Rocker and ‘fuddy duddy’

Jonathan Demme, 71, pushes women to the front of the stage in ‘Ricki and the Flash.’

Los Angeles Times - - CULTURE MONSTER - By Mark Olsen

Jonathan Demme, 71, stepped onto the stage look­ing some­thing like a teenage skate­boarder, dressed in sneak­ers, ban­danna-print sweat­pants, a work jacket and a back­ward base­ball cap.

Through­out the Los An­ge­les Film Fes­ti­val con­ver­sa­tion with cu­ra­tor Elvis Mitchell, which ran a lit­tle over an hour on Sun­day, Demme evinced the youth­ful en­thu­si­asm and bound­less cu­rios­ity for the world that has marked his work as a film­maker.

The event’s de­scrip­tion promised a spe­cial preview of Demme’s “Ricki and the Flash,” open­ing Aug. 7 and star­ring Meryl Streep as a bar band rock ’n’ roller from a screen­play by Di­ablo Cody. And in the event’s last 10 min­utes, the film came up.

A clip showed Streep on­stage with a band that in­cludes Rick Spring­field on guitar. Af­ter blaz­ing through a ren­di­tion of Edgar Win­ter’s “Keep Playin’ That Rock ’N’ Roll,” Streep’s char­ac­ter talks to the au­di­ence, not­ing that the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jag­ger has seven chil­dren by four women be­cause as a rock star and a man, “Daddy can do what­ever Daddy likes.” But if a fe­male mu­si­cian so much as misses one school con­cert, “Con­grat­u­la­tions, you’re a mon­ster!”

Af­ter the clip, Demme noted that Streep stud­ied guitar for months be­fore six weeks of band re­hearsal ahead of shoot­ing.

The bar band mu­sic in the movie was recorded live, Demme added. “We didn’t do any play­back at all. Ev­ery­body was singing and play­ing for real, ev­ery take. We didn’t sweeten it up on the sound­track with any over­dubs in the post-pro­duc­tion.”

The band played 10 songs for the movie, Demme said, and Streep “cre­ated the per­sona. She’s not do­ing some­body else.

“She fash­ioned all the songs to her vo­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tion. There was no­body talk­ing to her about that, and her moves on­stage are all what she wanted to do, and it thrills me to watch her play the char­ac­ter.”

Build­ing up to talk­ing about “Ricki,” Demme and Mitchell had toured through some of the lesser-known corners of Demme’s work, in­clud­ing clips from “What’s Mo­ti­vat­ing Hayes,” a doc­u­men­tary that de­buted on Ama­zon and is based on an ar­ti­cle from the New Yorker; his filmed adap­ta­tion of Ib­sen’s “A Master Builder”; and frag­ments of the footage Demme shot dur­ing the Oc­cupy Wall Street protests.

Look­ing for a through­line in his own work, Demme spoke of his in­ter­est in fe­male char­ac­ters and how “as a movie­goer, I love root­ing for the un­der­dog, and in our pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety, if you’re go­ing to di­vide it into un­der­dogs and over­lords in a male-fe­male equa­tion, the pa­tri­archy is still func­tion­ing very pow­er­fully. Women need to try that much harder; they are up against [what] men aren’t up against.”

He re­ferred to the film that won him a di­rec­tor Os­car as well as one for pic­ture, when he noted that “in ‘Si­lence of the Lambs,’ in Thomas Harris’ book, he makes this stuff re­ally man­i­fest; in or­der for this one young woman to save the life of this other young woman, she has to tra­verse a land­scape filled with ev­ery type of … man on the planet, in­clud­ing killers and bosses and cops. I think that’s part of what makes the movie for me so spe­cial.”

Demme told a pair of anec­dotes about work­ing with Den­zel Washington on “Philadelphia” and “The Manchurian Can­di­date.” He also spoke of his re­la­tion­ship with the film­maker Hal Ashby, who be­friended Demme when he was an un­known ar­rival in Hol­ly­wood.

Demme also noted a valu­able les­son he learned while di­rect­ing Christo­pher Walken on the 1982 made­for-tele­vi­sion film “Who Am I This Time?”

“Just shut up and let the ac­tors act,” Demme said. “Cre­ate an at­mos­phere where they can re­ally try ev­ery­thing they want to try.”

Demme laid out his driv­ing force when he said, “I do like mak­ing pos­i­tive movies. I sort of feel like at the end of the day, I’d rather make pic­tures that have the po­ten­tial for leav­ing some­body slightly on the up­side of the ex­pe­ri­ence, as op­posed to tak­ing away some­thing cyn­i­cal or wrong. That’s such a fud­dy­duddy per­spec­tive, but that’s just how I was raised, I guess.”

Bob Ver­gara TriStar Pic­tures


and Rick Spring­field star in Jonathan Demme’s bar band rocker “Ricki and the Flash.”

Araya Diaz WireImage

DI­REC­TOR DEMME with Elvis Mitchell at the Los An­ge­les Film Fest.

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