Last night, legendary director Jonathan Demme passed away from heart disease and esophageal cancer. In addition to helming classics like The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, Demme was responsible for one of the greatest concert films of all time, Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense. Now, Talking Heads mastermind David Byrne has shared a tribute to his late filmmaking friend via his personal website.
Throughout the post, Byrne praises Demme’s “love of ordinary people” and how he’d find ways to make his films “jam-packed with songs by the often obscure artists he loved.” Specifically, he cites Melvin and Howard and Handle With Care as as two movies that led him to seek out the director for Stop Making Sense.
Byrne also touches on the well-documented drama surrounding Swing Shift, the big studio production Demme was working on while filming the Talking Heads’ concert film. “He was dealing with that in the day and shooting our low budget movie at night,” writes Byrne. “Guess which one will be remembered?” Still, he commends Swing Shift’s character-driven nature, something Demme also brought to Stop Making Sense. Byrne continues,
“Jonathan’s skill was to see the show almost as a theatrical ensemble piece, in which the characters and their quirks would be introduced to the audience, and you’d get to know the band as people, each with their distinct personalities. They became your friends, in a sense. I was too focused on the music, the staging and the lighting to see how important his focus on character was—it made the movies something different and special.”
As he closes out his post, he acknowledges that it was his work behind the scenes with Demme on Stop Making Sense that gave Byrne the courage to make his own feature film, 1986’s True Stories. “He and producer Gary Goetzman made us in the band feel included; they wanted to hear what we had to say,” Byrne writes. “That inclusion was hugely inspirational for me. Though I had directed music videos before, this mentoring of Jonathan’s emboldened me to try making a feature film.”