An Ode to Jonathan Demme, His Perfect Film, and the Compassion of “Philadelphia”

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Jonathan Demme died early Wednesday morning at the age of 73, and as a longtime fan, I’m heartbroken for two reasons — The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia.

You won’t meet a lot of people with a Silence of the Lambs poster on their bedroom wall. Depicting Buffalo Bill’s cute little poodle Precious, staring down at Catherine Martin inside his horrific well of despair, it has drawn complaints from some creeped-out visitors over the years, but where else am I going to put this thing? The living room? Not with a roommate, that’s for sure!

And yet, I can’t take the poster down. Not only is it a gorgeous piece of movie poster art, but it’s a tribute to my stance on Demme’s seminal 1991 masterpiece, which I consider to be a Perfect Film. There is no higher compliment I can pay a movie, not even the aforementioned “m-word” above.

No, a perfect film means I wouldn’t change a single thing about it. Not an actor, not a line reading, not its running time and certainly not a costume, a set or a song. The Silence of the Lambs is one of those rare films, and accordingly, it must be visually represented in my apartment somehow.

I first watched The Silence of the Lambs with my childhood neighbor. We watched it in his parents’ bedroom at the tender young age of 9, and not only were we both terrified, we were both left scarred by the visceral experience. Now, I can’t speak for him, but mine was the good kind of scarring, the kind that creates a lifelong genre fan, and I’ve worn it proudly ever since.

I owe my film fandom to Jonathan Demme. He created a movie monster and I’ll be forever grateful. I’m also thankful for his next narrative feature, the devastating 1993 drama Philadelphia, which stands tall amongst AIDS-themed films thanks to the incredible empathy that radiates from behind the camera.

With the help of Tom Hanks and his Oscar-winning performance, Demme made a tasteful movie about strength and humanity, and in the process, helped to de-stigmatize the disease. This country still has a ways to go on that front, but Demme reignited an important conversation, and we all owe him a great debt for that.

Demme made Philadelphia not because he was chasing another Oscar after Silence of the Lambs, but because he had a huge heart and a compassionate eye, as further evidenced by the numerous documentaries he directed and the other features he was involved with, such as Beloved, Mandela and Rachel Getting Married.

Jonathan Demme truly cared, and that’s more than I can say for a lot of filmmakers these days. They should be so lucky as to have his career, not to mention his longevity, his creativity and his social impact.

Before I start to cry again, I’d like to quote the Q Lazzarus song “Goodbye Horses” that was used so memorably in The Silence of the Lambs.

“I see you come, I see you go. You say, ‘All things pass… into the night.'” Well, goodbye Jonathan Demme, who is surely flying over us now. Rest in peace, sir.

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Still quiet here.sas

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