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Jonathan Demme

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Also Known As: Robert Jonathan Demme, Rob Morton Died:
Born: February 22, 1944 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Baldwin, New York, USA Profession: director, producer, screenwriter, publicist, film salesman, music reviewer, film reviewer, actor, usher, kennel worker, salesman, animal hospital worker

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

An incredibly energetic, optimistic and versatile director of character-driven films, Jonathan Demme emerged from the crucible of B-moviemaking at Roger Corman's New World Pictures in the early 1970s to become one of Hollywood's most critically admired filmmakers. Though he cut his teeth on a few cheapie action flicks like "Caged Heat" (1974) and "Crazy Mama" (1975), Demme tapped into the influence of foreign filmmakers like Francois Truffaut to use sly humor and an oddball style to explore human nature in fiercely intimate films like "Citizen's Band" (1977), "Melvin and Howard" (1980) and the troubled "Swing Shift" (1984). Though mainly interested in fictional storytelling, Demme carved out a career in non-fiction filmmaking, including the critically acclaimed "Stop Making Sense" (1984), a rock documentary featuring the Talking Heads that was widely considered to be one of the best examples of the genre. But Demme reserved his finest work for his most mainstream fare, particularly "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991), which became one of only three films to win Academy Awards in all five major Oscar categories and cemented his reputation as being one of the most versatile and accomplished filmmakers...

An incredibly energetic, optimistic and versatile director of character-driven films, Jonathan Demme emerged from the crucible of B-moviemaking at Roger Corman's New World Pictures in the early 1970s to become one of Hollywood's most critically admired filmmakers. Though he cut his teeth on a few cheapie action flicks like "Caged Heat" (1974) and "Crazy Mama" (1975), Demme tapped into the influence of foreign filmmakers like Francois Truffaut to use sly humor and an oddball style to explore human nature in fiercely intimate films like "Citizen's Band" (1977), "Melvin and Howard" (1980) and the troubled "Swing Shift" (1984). Though mainly interested in fictional storytelling, Demme carved out a career in non-fiction filmmaking, including the critically acclaimed "Stop Making Sense" (1984), a rock documentary featuring the Talking Heads that was widely considered to be one of the best examples of the genre. But Demme reserved his finest work for his most mainstream fare, particularly "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991), which became one of only three films to win Academy Awards in all five major Oscar categories and cemented his reputation as being one of the most versatile and accomplished filmmakers of his day.

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

3.
10.

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 That Thing You Do! (1996) Major Motion Picture Director
3.
 Dying is Easy (1995) (Cameo Appearance)
4.
 Cousin Bobby (1992) Himself
5.
 Into The Night (1985) Federal Agent
7.
10.
 Tom Hanks: Hollywood's Golden Boy (1997) Interviewee
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1959:
Moved to with family to Miami, Florida at age 15 from New York
1964:
Introduced by his father to producer Joseph E. Levine who, pleased by Demme's review of "Zulu" (1964), hired him to write press releases
1966:
Sold films for Pathe Contemporary Films in NYC
:
Wrote for the exhibitor trade paper <i>Film Daily</i>
:
Made 16mm short film, "Good Morning, Steve"
:
Worked in the NY publicity department of United Artists
1968:
Met and befriended Francois Truffaut, who was then publicizing "The Bride Wore Black" (1968) in NYC
1970:
First film credit as a musical coordinator on the Irwin Allen production "Sudden Terror/Eyewitness"
:
While working in London, met producer-director Roger Corman
1971:
Debut as co-screenwriter, co-producer and second unit director, "Angels Hard as They Come"; directed by Joe Viola and produced by Corman
1972:
Re-teamed with Viola to make "The Hot Box"
1974:
Feature directing debut, "Caged Heat"; also wrote screenplay; first collaboration with director of photography Tak Fujimoto
1977:
First collaboration with actor Paul Le Mat, "Citizens Band/Handle With Care"
1978:
Made TV directorial debut with "Murder Under Glass," an NBC TV-movie episode of the Peter Falk "Columbo" series
1978:
Acted in the film "The Incredible Melting Man"
1979:
Directed the Hitchcockian suspense thriller "Last Embrace"
1980:
Re-teamed with Le Mat (as Melvin Dummar) in "Melvin and Howard"; first association with Jason Robards Jr. (as Howard Hughes)
1981:
Helped photograph Adam Brooks' independent film "Ghost Sisters"
1982:
First credit as Rob Morton for his contributions to the screenplay of "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains"
1982:
Directed the PBS teleplay, "Who Am I This Time?" starring Susan Sarandon and Christopher Walken
1984:
Credited as Rob Morton for his contributions to the screenplay of "Swing Shift"; also directed (executive producer Goldie Hawn took over final cut of film and hired another director to re-shoot parts of the film)
1984:
Shot outstanding concert film, "Stop Making Sense" featuring David Byrne and his band Talking Heads
1985:
Contributed a cameo to John Landis' "Into the Night"
1986:
Produced and directed the comedy thriller, "Something Wild"; Byrne contributed opening song
1987:
Directed "Swimming to Cambodia," Spalding Gray's monologue about his participation in the film, "The Killing Fields"
1988:
Directed the Mafia farce "Married to the Mob"; Byrne wrote the score; first collaboration with production designer Kristi Zea
:
Formed the production company, Clinica Estetico Ltd.
1991:
Directed first blockbuster, "The Silence of the Lambs"; one of the few films to win all the major categories, including Best Picture and Best Director
1992:
Directed "Cousin Bobby," a documentary of radical Harlem clergyman Robert Castle, the director's cousin
1993:
Produced and directed "Philadelphia," a politically correct, look at the AIDS epidemic and American homophobia; Reverend Castle played Hanks' father; again collaborated with Zea and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner
1994:
Provided the funding so that his wife's best friend, AIDS-stricken artist Juan Botas, could make his documentary "One Foot on a Banana Peel, the Other Foot in the Grave"
1997:
Executive produced and helmed "Subway Car From Hell" segment of HBO's anthology movie "Subway Stories: Tales From the Underground"
1998:
Directed the documentary of legendary rocker Robyn Hitchcock, "Storefront Hitchcock"
1998:
Directed an adaptation of Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "Beloved"; starring and co-produced by Oprah Winfrey
2002:
Directed "The Truth About Charlie," a remake of the classic "Charade"
2004:
Directed a remake of the 1962 thriller "The Manchurian Candidate," based on the novel by Richard Condon
2007:
Helmed the documentary "Man from Plains," featuring Jimmy Carter as Carter promotes his book <i>Palestine:Peace not Apartheid</i>
2008:
Directed the family drama "Rachel Getting Married" starring Anne Hathaway and Debra Winger; earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Feature
2008:
Nominated for the 2008 Independent Spirit Award for Best Director ("Rachel Getting Married")
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

University of Florida: Gainesville , Florida -

Notes

Demme used the pseudonym Rob Morton for screenwriting credit on the films "Swing Shift" (which he directed under his real name) and "Ladies and Gentleman . . . The Fabulous Stains."

Awarded an honorary degree by Wesleyn University June 3, 1990

"The most important thing Roger [Corman] did for me was to sit down with me right before I directed 'Caged Heat' and run down just how to do a job of moviemaking. He hit everything: have something interesting happening in the background of the shot; try to find good motivation to move the camera, because it's more stimulating to the eyes; if you're shooting the scene in a small room where you can't move the camera, try to get in different angles, because cuts equal movement; respect the characters and try to like them, and translate that into the audience liking and respecting the characters. To me, those are the fundamentals." --Jonathan Demme on making "Caged Heat" (1974) quoted in "Righteous & Outrageous--Jonathan Demme" by Paul Taylor, Monthly Film Bulletin, July 1989

"Jonathan Demme's domain is America itself--a vibrant, polychromatic, up-to-the-second place. But there isn't a slick or pat frame in any of his movies. When Jason Robards and Paul Le Mat, as Howard Hughes and Melvin Dummar, sing 'Bye Bye Blackbird' as they drive through the desert at night in "Melvin and Howard"; . . . when Jeff Daniels, pretending to be the husband of his kinky kidnapper, Melanie Griffith, goes to meet her small-town mother in "Something Wild"--Demme's films cross the line from entertainment into poetry. They contain a warmth, a largeness of spirit, a deadpan humor, and a visual and narrative unpredictability that are indebted equally to the eye-pleasing kineticism practiced by Demme's mentor, Roger Corman, the master of horror and action pictures, and to the cinematic intelligence of his early friend and influence Francois Truffaut" --from "Jonathan Demme's Offbeat America" by James Kaplan, The New York Times, 1988.

"It's amazing. I'm an Oscar-winning director. And I love it. I'm proud of it. But I honestly didn't expect to win. I came out here to have some fun, to see the event up close, to visit friends. I don't feel it's going to be a part of my identity, or change a second of my life. But, man, it sure puts the spotlight on you." --Jonathan Demme, quoted in New York Newsday, April 1, 1992

"I didn't go to film school; I didn't work toward being a filmmaker. I stumbled into writing movie reviews so I could get into the movies for free. Then my father introduced me to Joseph E Levine, and Levine offers me a job in the movie business. 'A huge stroke of luck' doesn't catch it.

"Then I wind up crossing paths with Roger Corman, and Corman has just started New World Pictures and needs scripts. My best friend is Joe Viola, one of the most gifted storytellers I've ever known. So Joe and I write a script for Corman, and then, because Joe directs commercials, suddenly Roger wants us to make this motorcycle movie. Again, 'an enormous stroke of good fortune' doesn't fully chacterize it. I mean, people bust their butts for decades to get to make a picture, and I fell backward into it." --Demme quoted in Rolling Stone, March 24, 1994

On deciding to make "Beloved": "I loved the script, the characters, the story. It's a great love story, a great ghost story, a great historical epic. It also had the dimension of addressing race relations in America, which is a subject that's very close to my heart. So I just dove in.

"I met with Oprah and asked her if she was at all concerned that because of her prominence as a public figure audiences might have some difficulty accepting her as a 19th Century farm woman haunted by her past.

"She thought that was a fair question, but felt she was capable of giving a performance and undergoing a not just physical but kind of cosmic transformation through the channeling of ancestors that would make what she could do rise above such concerns.

"And I believed her. So, we went to work on it." --Demme to NEWSDAY, October 10, 1998

The aftermath of "Beloved": "I feel haunted--in the best sense of the word--by the experience of making this film. It wasn't a difficult shoot; it was a joyful shoot. I still miss the filming so much. And the dailies every night--it was a celebration. There'd be a certain point where you'd hear Oprah go, 'I ain't ever seen no movie like this before.'" --Demme to Premiere, November 1998

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Evelyn Purcell. Producer, second unit director. Produced Demme's first film as a director "Caged Heat" (1974); produced and was second unit director on "Fighting Mad" (1976); divorced.
wife:
Joanne Howard. Artist.

Family close complete family listing

mother:
Dorothy Demme. Actor. Died on November 20, 1995 of emphysema at age 81; appeared in bit roles in son's films.
brother:
Rick Demme.
brother:
Peter Demme.
cousin:
Robert Castle. Minister. Subject of Demme's 1992 feature documentary "Cousin Bobby"; minister at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Harlem, NYC and a believer in liberation theology; grass roots community organizer; had lost touch with Demme for over 30 years before reuniting with him in 1989 to work on the film; subsequently acted in Demme's "Philadelphia" (1993).
nephew:
Ted Demme. Director, producer. Directed the features "Who's the Man?" and "The Ref"; born on October 26, 1963; died on January 13, 2002.
niece:
Jennifer Demme. Producer. Worked for MTV.
daughter:
Ramona Castle Demme. Born c. 1987.
son:
Brooklyn James Demme. Born c. 1989.
daughter:
Josephine Demme.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"What Goes Around Comes Around: The Films of Jonathan Demme" Southern Illinois University Press

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