Director Jonathan Demme died today at 73. The cause of death was esophageal cancer and heart disease. He’s survived by his wife, Joanne Howard, and three children.
Demme was known both for his narrative films like The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia as well as his concert films, including Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, considered one of the best of all time.
To celebrate his life and work, take a look at some of his best moments.
1. New Order — “The Perfect Kiss”
While known in the music world especially for his concert films, he made a number of music videos too. One of the best is this clip for “The Perfect Kiss” by New Order. Demme shot the nearly 11-minute clip in New Order’s rehearsal space, and features the band playing the song all the way through — live. Nothing more, nothing less. And yet — it’s gorgeous; Demme’s choice of long takes lets the music video breathe.
2. Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing
Jonathan Demme told The Guardian, “One of my favourite things in watching any performance on film is when there isn’t a lot of cutting going on and when you get a chance to become really absorbed in the artist in hand.” Demme was talking about the “Perfect Kiss” clip, but it describes “Solitude Standing” as well. The main difference is “Solitude” was lipsynched rather than performed live, so there’s little bit more flexibility in terms of shots. Oddly enough — it’s those extra shots that makes it less affecting than “Perfect Kiss,” but it’s still a very striking video.
3. Stop Making Sense
Stop Making Sense, the 1984 Talking Heads concert film is absolutely amazing — there’s a number of clips we could have chosen. But we went with this one, the performance of “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” for two reasons. First, it’s an absolutely gorgeous song. And second, the inventive staging. This is probably the only time you’ll see a man sing a love song to a lamp.
4. The Neville Brothers — “Sister Rosa”
While so far on this list, we’ve just looked at performance videos, Demme’s video for “Sister Rosa” features a narrative. The song is a straightforward dramatization of the start of Rosa Parks’ bus boycott. Demme cuts in stock footage from the era as well as footage of the band.
5. Bruce Springsteen — “Streets of Philadelphia”
Much like Stop Making Sense, no list of Demme’s musical work would be complete without “Streets of Philadelphia”, the opening theme to his AIDS tragedy Philadelphia. The deceptively simple video features Bruce Springsteen walking the titular streets. Perhaps surprising for a music video for a film’s theme song, there’re only a couple brief clips of Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. That decision keeps “Streets of Philadelphia” from merely feeling like a promotional tie-in with the movie.
Bonus: Suburban Lawns — “Gidget Goes To Hell”
Sadly this video is surprisingly rare — despite airing on Saturday Night Live a couple times in 1980. Demme’s very first music video can only be found on YouTube in poor quality. That lack of quality kept us from keeping it in the list proper — even though it’s still great. This video from Suburban Lawns, depicts a beach movie gone wrong.
One other neat thing about this video — in many of his movies, Demme cast some of his favorite musicians in bit parts. Su Tissue, lead singer for the Lawns, showed up in Something Wild.