Bait Taken: The 10 Essential Roles of Michelle Pfeiffer

There are many building blocks of the internet, but the cornerstones are think pieces, offhand lists, and other hollow provocations meant to stir arguments and, therefore, briefly redirect web traffic. Engaging such material is utterly pointless. Then again, it’s not like I have anything better to do. It was only a week ago that I found cause to revive the “Bait Taken” feature, and now here I am, all roiled up over another Vulture list. In my meek defense, the creative team behind New York magazine’s culture blog went ahead and crafted a list that is right in my proverbial wheelhouse. And … Continue reading Bait Taken: The 10 Essential Roles of Michelle Pfeiffer

The Art of the Sell: “Stop Making Sense” trailer

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art.  Jonathan Demme said he preferred to call Stop Making Sense a performance film rather than a concert film. The reasoning behind that is clear. He captured Talking Heads live on stage in a manner markedly different from most predecessor films in the genre. The film is dynamic and enthralling, intensely focused on the swerving rhythms of a band in sync with each other and the added visual trappings they brought to their show. Demme wasn’t trying to … Continue reading The Art of the Sell: “Stop Making Sense” trailer

Jonathan Demme, 1944 – 2017

Among great film directors, there were none whose artistry was more humane than Jonathan Demme. Other filmmakers revel in the form, spinning visual wonders and engaging in dynamic editing in restless attempts to embed their personality on the screen. Demme wasn’t adverse to such creativity. His films were often striking in their novel use of technique, finessing the grammar of cinema until the shape of his storytelling was a another story itself, or at least another layer. But Demme didn’t employ such maneuvering to call attention to his personal creativity. Those choices weren’t about him. Instead, they were about the … Continue reading Jonathan Demme, 1944 – 2017

Broomfield, Demme, Radice, Safdie and Safdie, Truffaut

Ricki and the Flash (Jonathan Demme, 2015). By the last third of the film, it seems clear that Demme’s chief motivation for taking on this project is the opportunity to apply his extensive experience directing concert films to this fictional story of a derelict mother (Meryl Streep) who fronts a bar band. He certainly demonstrates only passing interest in the tepid familial drama in the script, written by Diablo Cody with a equal freedom from her previous dialogue quirks and recognizable humanity. When Streep’s bedraggled singer returns to her former home, responding to a suicide attempt by her daughter (Mamie Gummer), every … Continue reading Broomfield, Demme, Radice, Safdie and Safdie, Truffaut

Spectrum Check

I didn’t have that many writing assignments for Spectrum Culture this week, so of course I needed to make certain my one piece was exceedingly long, maybe the longest I’ve ever written for the site. To be fair, the “Re-make/Re-model” series invites length given that at least two films need to be broken down. In writing about Jonathan Demme’s remake of a Stanley Donen classic, I also had the opportunity to reference an old Onion article for which I have a special fondness. I also offered up a far briefer contribution to this week’s List Inconsequential list about great live … Continue reading Spectrum Check

Top Fifty Films of the 80s — Number Fifteen

#15 — Melvin and Howard (Jonathan Demme, 1980) Part of the appeal of subscribing to auteur theory is the sense of extra connectedness to the directors with the strongest cinematic presence. It’s easy to feel like watching a film is akin to getting concerted insight into worldviews, spiritual philosophies and political preferences. The collected work becomes a backward version of a Rorschach test, with very specific material being transformed by the viewer into something nebulous enough to project suppositions onto. While I realize the inherent fallibility of such a view, I also can’t help but fall for it when it … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 80s — Number Fifteen