman in a review for BlackFilm.com: "The chronology of these interviews followed a turbulent time in Haitian history. Governments came and went. Haiti would descend into anarchy and Demme filmed it all through the perspective of Jean Dominique." David Thomas, in a review for FilmCritic.com, noted that "Dominique is a wonder to watch. His dynamic, percussive speaking style and wide-eyed visage of utter conviction is transfixing. And for all the tragedy that touches his life, he remains the most cheerful interviewee in the film." The Agronomist was awarded top documentary honors at several film festivals.
Demme tackled a more commercial project in re-making the film The Manchurian Candidate. The film attempts to update John Frankenheimer's controversial and highly lauded 1962 cold war drama, the original film follows a group of soldiers held prisoner during the Korean War. Secretly brainwashed by communist agents during their captivity, all the soldiers remember the captain of their platoon, Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), as the hero who saved them. In fact, those memories are false, having been implanted through brainwashing techniques. Shaw, the son of a U.S. Senator and a powerful mother (Angela Lansbury), becomes increasingly influential upon his return to the United States, but he is actually a pawn who has been trained as a murderer, as has the fellow soldier (Frank Sinatra) brainwashed to be Shaw's killer. In Demme's version of the story, Gulf War soldiers are captured and have microchips secretly implanted in their bodies by a multinational corporation. These microchips control the soldiers, one of whom becomes a politician back home. As John Petrakis noted in the Christian Century, "Demme and his screenwriters found elements in the original novel by Richard Condon and the screenplay by George Axelrod that they felt could be reconfigured to fit the current scenem—conspiracy, high technology, the omnipresence of the media, and the political influence of big business and bigger money."
While some critics decried Demme's effort to re-make what many consider to be one of the greatest films of the twentieth century, Noy Thrupkaew, writing in American Prospect, believed that "Demme subtly captures our diffuse yet omnipresent contemporary mechanisms of top-down control. Using news crawls and television voice-overs, he depicts how the government could use an ever-present sense of terrorist menace and global mayhem to convince Americans of the need to compromise democracy in favor of security." Kevin Lally, writing in Film Journal International concluded: "Demme pulls off a successful remake of a '60s paranoid classic."
Speaking to Ray Pride of Movie City News, Demme said of his work on The Manchurian Candidate: "I don't think it's sacrilegious to remake any movie, including a good or even great movie. I think what's sacrilegious is to make a bad movie, whether it's are make or an original. It's what I always tell my actor friends, . . . you've gotta try to hold out and only do the scripts, do the material that offers you the opportunity to do your best work. Because if you do stuff that doesn't give you that opportunity? Your work's not gonna be good. And you're gonna suffer in the long run from that."
Earlier in his career, Demme's pursuit of his idiosyncratic vision undoubtedly cost him commercial appeal. As he told a writer for People, "I could probably
If you enjoy the works of Jonathan Demme
If you enjoy the works of Jonathan Demme, you may also want to check out the following:
The Last Waltz, directed by Martin Scorsese, 1978.
Roger Corman, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, 1998.
The Blair Witch Project, directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, 1999.
be enormously wealthym—taking set-up movies from the major studios. I've seen what happens to a lot of directors who follow that studio track. As time goes by, the fire gets lost, the expertise takes over." Artistically, the director refuses to compromise: "I'm not like that. I'll listen to any idea, any budget. If something good can come of it, I'll dive right in."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Bliss, Michael, and Christina Banks, What Goes around Comes Around: The Films of Jonathan Demme, Southern Illinois University Press, 1996.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Kael, Pauline, Pauline Kael on Jonathan Demme: A Selection of Reviews accompanying the Retrospective Jonathan Demme, an American Director, Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN), 1988.
Advocate, March 12, 1991, David Ehrenstein, "Of Lambs and Slaughter: Director Jonathan Demme Responds to Charges of Homophobia."
American Film, January-February, 1984, Michael Stragow, interview with Demme.
American Prospect, September, 2004, Noy Thrupkaew, "Costume Psychodramas: A New Manchurian Candidate Labors under Today's Partisan Imperatives," p. 33.
Christian Century, August 10, 2004, John Petrakis, "Recurring Nightmare," p. 43.
Cineaste, winter, 2004, Robert Sklar, review of The Manchurian Candidate, p. 42.
Cinema Texas Program Notes, spring, 1978, Marjorie Baumgarten, review of Caged Heat and Louis Black, review of Crazy Mama.
Commonweal, September 10, 2004, Richard Alleva, "Brain Drain: The Manchurian Candidate, " p. 21.
Creative Screenwriting (Washington, DC), spring, 1995, R. Reichman, "I Second That Emotion."
Daily Variety, September 29, 2004, Anthony Kaufman, "Demme Cited for Mastery, Conscience,"p. A2.
Entertainment Weekly, August 6, 2004, Lisa Schwarzbaum, "Election Daze: The Manchurian Candidate Revisits Old Stumping Grounds with Half the Original's Punch," p. 56.
Esquire, September, 1988.
Film Comment, September-October, 1980, Carlos Clarens, interview with Demme; January-February, 1991, Gavin Smith, interview with Demme.
Film Journal International, September, 2004, Kevin Lally, review of The Manchurian Candidate, p. 52.
Guardian (Manchester, England), October 10, 1998, Adrian Wootton, interview with Demme.
Hollywood Reporter, September 3, 2004, "Demme Talks U.S. Politics at Venice Fest," p. 1.
Independent (London, England), June 15, 1989, Quentin Curtis, interview with Demme.
Interview, February, 1991, Gary Indiana, interview with Demme, p. 16.
Maclean's, April 23, 1984; November 10, 1986; August 29, 1988; February 18, 1991.
MovieMaker, fall, 2002, Phillip Williams, "The Truth about Jonathan Demme."
Nation, September 19, 1988; February 25, 1991.
New Republic, November 8, 1980; May 21, 1984; November 24, 1986; March 23, 1987; February 18, 1991.
Newsweek, September 29, 1980; April 23, 1984; October 22, 1984; November 10, 1986; August 22, 1988; April 9, 1990, M. Miller, "An Unlikely Director for the G-Men"; February 18, 1991.
New York, February 18, 1991.
New Yorker, October 13, 1980; May 14, 1984; November 17, 1986; August 22, 1988; February 25, 1991; March 21, 1994, Ted Tally, "Ted Tally, on Jonathan Demme"; October 31, 1994, "Jonathan Demme's Moving Pictures."
New York Times, May 4, 1979; May 13, 1979; September 26, 1980; April 13, 1984; October 19, 1984; November 7, 1986; March 13, 1987; August 17, 1988; March 25, 1990, M. DeCourcey Hinds, "Retelling a Psychopathic Killer's Tale Is No Joke"; February 19, 1991, Janet Maslin, "How to Film a Gory Story with Restraint"; August 9, 2004.
New York Times Magazine, March 27, 1988, James Kaplan, "Jonathan Demme's Offbeat America."
People, May 25, 1987; February 18, 1991; June 22, 1992, E. Gleick, "Only Lambs Are Silent."
Premiere, September, 1988; January, 1994, J. Green, "The Philadelphia Experiment."
Rolling Stone, May 19, 1988, Fred Schruers, "Jonathan Demme: A Study in Character," p. 100; November 2, 1989, J. Farber, review of Something Wild; March 24, 1994, p. 60.
Sight and Sound, Volume 60, number 1, 1990-91, S. Vineberg, "Swing Shift A Tale of Hollywood"; January, 1999, Neil McCormick, review of Store-front Hitchcock.
Time, October 20, 1980; April 23, 1984; November 10, 1986; August 22, 1988.
Time Out, July 1, 1987; February 23, 1994, Geoff Andrew and Nigel Floyd, review of Philadelphia.
USA Today, December 6, 2004.
Variety, December 23, 1991; December 4, 2000.
Velvet Light Trap, fall, 1996, Joy Van Fuqua, "'Can You Feel It, Joe?': Male Melodrama and the Family Man."
Village Voice, February 18, 1991, Amy Taubin, interview with Demme; June 9, 1992, Amy Taubin, "Still Burning."
Vogue, January, 1994, M. Cunningham, "Breaking the Silence."
Washington Post, April 24, 1984.
BlackFilm.com, http://www.blackfilm.com/ (April, 2004), Julian Roman, review of The Agronomist.
FilmCritic.com, http://www.filmcritic.com/ (June 10, 2005), David Thomas, review of The Agronomist.
Movie City News Online,http://www.moviecitynews.com/ (June 28, 2004), Ray Pride, interview with Demme.*