A lengthy BBC interview with Jonathan Demme around the time of Beloved led me to his video for New Order’s “The Perfect Kiss,” which I had never seen. Its before-the-camera subjects are, of course, legend, as are the behind-the-scenes talent (the DP is Henri Alekan of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast; the great Agnès Godard is also credited). It’s a perfect embodiment of the director’s spirit—clear-eyed, empathetic, enamored of faces, possessed of the belief that, despite our differences, we humans have a great potential for harmony. Henry James’ instruction to his nephew Willie—which could serve as an encapsulation of Demme’s cinema—came to mind (“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”)
It upsets me to no end to witness the brickbats hurled at Demme’s recent output. I had half-an-hour to kill yesterday and threw on his unfairly maligned The Truth About Charlie, ostensibly a remake of Charade, though what struck me this time out was how beside-the-point that is. Removed from the uproar that greeted it upon release, the film suddenly took on its own life, its eccentricities—the world music soundtrack, jumping in as it feels like; Tak Fujimoto’s expressive hand-held cinematography, I think one of the first big productions to make extensive use of digital for outdoor scenes—even more profoundly affecting than when I first encountered it. (The medium shot in “The Perfect Kiss” where Peter Hook strums the bass while a ghostly figure bops along in the background even parallels the first Charles Aznavour interlude in Charlie.) That Hollywood backed this loving paean to the French New Wave is one of those bizarre flukes of the business, and one I’m increasingly thankful for. The point being that, even with several films I’m not all that enamored of (Philadelphia; Jimmy Carter Man From Plains), Demme still has the spirit and soul that people praised in his ’80s work, but which, after The Silence of the Lambs (also often maligned for all the wrong reasons), a number of my colleagues seem to feel he abandoned or lost. To me, that just isn’t so.