Jonathan Demme (1944-2017)

Reading obituaries of director Jonathan Demme, who has died from cancer aged 73, it struck me how many memorable scenes his films spawned.

Born in Baldwin, Long Island, his early career was mentored by B-movie pioneer Roger Corman. When Demme broke into Hollywood he never lost sight of his early exploitation influences and zany sense of humour; even ‘serious’ fare like ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ and ‘Philadelphia’ was hijacked by sundry in-jokes and bizarro guest stars including Corman, Chris Isaak and George A Romero.

Demme’s sets were famous for being fun places to work, and that’s borne out by the bonhomie and improvisatory vibe present in many of his films. He was clearly a friend of musicians, frequently using music in his movies as symbol of collaboration or even spiritual release (writer David Bowman memorably described ‘Stop Making Sense’ as ‘a three-act play documenting the spiritual journey of a hapless white guy trying to “get down”’!).

Apparently Demme sat down with each original member of Talking Heads before filming ‘Stop Making Sense’ and asked them, ‘How do you see me doing this?’ It’s hard to imagine Brian De Palma doing that. As a live-music documentarian, Demme let the viewer get to know each performer as if they were a character in a movie with the use of long, lingering shots, a world away from the clichéd, fast-cutting MTV style.

So, in tribute to a modern master, here are a few memorable moments from Demme films, in chronological order:

‘Stop Making Sense’ (1984)

‘Something Wild’ (1986)

‘Swimming To Cambodia’ (1987) (swearing alert)

‘Married To The Mob’ (1988)

‘Philadelphia’ (1993)

‘Heart Of Gold’ (2006)

‘Rachel Getting Married’ (2008)

11 Great 1980s Movie Taglines

Movie taglines: you know the drill (actually the tagline for a dental-themed slasher pic whose name escapes me…). One, two or three sentences that sum up a film’s flavour or sometimes entire plot. To cineastes of a certain generation, a tagline can be as memorable as the movie itself. Some even become part of the modern lexicon.

But what makes a good tag? Perhaps it’s common words uncommonly used. Horror and sci-fi films seem to lend themselves to memorable tags. Is it because of their promise of the perverse, the uncanny, the unexpected, the taboo?

Quotable taglines are scarce these days. Perhaps the proliferation of films as ‘lists’ on Netflix, YouTube and Lovefilm has snuffed them out. Walk into your local multiplex and you’ll see some extremely lame offerings. But the 1980s threw up a fair few humdingers, prompted by a need for eye-catching posters and proliferation of horror movies. Here are some of the best:

11. ‘The Shining’ (1980): The tide of terror that swept America is HERE.

A spine-tingler whose possible meaning is explored in excellent recent documentary ‘Room 237’.

10. ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ (1986): One man’s struggle to take it easy.

Does the job perfectly in just seven words.

9. ‘Scarecrows’ (1988): When it comes to terror, they’re in a field of their own.

8. ‘The Fog’ (1980): Bolt your doors. Lock your windows. There’s something in the fog!

Does what it says on the tin, but terrified me looking at the video cover in my local rental shop circa 1983.

7. ‘The Burning’ (1981): Don’t look, he’ll see you. Don’t breathe, he’ll hear you. Don’t move…you’re dead.

Only really comes into its own when heard in the original cinematic trailer.

6. ‘The Fly’ (1986): Be afraid. Be very afraid.

What does it have to do with the movie? Not a lot, but has entered the lexicon with ease.

5. ‘Jaws: The Revenge’ (1987) This time it’s personal.

See above.

4. ‘Poltergeist’ (1982): They’re here.

Simple. Chilling. Timeless.

3. ‘The Prey’ (1984) : It’s not human and it’s got an axe!

Silly, tasteless and great.

2. ‘Maniac Cop’ (1988): You have the right to remain silent…forever.

See above.

1. ‘The Thing’ (1982): Man is the warmest place to hide.

Brilliantly evokes the movie’s underlying theme: what makes us human?

Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus

51dnFsTtIPLEvery serious jazz fan seems to have a favourite Sonny Rollins story. One whose origins I forget – but it may be recited in Ken Burns’ ‘Jazz’ documentary – concerns a late-night Carnegie Hall New Year’s Eve concert sometime in the 1990s.

Rollins embarked on a typically Herculean solo at around 11:30pm. This went on for quite a while. At EXACTLY ten seconds to midnight he quoted from ‘Auld Lang Syne’.*

Truth or fiction, it’s the kind of story that has followed the brilliant Harlem-born saxophonist around throughout his career. It also speaks volumes about the intellectual vigour of the man.

Robert Mugge’s excellent 1987 documentary ‘Saxophone Colossus’ spawns yet more Sonny stories, inadvertently filming an extraordinary moment during an outdoor New York gig. Jumping off the stage mid-solo to join the audience, he misjudges the height and breaks his heel in the process. Lying stricken on the floor, alone and unaided though still holding his horn, there’s the briefest of pauses before he continues soloing as if nothing was amiss.

The film also features fascinating interviews with Sonny and his wife/manager/producer (and now sadly departed) Lucille. Writers Gary Giddins and Ira Gitler contribute intelligent, revealing summations of Rollins’ career. There’s also some superb concert footage of Sonny’s ‘Concerto For Tenor Saxophone And Orchestra’ premiere in Japan.

Watching the film again has led to a period of Sonny woodshedding, and I’m unearthing some real gems. It’s exciting that he has continued to be an absolutely vital presence on the jazz scene, performing when possible and frequently contributing to media debates about the music. He has also written obituaries for his long-time producer Orrin Keepnews and long-time bassist Bob Cranshaw in recent issues of JazzTimes magazine.

More power to Mr Rollins. Here’s some of that woodshedding, in chronological order:

*(This is total BS. The concert was the day before Easter Sunday and the quote was from Irving Berlin’s ‘Easter Parade‘… Ed.)