Jonathan Demme died today, ending a directorial career that blended music, empathy, and technical artistry with elegance and skill. Despite Demme’s numerous triumphs, few of his films display that cocktail better than his Talking Heads concert film, Stop Taking Sense. Now, Demme’s friend, and Talking Heads frontman, David Byrne, has posted a letter to his personal web site, eulogizing Demme’s humanity and talent.
“I met Jonathan in the ‘80s when Talking Heads were touring a show that he would eventually film and turn into Stop Making Sense,” Byrne writes. “While touring, I thought the show had turned out well and might hold up as a movie, and a mutual friend introduced us. I loved his films Melvin and Howard and Citizens Band (AKA Handle With Care). From those movies alone, one could sense his love of ordinary people. That love surfaces and is manifest over and over throughout his career.”
Byrne also praises Demme’s love of music, noting how “he’d find ways to slip a reggae artist’s song or a Haitian recording into a narrative film in ways that were often joyous and unexpected.” But he reserves his highest praise for Demme’s obsessive interest in the human elements of his work:
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.
You can read Bryne’s full tribute to his friend here.