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Jonathan Demme

Jonathan Demme
File:Jonathan Demme May 2015.jpg
Demme at the Montclair Film Festival, May 2015
Born Robert Jonathan Demme
(1944-02-22) February 22, 1944 (age 72)
Baldwin, Nassau County, New York, U.S.
Occupation Director, producer, actor, screenwriter
Years active 1971–present
Spouse(s) Joanne Howard
Evelyn Purcell

Robert Jonathan Demme (/ˈdɛmi/; born February 22, 1944) is an American filmmaker, producer and screenwriter. Best known for directing The Silence of the Lambs, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director, he has also directed the acclaimed films Philadelphia, Rachel Getting Married, the Talking Heads concert movie Stop Making Sense and a trilogy of Neil Young documentary/concert movies. His recent film A Master Builder opened in New York during June 2014 and was based on the 19th century play by Henrik Ibsen.


Demme broke into feature film working for exploitation film producer Roger Corman from 1971 to 1976, co-writing and producing Angels Hard as They Come and The Hot Box. He then moved on to directing, with three films (Caged Heat, Crazy Mama, Fighting Mad) for Corman's studio New World Pictures. After Fighting Mad, Demme directed the comedy film Handle with Care for Paramount Pictures in 1977. The film was well received by critics,[1] but received little promotion,[2] and performed poorly at the box office.[3]

Demme's next film, 1980's Melvin and Howard, did not get a wide release, but received a groundswell of critical acclaim, and led to the signing of Demme to direct the Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell star vehicle Swing Shift. Intended as a prestige picture for Warner Bros.[4] as well as a major commercial vehicle for Demme,[5] it instead became a troubled production due to the conflicting visions of Demme and star Hawn. Demme ended up renouncing the finished product, and when the film was released in May 1984, it was generally panned by critics and neglected by moviegoers.[4] After Swing Shift, Demme stepped back from Hollywood to make the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense; the eclectic screwball action-romantic comedy Something Wild; a film-version of the stage production Swimming to Cambodia, by monologist Spalding Gray; and the New York Mafia-by-way-of Downtown comedy Married to the Mob.a[›]

In 1991, Demme won the Academy Award for The Silence of the Lambs—one of only three films to win all the major categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress). Demme followed that up with Philadelphia, which garnered star Tom Hanks a Best Actor Oscar.

Since then, Demme's films have included an adaptation of Toni Morrison's Beloved, and remakes of two popular films: The Truth About Charlie, based on Charade that starred Mark Wahlberg in the Cary Grant role; and The Manchurian Candidate, with Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep.

In 2007, Demme's film Man from Plains, a documentary about former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's book tour in promotion of his book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, premiered at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals.

In 2008, the art-house hit Rachel Getting Married was released, which many critics compared to Demme's films of the late 1970s and 1980s.[6][7][8] It was included in many 2008 "best of" lists, and received numerous awards and nominations, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress by lead Anne Hathaway. In 2010, Demme made his first foray into theater, directing Family Week, a play by Beth Henley. The play was produced by MCC Theater and co-starred Rosemarie DeWitt and Sarah Jones.

At one time, Demme was signed on to direct, produce, and write an adaptation of Stephen King's sci-fi novel 11/22/63, but later left due to disagreements with King on what should be included in the script.[9]

Demme has directed music videos for artists such as Suburban Lawns, New Order, KRS-One's H.E.A.L. project and Bruce Springsteen. He also produced a compilation of Haitian music called Konbit: Burning Rhythms of Haiti that was released in 1989. (Lou Reed selected Konbit... as one of his 'picks of 1989'.[10] )

Demme is on the board of directors at Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY. In addition to his role on the board, he curates and hosts a monthly series called "Rarely Seen Cinema".

Clinica Estetico

Demme formed his production company, Clinica Estetico, with producers Edward Saxon and Peter Saraf. They were based out of New York City for fifteen years.

Personal life

Demme was born in 1944 in Baldwin, Nassau County, New York, the son of Dorothy Louise (Rogers) and Robert Eugene Demme, a public relations executive.[11][12] He graduated from Southwest Miami High School[13] and the University of Florida.

He is currently a member of the steering committee of the Friends of the Apollo Theater in Oberlin, Ohio, along with Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman.[14] In 2013, he returned to Oberlin, as part of an alumni reunion during the class of 2013 graduation ceremony, and received the award for Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts. Demme has three children by two marriages: Ramona, Brooklyn and Jos. He also was the uncle of film director Ted Demme, who died in 2002.

During the 1980s, Demme had a brief romantic relationship with rock singer Belinda Carlisle, who appeared in his movie Swing Shift.[15]


Feature films


Television work

Other work

Awards and nominations


  1. ^ Sragow, Michael (1984), "Jonathan Demme on the Line", American Film (January/February), retrieved March 18, 2009, Although his best two movies to date, Citizens Band (AKA Handle With Care, 1977) and Melvin and Howard (1980), were hailed for bringing the heartiness and sensitivity of a homegrown Jean Renoir into latter-day American film comedy, they failed to score at the box office. [dead link]
  2. ^ Kaplan, James (March 27, 1988), "Jonathan Demme's Offbeat America", The New York Times: 6.48, retrieved March 18, 2009, Paramount figured it might just have a sleeper hit in the small movie, but it took a wait-and-see attitude, spending little on advertising and promotion, and hoping the movie would hook onto the C.B. craze and catch. 
  3. ^ Williams, Phillip (2002), "The Truth About Jonathan Demme", MovieMaker (October 11, 2002), We had a great time doing it and we were invited to the New York Film Festival, despite the fact that the film tanked horrendously—and famously—at the box office. 
  4. ^ a b Vineberg, Steve, "Swing Shift: A Tale of Hollywood", Sight & Sound (British Film Institute), retrieved March 19, 2009 [dead link]
  5. ^ Uhlich, Keith (August 2004), Jonathan Demme, Sense of Cinema, ISSN 1443-4059, retrieved March 19, 2009 [dead link]
  6. ^ Burr, Ty (2008), "He's back", The Boston Globe (October 12, 2008), retrieved March 19, 2009, Warm rather than cold, forgiving rather than damning, Rachel is a throwback to the fluky, generous vibe that sustained the director's films in the late 1970s and 1980s – Handle With Care (1977), Melvin and Howard (1980), Stop Making Sense (1984), Something Wild (1986) and Married to the Mob (1988). 
  7. ^ Olsen, Mark (September 28, 2008), "Jonathan Demme's 'Rachel Getting Married.'", Los Angeles Times, retrieved March 19, 2009, With "Rachel Getting Married," Demme, 64, has returned to the playful, deeply humanist storytelling of such early work as 1980's Melvin and Howard and 1986's Something Wild, both of which are widely acknowledged as having influenced a younger generation of filmmakers. 
  8. ^ Schickel, Richard (2008), "Rachel Getting Married, Demme Getting Messy", TIME (October 02, 2008), retrieved March 19, 2009, Back in the '70s and '80s he was the best – or at any rate the most promising – young American director. [...] Demme's new film, Rachel Getting Married, is arguably an attempt on the part of the director to wend his way back to his roots.  Check date values in: |publicationdate= (help)
  9. ^ Gallagher, Brian (December 6, 2012). "Stephen King's 11/22/63 Loses Jonathan Demme". Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  10. ^ Rolling Stone, March 8, 1990
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Jonathan Demme Biography (1944–)". Film Reference. Retrieved March 19, 2009. 
  13. ^ "14902: The silenced voice of Radio Haiti speaks again on film (fwd)". Retrieved February 17, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Friends of the Apollo". Oberlin College. Retrieved July 6, 2009. 
  15. ^ Carlisle, Belinda. Lips Unsealed. New York: Crown, 2010.
  16. ^ "Berlinale: 1991 Prize Winners". Retrieved March 26, 2011. 

External links

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