âMr. Demme and Bo Goldman, his screenwriter, take Melvinâs tale at face value and present the movie as Melvinâs wildest dream,â Vincent Canby wrote in a review in The New York Times. âThe comic catch is that this wild dream is essentially so prosaic. Itâs also touched with pathos since Melvin â in spite of himself â knows that it will never be realized. This is the story of his life.â
Later, as a known commodity, Mr. Demme directed prestige Hollywood projects like âBelovedâ (1998), an adaptation of Toni Morrisonâs novel about the lingering, post-Civil War psychological horror of slavery, with Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover in starring roles, and âThe Manchurian Candidateâ (2004), a remake of the 1962 Cold War drama of the same title about a brainwashed American prisoner of war. Mr. Demmeâs updated version, starring Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber, takes place during the Persian Gulf war.
A Batch of Oscars in the â90s
Mr. Demme may be best remembered for two films from the 1990s that were, at the time, his careerâs biggest anomalies. The first, âThe Silence of the Lambsâ (1991), was a vivid thriller based on the novel by Thomas Harris that earned five Oscars, including best picture and best director. Unlike his previous films, with their mischievous pleasure and tender melancholy, this was straightforward and serious storytelling with only a few moments of shivery humor.
The story is told largely from the perspective of an F.B.I. trainee who becomes a key figure in the pursuit of a serial killer known as Buffalo Bill when she is assigned to conduct a prison interview with Hannibal Lecter, a mad and murderous psychiatrist, hoping to extract from him clues to Billâs identity.
Lurid and titillating, the film is full of perverse details of heinous crimes and marked by a seductively ambiguous bond that forms between the young agent-to-be, Clarice Starling, and the brilliant monster Lecter. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins both won Oscars for their distinct portrayals. The movie is also notable for Mr. Demmeâs characteristically restless camera and the prominent use of music. The score, with its eerie leitmotif, is by Howard Shore.
Mr. Demmeâs next narrative venture, âPhiladelphiaâ (1993), brought to the fore a strain of advocacy that was otherwise evident in his documentaries about Haiti; former President Jimmy Carter; New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; and his cousin Robert W. Castle, a white activist priest in Harlem.
âPhiladelphia,â from a script by Ron Nyswaner, starred Tom Hanks, as an ambitious lawyer who is fired from his prestigious firm when the partners learn he has H.I.V., and Denzel Washington, as the scrappy…