PT Anderson and Jonathan Demme: American Dudes of Cinema

On March 8, Paul Thomas Anderson will win the inaugural Jonathan Demme Award at the Austin Film Society’s Texas Film Awards ceremony.

1401311640000-Jonathan-Demme-2“I was a fan and aficionado first,” PT Anderson said in an interview about Demme. “Just the timing of my life and his life just seemed to work out that, while he was making his strongest films, I was at this very impressionable age of 15, 16, 17, 18.” PTA was born in 1970.

bcpnews-wednesday-sunday-monday-stop-making-sense-20170815Stop Making Sense (1984)
sw2-1Something Wild (1986)
Married_to_the_Mob_Screenshot_2Married to the Mob (1988)
the-silence-of-the-lambs-6Silence of the Lambs (1991)

What inspired Anderson about Demme’s work?

“Everything. It’s not just the stories that he’s telling, it’s the style with which he’s telling them. From the actors that he’s casting, from the camera moves that he’s employing, to the soundtrack, the lighting, all of that adding up to something that never felt like it wasn’t something you couldn’t do yourself…Things that if you were just a kid with a camera would have been impossible to replicate. Enormous crane shots or super-fast whipping cameras around that would require a certain level of technology. Jonathan’s were always very intimate. Even as his budgets grew, it always felt like a Roger Corman movie.”

On shooting period pieces in fresh ways, Paul said “the camera had to be stuffy and static on a dolly. But that’s not true.” Emulating period standards becomes “super-limiting…you’ve got to touch the past. Just a fingertip.” Demme was always a pioneer drenched in sturdy Hitchcockian methods, a rebel with a real respect for classic cinema.


Actor Robert Ridgely worked with Demme on Melvin and Howard, an episode of American Playhouse, and Some­thing Wild– and he was also a friend of Anderson’s father. In high school, Paul would cast Robert (Bob) in his home movies. The fact that he was also in these Demme films “was a very mesmerizing thing, and I would ask Bob Ridgely about him all the time.”

gal-bn-robert-ridgely-jpgRobert Ridgely

The two directors finally met in 1997, when Anderson was invited to a screening of Demme’s next film, Beloved (1998). “He was very sweet to me, very kind to me, and knew that I knew Bob.”

jonathan-demme-obituary-slide-YRX1-superJumboBeloved (1998) 

However, it was later that year, during the release of Anderson’s breakout success Boogie Nights, that they became friends.

boogie_nights_hedchapter-10-inline“I was doing the interviews and press to promote Boogie Nights, and I kept mentioning my admiration for Jona­than, and he sent me a nice letter in admiration of Boogie Nights.”


Did they ever discuss collaborating?

“We always talked about, I was going to write something for him, and we were going to write something together. Loads of ideas floated around, nothing ever happened. Life intervened, and he would do things and I would do things.”


“He was a director who wasn’t just making movie after movie after movie. It was a movie, five insane weirdo little side projects, followed later by a movie. The way he conducted his work was not a straight line at all. He zigzagged all over the place.”

“He had a large appetite, and a lot of intellectual, emotional curiosity.”


On one of his last works, a 2016 short documentary hosted by Tavis Smiley called “Protection Not Protest: The People of Standing Rock.”  

“It’s so Jonathan, just going out into the situation and finding these fascinating and hilarious stories in the middle of something deeply serious.”

On Story: Full Conversation | Jonathan Demme and PT Anderson | 2015 AFF

Greaser’s Palace | A Conversation with Jonathan Demme and PT Anderson | 2015 AFF


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