Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme has died.
The New York-native, ardent fan of Texas film and director of “The Silence of the Lambs” died from complications due to esophageal cancer and heart disease. He was 73.
A director with a voracious appetite for vibrant characters, crafty storytelling and a feel for exploitation (he was one of Roger Corman’s many cinematic offspring), Demme’s career was one of modern American cinema’s most eclectic.
He seemed to fear no genre. He could do star-studded social realism (the legal/AIDS drama “Philadelphia,” for which Tom Hanks won an Oscar), concert movies (Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” remains the best concert film ever made, “Last Waltz” or no), delivered music-heavy screwball comedy (“Something Wild”) and could elevate lurid pulp into Oscar-winning art (hello, Clarice).
His most recent critical smash was the 2008 movie “Rachel Getting Married” starring Anne Hathaway. Directed in a naturalistic style, it reminded audiences that Demme was capable of showing new sides of himself after more than 40 years as a director.
There wasn’t much Demme couldn’t do, or at least try. He was a vibrant documentarian — besides the still-stunning “Stop Making Sense,” Demme made three films focusing on Neil Young: — “Neil Young: Heart of Gold” (2006), “Neil Young Trunk Show” (2009) and “Neil Young Journeys” (2011). Other subjects included Jimmy Carter (“Man from Plains”), Haitian radio under oppressive regimes (“The Agronomist”) and his cousin Bobby (“Cousin Bobby”), a minister in Harlem. He also directed episodic television and a clutch of music videos.
Demme had a special relationship with Austin. In 1980, after Austin Chronicle/South by Southwest co-founder Louis Black showed Demme Austin’s vibrant arts scene, Demme put together a program of six short films from Austin and screened the set at the Collective for Living Cinema in New York, a cinematic postcard from Austin to the Big Apple. The set was finally released on DVD in 2015 as “Jonathan Demme presents Made in Texas.” He was a frequent guest at SXSW and the Austin Film Festival.