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Listening Back To A 2009 Conversation With Director Jonathan Demme


Jonathan Demme, whom David just saluted, won an Oscar for directing "Silence Of The Lambs" and also directed "Philadelphia," which starred Tom Hanks as a lawyer with AIDS and won Hanks an Oscar. We'll conclude today's show with a short excerpt from Demme's FRESH AIR interview with contributor Dave Davies from 2009.


DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: One of the hallmarks of some of your films is shooting scenes where characters look directly into the camera or almost directly into the camera. And I'm wondering, is there a particular reason or purpose for that technique when you use it?

JONATHAN DEMME: Yes. That is - the use of the subjective camera is an idea that's been around in movies for a long, long time. And it's an idea that was seized on very notably by Sam Fuller and by Alfred Hitchcock in two different very kind of - otherwise very different styles of filmmaking. And the whole point according to Hitchcock - and it's right - is that, you know, if you go subjective camera, you are, for that moment, putting the audience in the shoes of the character. You're showing the audience and making the audience share exactly what it's like to see what the character sees.

So Tak Fujimoto and I, when we started getting enough of a budget where we could afford the right lenses - 'cause we started out doing low-budget pictures together - we started experimenting with this subjective camera thing. And we kind of fell in love with the idea of using that as our close-up. Instead of having the camera slightly off to the side, our thing was - well, maybe by using subjective camera in ordinary dialogue situations, you know, we can bring the audience that deeply into the film that way. And we were afraid that it might be kind of off-putting or call attention to itself.

But we found out - "Married To The Mob" was the first time we did it, and nobody commented. The scenes that we used it went really well. No one found fault with it. So when we did "Silence Of The Lambs," we really went to town with it. We just started using subjective camera for every dialogue scene, trying to pull the audience deeply, as deeply as you possibly could, into the scene. So it was really an aggressive way to pursue intense audience involvement.

DAVIES: I wanted to talk just a little bit about "The Silence Of The Lambs," the film. It goes back a few years in your career, 1991, but it swept the Oscars. And I read in an interview at the time that Janet Maslin said that it was your opinion that every director dreams of making a film more terrifying than anything he has ever seen. Is that true, or was that just something you tossed off at the time?

DEMME: Well I'll tell you - what I can tell you is that I know when I saw "Zodiac" and then again when I saw "No Country For Old Men," there was a moment in each of my viewing experiences where I went - dammit, this is scarier than "Silence Of The Lambs."

DAVIES: (Laughter).

DEMME: So I guess on a certain level that there's something there, yes.

BIANCULLI: Jonathan Demme died Wednesday at the age of 73.

On the next FRESH AIR, comic W. Kamau Bell. He has a new memoir. And he'll talk about his sometimes awkward childhood, the new season of his CNN series, "United Shades Of America" and the challenges of writing a joke.

W. KAMAU BELL: It's all about analyzing the humor. We're trying to pretend like these jokes come out of thin air. We want jokes to be magic, but it's really math.

BIANCULLI: Hope you can join us.


BIANCULLI: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.


TALKING HEADS: (Singing) You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack. You may find yourself in another part of the world. You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile. You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife. You may ask yourself - well, how did I get here? Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down. Letting the days go by, water flowing underground. Into the blue again after the money's gone, after the money's gone. Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground. You may ask yourself - how do I work this? You may ask yourself - where is that large automobile? You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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