a tribute to

Last week, our long-time professional acquaintance Jonathan Demme passed away. Not only was he one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation, he was a genuinely good person who seemed to be adored by everyone he came into contact with (a quality even rarer than filmmaking genius.)

In The New Yorker magazine, Terrence Rafferty wrote of him, "Of the major American directors, he's the least erratic, the most consistently good company, because he has interests rather than obsessions" - Demme joins a lineage of auteurs like Jean Renoir & Louis Malle defined not by their stylstic grip or devotion to a genre, but by their warm humanism; filmmakers whose deep compassion and boundless curosity on the subject of humanity were their essential characteristics.

All week long we'll be paying tribute to Demme by remembering some of our favorite scenes, characters and moments from his body of work.

{the DEMME TRIBUTE index}

Loading the dishwasher.

jonathan demme, 2008.

~ by leanne kubicz ~

Demme's 2008 film Rachel Getting Married is an organically emotional story of familial loss and reconciliation set against the backdrop of a bohemian wedding, replete with completely diegetic music. The camera movement floats and flows throughout the wedding preparations capturing nuance in the actor's faces, lending an immediacy to the proceedings. A curious competition in the middle portion of the film aptly illustrates how well Demme employed hand-held camera in conjunction with a cramped kitchen full of actors. He expertly balanced absurdity, bravado and melancholy in a scene I refer to as Dishwasher Battle Royale.

The scene unfolds with naturalism and no cuts in the action. After a tense family discussion about the seating chart, the bride Rachel (Rosemary DeWitt) insists to her father Paul (Bill Irwin) “I need to show you something” in the kitchen, a beg-off from the tension of seating chart hell. The scene then flows into the kitchen, Rachel pleading with her father to respect her “one day” of wedding bliss. She asks for his attention to be focused on her instead of the family black sheep Kym (Anne Hathaway). Kym is in recovery, still clinging to the verbal ticks of a heavy drug user. Her failed attempts at dark humor and oblivious self-centeredness are grating and downright embarrassing to everyone but herself. Rachel puts on a polite face in public but has had it with her sister's cascade of oft mortifying actions.

Rachel's father, played by actual professional clown Bill Irwin, is the sad clown with the brave face. His defense mechanism in dealing with his daughters is playing referee. The deep sorrow he carries, inflicted by his own daughter, is undeniably unbearable at times. When Kym was 16 yrs old she drove into a lake while high on percocet and her little brother Ethan, a young child, was drowned in the accident. About a decade later, the sorrow is not fresh, yet it remains an integral part of who Paul's become. Coping with the lose of a child as well as having to reconcile with Kym's involvement and his unconditional love for her is a precarious balancing act. Kym has been in and out of rehab multiple times since the disastrous accident resulting is multiple family fractures. Despite all this Paul supports Kym with tenderness, yet the tragedy intrudes on him at the most unexpected of moments.

In the middle of their conversation, a flood of family and wedding guests loudly enter the kitchen, rendering the father-daughter discussion over. Rachel and Paul quickly collect themselves and start chatting and joking merrily with the others. The groom Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe) starts, with tongue-in-cheek, to inform his future father-in-law Paul that he has “preliminary sketches” on how to properly load a dishwasher winking that he's “just showing you how to do it right.” Paul plays along and contends that Sidney “doesn't know shit about loading a dishwasher,” to which Sidney says, “In all due respect sir, the mantle has been passed.” Thus Dishwasher Battle Royale commences.

What follows in a domestic task turned macho chest beating contest, a raucous cacophony of playful insults and uproarious cheers from the assembled crowd, the camera zooming wildly to capture it all. Sidney is first to compete and speedily gets to the task of proving his dishwasher loading prowess. A wedding guest plays a feverish cascade of violin, increasing the pressure on the contestants. Next is Paul's turn and he expertly “breaks out the whoop ass” on Sidney. He rushes with mature certainty, exuberantly showing his artistry of dishwasher loading, even demanding more plates to up the ante. The spell of carefree reverie is then ruptured as Paul lifts up a child's plate inscribed with name 'Ethan', his late son. Paul feebly coaxes out a smile, this victory turned to ash, as he is again reminded of his ultimate pain.

Paul quickly exits, the guests soon follow, the music and animated chatter cease, and Kym is left alone in the kitchen. This is a rare instance in the film of silence, no respite from the lilting music of the wedding musicians, only the weight of grief. From the left side of the frame emerges Sidney, who did not hastily flee the emotional scene. He places a hand on Kym's back, a loving gesture of immediate comfort and a promise of compassion in the future. They will be bound as family by marriage and Sidney proves his devotion to his new role. Kym sheepishly acknowledges his loving gesture as music is heard in the distance revealing of sense of hope and eventual healing.

~ MAY 5, 2017 ~