Archive for Jonathan Demme

Walk This Way

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on March 27, 2018 by dcairns

 

While showing THE CONFORMIST to students — a depleted bunch just now, as they’re all off making films, the swine — I suddenly realized that the above sequence, with its creepy fascist flunkies leading Trintignant to his Important Appointment — was a Fellini swipe.

But it’s not exact. Bertolucci’s shots are a touch simpler than Fellini’s, which don’t lag as far behind, but often veer off into fresh compositional adventures.

It’s a great, nightmarish angle. Being led through an institution by a flunky who nevertheless outranks you, and leads you to the Big Important Fellow. It has the quality of a dream — the moving POV offers the illusion of self-motivation but, strapped to our cinema seats with our eyelids clamped open, we have no choice but to follow the leader.

Then I flashed on the “insight” that Jonathan Demme MUST have used this in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, when Clarice is first led to meet Lector. Wrong again — Demme carries off a whole range of interesting blocking, reminiscent of 8 1/2 but not overtly referencing it. Did he miss a trick? I’m not sure — I think the shot would have worked like gangbusters, but it’s hard to argue that the sequence, a highlight of that problematic yet seminal work, is less than effective.

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Jonathan Demme

Posted in FILM with tags , , on April 26, 2017 by dcairns

One is supposed to say R.I.P. at these times, but why? I want Jonathan Demme to get up, dust himself off, and make more movies. I don’t want him to be dead.

Demme was just starting to make his best work just as I was growing up and becoming aware of the variety of contemporary cinema, so even if I haven’t always followed what he was doing so closely, he felt close. He seemed nice, too, something you got from his films as well as from his affable interviews. Though major movie-makers are usually somewhat tough, to say the least, it would be a real surprise to learn anything bad about this guy.

If Demme sometimes arguably compromised too much with audience tastes, squeamishly excluding any kissing from PHILADELPHIA, for instance, he clearly did so in hopes of making his greater points as successfully as possible. If SILENCE OF THE LAMBS offends, I’m prepared to believe it was a miscalculation, and due to prejudices inherent in the story, and something he would have changed if he could. PHILADELPHIA seems like an attempt at atonement, which is partly why it lacks real passion. I want to remember his fun stuff, SOMETHING WILD and the always-underrated MARRIED TO THE MOB and SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA and STOP MAKING SENSE. My sluggardly ways mean that I still have quite a bit of Demme to catch up on — the exciting stuff, to me, is the documentaries and performance films (important to distinguish the two genres, as Demme always did). I can watch those and when I do, Demme will be alive.

Sigh.

Brainwashed

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2016 by dcairns

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Jonathan Demme seems like such a smart and likable fellow, and for a while there his films were really something to look forward to. I can’t explain the one-two punch of remakes THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE (CHARADE recycled, confirming what SABRINA should have proven: don’t mess with Audrey Hepburn vehicles) and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE in the early years of this century. Despite cameos by the likes of Anna Karina, Agnes Varda and Charles Aznavour (TTAC) and Robyn Hitchcock, Al Franken, Roger Corman and Bruno Ganz (TMC), they are weirdly UN-COOL movies, lacking the charm of the old and the freshness of the new. All the fun stuff (Karina as a chanteuse? Sure, if you’re offering!) is incidental, decorations on a dead tree.

I finally watched TMC on a whim — I picked up the DVD for £1 in a charity shop, then found to my chagrin that it was on Netflix anyway, started watching it, got bored, decided to some back to it and found it was deleted, so my disc came in handy after all. So, I freely confess, I watched it piecemeal, which is arguably not giving it a fair shot. But I think I’d have had the same problems with it regardless.

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Weird seeing Jon Voight as the liberal. But weirdly natural seeing him upside down underwater. Why is that? Then I realized: for some time now, Jon Voight ALWAYS looks like he’s upside down underwater.

I really like John Frankenheimer and George Axelrod’s original — this piece concentrates on its many flaws, but I hope succeeds in bringing out why it’s ultimately so satisfying. The 2002 version, I thought, was going to attempt to be a political update for the War on Terror, but even though Axelrod’s script for the original did not name political parties and Daniel Pyne and Dean Gorgaris’ does, the movie seemed irrelevant. Oddly, it ought to have deeper resonance now, with the idea of a puppet president, but since Demme’s Manchuria is a corporation not a foreign power, it’s the Frankenheimer that feels more of-the-moment… prophetic, even.

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Sci-fi implants just don’t have the resonance of brainwashing, something we can still somewhat believe in. So we don’t believe in the device, and the Evil Corporation feels like a standard movie trope, not an impassioned political stance. It’s like Demme’s response to the Bush administration was to come out against Webscoe, the Evil Corporation from SUPERMAN III.

Everything about Demme’s film is perfectly decent. So instead of Frank Sinatra’s moving, anguished performance, we get Denzel Washington’s perfectly decent one. Instead of Frankenheimer’s taut, surrealism-inflected visuals, we get Demme’s perfectly decent filmmaking. Where Laurence Harvey imbued his brainwashed “war hero” with that rather hateful quality Harvey always had, combined with spectacular good looks, Liev Schreiber gives an exceptional performance made less affecting because, with his odd, features, he’s much more obvious casting as a Man Without Appeal. He’s like a thin George Bancroft whittled from cork.

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Actually, maybe he’s meant to have appeal because the script makes a few changes, so that Schreiber is a vice presidential candidate who stands to get the top job, while Washington is the one who’s been programmed as an assassin. This actually makes a kind of narrative sense, or it would if it led us to a satisfying and disturbing conclusion. But a dark, scary ending would have turned this into a clone of THE PARALLAX VIEW, so it has to have a wishy-washy happy ending, making heroes of the FBI (who have received a surprising amount of positive PR from Demme’s career).

Streep is the highlight. I’ve come round to Streep, if not to her movies.