Jonathan Demme’s favourite line of cinematic dialogue came from a very unlikely place

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He may have gone on to reach the pinnacle of the industry and claim its most prestigious prize, but at the end of the day, Jonathan Demme was a graduate of the Roger Corman school of filmmaking, which helps explain many of his personal and professional preferences as it applies to cinema.

Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, James Cameron, Ron Howard, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson are just some of the household names to have gotten their foot in the industry door under Corman’s watch, which by extension makes him one of the most quietly influential names in modern American cinema, not to mention one hell of a talent-spotter.

Demme’s first two features were backed by Corman’s production company, with women’s prison film Caged Heat and action comedy Crazy Mama carrying titles and premises that fit perfectly into the prolific producer’s signature wheelhouse, but it wasn’t long before the latest in his never-ending line of proteges started broadening their filmmaking horizons.

The pinnacle of Demme’s career undoubtedly came when The Silence of the Lambs scooped the ‘Big Five’ at the Oscars and was followed up as his next stint behind the camera with hard-hitting legal drama Philadelphia, which cemented his evolution from genre specialist to Hollywood powerhouse.

However, while he’s gone on record naming movies from Truffaut, Kurosawa, and Bertolucci as among his favourites, Demme hardly forgot his B-tier roots. Never was that more evident than when he curated the ‘Lesser Seen Cinema’ screenings for the Jacob Burns Film Centre, where he compiled an eclectic list of titles he felt more people needed to see.

Among them was cult classic comedy Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Dwayne Johnson and Seann William Scott’s rainforest-set buddy caper The Rundown, Gareth Evans’ bone-crunching Indonesian actioner The Raid, blood-soaked horror bomb The Ruins, and Ben Wheatley’s nightmarish Kill List to name but a small few.

Clearly, despite all of the success he found, Demme always remembered where he came from. With an Oscar for ‘Best Director’ under his belt and a noted appreciation of some all-time great directors, it would be reasonable to assume that the single line of dialogue from all of cinema history that stands out as his favourite would hail from a masterpiece curated by a legendary auteur.

Instead, when he was asked that very question in an interview with the BBC, Demme didn’t even skip a beat before quoting a hit comedy from the guy who helmed the entire Austin Powers trilogy. “OK, let me get it straight,” he said, ensuring that he recited it verbatim for posterity’s sake. “‘And If I find out that you’ve been lying to me, Focker, I will take you down – take you down to Chinatown’. From Meet The Parents.”

Not quite what anybody would have expected from an Oscar-winning filmmaker who introduced Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter to the masses, then, but still entirely indicative of Demme’s wide-ranging tastes as both a director and cinemagoer.

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