Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Demme Dead

Today's bummer is the death of Jonathan Demme. My introduction to Mr Demme's oeuvre occurred in high school, when I went with a bunch of friends to see Stop Making Sense. We were all Talking Heads fans, but we weren't old enough to get into most venues that the band would play. The film was a great outing for a bunch of smart-aleck kids who were just on the cusp of their concertgoing years. The opening of the film, with the jittery, angular David Byre, practically lost in an iconic oversized suit, appeared on the stage alone, with an acoustic guitar and a 'boombox' which served as a visual shorthand for a rhythm track played through the soundboard. to play the paranoiac classic Psycho Killer:

The beauty of the film is that the band gradually assembles onstage, with Tina Weymouth being the first to join Mr Byrne for the song Heaven:

This incremental approach to taking the stage loans the documentary a certain sense of drama- this isn't a mundane music film, it's somewhat reminiscent of the 'assembling the team' scenes from The Seven Samurai, with David Byrne playing the Takashi Shimura role.

David Byrne remains the visual centerpiece for most of the film, with his eccentric movements and a jacket which threatens to engulf him. I particularly like his almost-martial performance of the song Swamp:

Another highlight of the film for me was the sublime This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody):

On the whole, Stop Making Sense is sheer perfection- the band was at the height of their powers, and Mr Demme showcased them to perfection. The one part of the movie where David Byrne cedes the center of attention is when he leaves the stage to allow bandmates to perform as the Tom Tom Club, with perennial New Wave crush Tina Weymouth taking center stage, and our hearts along with it:

Is it just me, or is her outfit definitely the inspiration for Daisy Ridley's 'Star Wars' outfit? Daisy, put four strings on that staff of yours, and join a band! Back to Stop Making Sense, this Byrne-less interlude gave the man enough time to put on his REALLY BIG SUIT, and take the stage- Mr Demme's direction for Girlfriend is Better being sheer perfection, as we initially see a looming shadow before the big reveal:

I could go on about Stop Making Sense for paragraphs... the film made such an impression on me. Of course, there's the rest of Mr Demme's filmography, from his directorial debut with the trash-auteur Roger Corman distributed Caged Heat to the horror-film-with-ambition Silence of the Lambs or black-comedy Married to the Mob, but it's Demme's ability to capture musicians' personalities as they perform which never ceased to amaze me. Here's Demme's video for New Order's The Perfect Kiss, which beautifully captures the band interfacing with their equipment:

I'm going to end this post with Jonathan Demme's film Storefront Hitchcock, who is one of my all-time favorite musicians. Here's Uncle Robyn playing the gorgeous-though-melancholy Airscape:

Needless to say, I have been a fan of Jonathan Demme since before I could legally drive. It was nice to think that this accomplished person had tastes similar to mine, producing art which showcased some of my favorite performers. His political views also tended to align with mine- he was a champion of human rights. In all, he was a remarkable spirit, and I know I will miss his continuing artistic endeavors.


mikey said...

My favorite local band of all time was fronted by Pamela Rose, an incredible blues vocalist/songwriter who gained some fame touring with Merl Saunders in the 70s. She's a gorgeous wildly energetic redhead, and when I first saw her (at an old rocknroll club at Columbus and Grant called Gullivers in SF in about '82) she was fronting a blues/rock band called Pamela Rose and the 8ights. The shows would always start with the band on stage in the dark. They'd start a musical leadin to the opening number, the lights would come up and Pamela would come sprinting, always barefoot, through the crowd from the back of the house and up on stage just as the band played the opening riff. It was cute, fun, a little dramatic and always made my heart swell.

Pamela and I were friends for a long time, and I was always kind of proud of that fact that we never slept together, as was so common with male and female friends back then. Oh, we thought about it now and then, but we stayed strictly platonic friends, with a LOT of great stories to tell...

mikey said...

Hey, Mr. Bastard, this quite coincidentally appeared in my feed today.

I think you'll find it interesting...

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Is she still active in the local music scene?

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Thanks for the string theory article. It's nice to see confirmation of my skepticism regarding it.