Jonathan Demme. Photo: Gilbert Carrasquillo

Jonathan Demme (1944–2017)

Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme, best known for working on critically acclaimed films such as The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Philadelphia (1993), has died at his home in Manhattan at the age of seventy-three, NPR reports.

Born in Baldwin, Long Island, in 1944, Demme wanted to become a veterinarian, but changed course after failing college chemistry. He began writing movie reviews for his campus paper and eventually left college to accept an apprenticeship with producer Roger Corman. Demme started out as a publicist before trying his hand as a director.

Demme’s cinematic output over the course of his career ranges from Beloved (1998), an adaption of Toni Morrison’s eponymous novel inspired by the story of an African American slave who flees to a free state after the Civil War, to the Cold War thriller The Manchurian Candidate (2004) and the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense (1984), as well as documentaries on Neil Young and Demme’s cousin who worked as a priest in Harlem. He perhaps earned the widest recognition for his haunting film The Silence of the Lambs, which earned him five Oscars in 1991, including one for best picture and director.

The film was featured in the March 1991 issue of Artforum, for which Jeanne Silverthorne wrote: “The Silence of the Lambs is as tense a thriller as Hollywood makes, but it is also, like so many of the films of Alfred Hitchcock, a thoughtful, grim, perverse meditation on sex and social identity. In images that work poetically and metaphorically as much as to tell a story, Demme, working from a novel by Thomas Harris, describes a society crying out for a transformation of its basic structures as they are ordered by gender, but harrowed by the process of change.”

More recently, he directed the comedy Ricki and the Flash (2015) starring Meryl Streep. Commenting on his work, Demme said: “I’ve always followed my enthusiasm. Whether the pictures have turned out good or not is one thing—but I've always had a lot of enthusiasm for the project at hand.”