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Remembering Jonathan Demme, acclaimed director of eclectic, edgy films

Jonathan Demme earned critical and commercial success with "Silence of the Lambs," but his career as a film director went beyond crime-thrillers. He made acclaimed dramas, comedies and concert movies, too. Hari Sreenivasan remembers Demme, who died Wednesday at the age of 73, with film critic Mike Sargent.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And finally tonight, Hari Sreenivasan is back with an appreciation of an Oscar-winning director.

  • ANTHONY HOPKINS, Actor:

    Quid pro quo. I tell you things, you tell me things, not about this case, though, about yourself.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    After years making B-movies, Jonathan Demme’s first major commercial success was 1991’s “Silence of the Lambs,” and, for many, would remain his best-known film.

    The dark thriller, based on a book, followed Jodie Foster as an FBI field agent on the hunt for a serial killer, using the counsel of a psychopath named Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins.

  • ANTHONY HOPKINS:

    What is your worst memory of childhood?

  • JODIE FOSTER, Actress:

    The death of my father.

  • ANTHONY HOPKINS:

    Tell me about it, and don’t lie, or I will know.

  • JODIE FOSTER:

    He was a town marshal, and one night, he surprised two burglars coming out of the back of a drugstore. They shot him.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    It earned Demme the Academy Award for best director.

  • KEVIN COSTNER, Actor:

    To Jonathan Demme for “Silence of the Lambs.”

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And it remains the only horror film to ever win for best picture.

  • JONATHAN DEMME, Director:

    Hi, mom. And thanks for transferring your love of movies to me. And thanks, dad, for making me think I could actually be part of this industry. And thank you.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Mike Sargent is a film critic for Pacifica Radio.

  • MIKE SARGENT, Film Critic:

    At the time, a thriller and horror were kind of seen to be the same thing. And a movie about a serial killer is not the kind of movie that really gets acclaim.

    So, he took something that could’ve been considered pulpy, and really turned it into high art. He really elevated the form.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    But Demme did more than crime thrillers. Over his career, he made indie films, dramas, documentaries, comedies and concert movies, too, including 1984’s “Stop Making Sense,” a stylized look at the band the Talking Heads.

  • DENZEL WASHINGTON, Actor:

    So, you were concealing your illness.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    In 1993, Demme directed “Philadelphia,” one of the first major Hollywood films to confront the HIV/AIDS crisis. It starred Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of a gay lawyer infected with HIV.

  • DENZEL WASHINGTON:

    Didn’t you have an obligation to tell your employer you had this dreaded, deadly, infectious disease?

  • TOM HANKS, Actor:

    That’s not the point. From the day they hired me to the day I was fired, I served my clients consistently, thoroughly, with absolute excellence. If they hadn’t fired me, that’s what I would be doing today.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Five years later, Demme directed the adaptation of Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved,” starring Oprah Winfrey.

  • OPRAH WINFREY, Actress:

    Could stay the night, if you had a mind to.

  • DANNY GLOVER, Actor:

    You don’t sound too steady in the offer.

  • OPRAH WINFREY:

    Oh, it’s truly meant. It’s just I hope you will pardon my house.

  • DANNY GLOVER:

    “My house.” I like the sound of that.

  • MIKE SARGENT:

    He was definitely someone who I think was sensitive to issues of race and sexuality and things like that.

  • TOM HANKS:

    What I loved the most about the law?

  • DENZEL WASHINGTON:

    Yes.

  • TOM HANKS:

    Is that every now and again, not often, but occasionally, you get to be a part of justice being done.

  • MIKE SARGENT:

    I think he stacks up there in the top 25 of great American directors, I would say, I would say, for the kind of films he did and the amount.

    If you look at the body of work he did, and what he produced, and the people whose careers he really helped, I think he was more than significant. I think he will be looked back on even greater than he was when he was here.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Demme continued to work up until his death this morning. He passed away from esophageal cancer at his home in New York. He was 73 years old.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And he made a string of remarkable movies.

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