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Jonathan Demme and Performance: 10 Videos That Capture His Musical Genius

From the Talking Heads' Big Suit to Jeff Daniels dancing, no director did more to change how music was filmed.

Stop Making Sense

The Talking Heads in Jonathan Demme’s “Stop Making Sense”

Island Alive/REX/Shutterstock

Jonathan Demme’s love of rock ‘n roll and an uncanny ability to capture the spirit of individual artists has been evident throughout his career. He revolutionized the concert film, used soundtracks to drive his films, and turned non-musical stars into performers.

Here’s ten videos that capture just one side of this amazing artist’s brilliance.

READ MORE: Jonathan Demme, Oscar-Winning Director of ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ Dies At 73

“Pyscho Killer,” Talking Heads

Arguably, the greatest and most important concert film of all-time, “Stop Making Sense” not only showcases the uniqueness of the Talking Heads, but their theatricality, invention and sense of cinema – referencing a number of classic films. The introduction to the movie is a pure Demme and David Byrne creation, with a gentle nod to “Dr. Strangelove.”

The Big Suit in “Girlfriend is Better,” Talking Heads

David Byrne emerging in the big suit in “Stop Making Sense” is the classic film’s most iconic moment. “I wanted my head to appear smaller and the easiest way to do that was to make my body bigger, because music is very physical and often the body understands it before the head,” said Byrne.

“Something Wild,” Jeff Daniels Dances To Bowie

Narratively, Demme was keenly adept at using a soundtrack to find key transitions and moments. His 1986 hit “Something Wild” was one of the greatest uses of a pop soundtrack in modern cinema. Here Jeff Daniels has a key breakout moment that demonstrates how Demme could use musical performance to express character.

“Wild Thing,” Sister Carol Performs the End Credits of “Something Wild”

There was a special spirit to “Something Wild” that Demme continued all the way through the end credits, including this unique closer from Sister Carol.

“Sun City”

Politics were never something Demme shied away from, and with this 1985 protest video against apartheid, he brought together the biggest names in music to deliver a powerful message.


“The Perfect Kiss,” New Order

Demme even played around with the live music video, like this 10-minute performance by New Order. For many fans of the band, the video is the most honest and unfiltered look at a group that specialized in a certain layer of artifice and irony.

“Streets of Philadelphia,” Bruce Springsteen

The song that won the Boss an Oscar. “Philadelphia” was Demme’s look at the AIDS crisis in a film starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.

“Heart of Gold,” Neil Young

Demme and Young’s collaboration and friendship began in 1993 when Young helped out with the music for “Philadelphia.” He spent two summers following Young on tour and together they collaborated to make three films together. Demme’s work captures the intimacy and complexity of his friend as a performer.

Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids

Demme can go lo-fi intimate, but he can also certainly rise to the big production. “Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids” captures all the showmanship, pyro-technics and charm of a JT show in a hugely enjoyable concert film.

“Ricki and the Flash”

And hey, if you can turn Meryl Streep into rocker, than it just proves there was nothing that limited this brilliant filmmaker and his use of music.

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