Home1-2526-5051-100101-50151-200201-250251-300
-
MELVIN AND HOWARD
1980 - Jonathan Demme
United States
49
Opening Shot

The appears to be a lake but as the camera pans out we see it is a waterhole in the desert (of Nevada as the title card suggests). In the back of the frame we see a motorcyle moving fast through the derst toward and eventuall over the ditch. We continue to follow the man driving through the desert on his motorcyle until he crashes going over the waterhole another time. The film then quickly cuts to night as we see only the headlights of a car driving on a road.

The Film

Jonathan Demme's 1980 film Melvin and Howard is one of the essential American films of the 1980s. Demme's stylistic skill is the way he effectively uses a master shot to stage a scene- notably in the films critical opening sequences when Melvin finds Howard on the side of the road and of course the brilliant 15+ minute scene when they are driving in the truck (highlighted by top notch chemistry and performances from Paul Le Mat and the great Jason Robards). The style continuously shifts with such ease, much in the way the film itself shifts in tone or genre. What transcends this film is the beautiful manner in which Demme handles all this material and style with the touch of a simplistic master. The film should be a mess but in Demme hands it's effortless. The performances from the cast aid in the emotional humanity of the characters and rather then exploiting the based (or re-imagination) on a true story narrative, Melvin and Howard emerges as a deeply human story and an unforced reflection of American culture. Funny, insightful and honestly and skillfully made Melvin and Howard is a beautiful film.

The Filmmaker

From a standpoint of originality, Jonathan Demme stands as a highly overlooked filmmaker in contemporary American cinema. To me his films are a celebration. A celebration of humanity at it's most hopeful! Demme started making films in the 1970s, much of which were B-pictures with an exploitive and campy edge. What these early films displayed was the arrival of a gifted young filmmaker emerging from a new generation of American cinema (an era that included filmmakers such as Coen brothers, David Lynch, Tim Burton, among others). Demme made a variety of different films working in several genres during the 1970s before his breakthrough film in 1980, Melvin and Howard, which would prove to be one of the significant American films of the decade (and it earned two Academy Awards including a Best Screenplay). Throughout his career Demme has blended genres and among them are the several concert (or performance) films he has made. Among these work, which are the very best of their kind, is his brilliant Talking Heads film Stop Making Sense as well as the Spalding Gray film Swimming to Cambodia. What these films capture is not only the essence of the performance, but the very essence and understanding of the performer. This ability may have been captured best in Demme's most recent performance film, 2006's Heart of Gold, which beautifully portrayed Neil Young's music on a personal and deeply intimate emotional level. Of course Demme has made some wonderful features as well throughout his career, each of which display his compassion for character and his offbeat sense of energy and humor. Demme won critical acclaim in 1991 with Silence of the Lambs- which won Demme an Oscar for Best Director. The heart of Demme's films lie in both the originality and the hopeful compassion. Even in his darker films such as Silence of the Lambs and Beloved, Demme takes great care in understanding the characters. He has a strong presence of style as well and among his trademarks is the direct point of view shot of the characters looking into the camera as they speak (this has particularly been incorporated since Silence of the Lambs). There is a vast originality and fresh energy to Demme's films that make them very easy to admire and enjoy. While recently he has delved into the documentary form as well as some less original material (such as the underrated remakes of The Manchurian Candidate and Charade), Demme's beautiful 2008 film Rachel Getting Married belongs mention among his very greatest.

Images
Zoom in
Zoom in
Zoom in
Zoom in
Zoom in
Resources
trailer (youtube)      
-