If he had made no other films, Jonathan Demme, who has died, would be forever remembered for his horror masterpiece The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Rarely has a film had such an immediate, visceral impact on me. I had unwisely super-caffeinated myself just before watching it for the first time, and I became so anxious when the door to the storage facility was opened that I had to leave the theater. Of course, my curiosity about what would happen to Clarice and Hannibal soon drove me back to sit through the whole thing.
The Silence of the Lambs is one of only three movies to win Oscars in all four major categories: Best Picture, Director (Demme), Leading Actor (Anthony Hopkins) and Leading Actress (Jodie Foster). It also won the Screenwriting Oscar (Ted Tally).
Jonathan Demme, however, was a director who could master many genres. He started out with genre exploitation movies, and I first admired his work in the little indie Melvin and Howard (1980), with its delightful performances by Jason Robards and Paul Le Mat. Then he made one of the two or three best ever rock concert films, Stop Making Sense (1984) with The Talking Heads. Then he directed the topical drama Philadelphia (1993) and the wonderfully engaging addiction dramedy Rachel Getting Married (2008).
His body of work screams versatility, and his masterpiece…Well, his masterpiece just screams.