In the late Seventies and into the Eighties, film director Jonathan Demme gave us one of the most expansive portraits of American life, a sensibility that critic Pauline Kael called (in describing Demme's Melvin and Howard) "a cross between Jean Renoir and Preston Sturges." What Kevin Courrier found in Demme's Something Wild was a whole new genre - the screwball noir.
Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006), are for Jonathan Demme all about keeping faith with his most cherished democratic principles. But if staying true to those democratic principles leads Demme to boldly erase the preconceived judgments made on rich and poor, black and white, good and bad, they also inspire him to further erase the boundaries imposed on storytelling by refusing to adhere to strictly defined genre rules. There was no better Jonathan Demme picture to accomplish this task than Something Wild (1986).
In Something Wild, which Criterion has just re-released today in a newly remastered regular and Blu-ray DVD, Demme (working from a boldly original script by E. Max Frye) creates the setting for a screwball comedy and then literally drives it into the forbidding land of film noir. The film opens with Tak Fujimoto's relaxed tracking shot down New York's East River as David Byrne and Celia Cruz set a seductively alluring tone with their lyrically spicy rendition of "Loco de Amor (Crazy for Love)," which cleverly incorporates The Troggs' comically enticing hit "Wild Thing." We finally settle into a local hash joint where Charlie Driggs (Jeff Daniels), a tax consultant recently turned vice-president, impulsively pockets his check without paying. He's spotted from across the room by Lulu (Melanie Griffith), a young woman decked out in macramé and metal jewelry while sporting a Louise Brooks bob, who pursues him out of the restaurant and confronts him for welshing on the lunch. After he mistakenly assumes her to be an employee, she defines him as a "closet rebel" and offers him a lift. But rather than taking Charlie back to the office, Lulu takes to the road. Once dispensing with his pocket calculator, she offers him some scotch, then later in New Jersey, rips off a liquor store, heads to a motel and sexually seduces him.
|Melanie Griffith as Lulu.|
|Jeff Daniels as Charlie.|
|Ray Liotta as Ray.|
When Something Wild came out in 1986, Hollywood movies were mostly trapped in conventional formulas with few surprises. (At the press screening I attended then, one critic in front of me turned around midway through and enthusiastically asked, "Do you have any idea where this is going?" I answered, "Not a clue. Isn't that great?") As we discover in the interview with Demme on the DVD, he came to do Something Wild after having his work on the 1984 WW II romantic drama, Swing Shift, taken out of his hands and re-cut and re-shot into a bland and pasty artifact. (His work print cut, which has been circulating for years as a bootlegged cassette, reveals a beautifully rendered portrait of the shifting roles of men and women when the guys went off to war and their wives and girlfriends went to work.)
|Melanie Griffith as Audrey.|
|Director Jonathan Demme.|
**The Criterion DVD includes an absorbing and informative interview with Jonathan Demme, a revealing chat with screenwriter E. Max Frye (who tells the story of what inspired the idea), plus the smart review of Something Wild by critic David Thompson.