DOM: The Silence Of The Lambs (Demme, US, 1991)

“A census taker once tried to test me, I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chiani!”

Back in February 1991, I discovered “Empire” magazine, I remember the first issue I ever bought had “Dances With Wolves” on the cover. I had tried to get hold of it for the previous few months, but you had to go into Bolton to get it, all we got in Horwich was “Film Review” and what was then, an obscure film magazine was never going to make it to Horwich, so I ordered it from the local newsagent, without having bought a copy. When my first issue arrived, it coincided with what were becoming regular trips to the cinema with friends, I watched “Dances With Wolves” and “Awakenings” from that first issue and then I started buying back issues from the Corn Exchange in Manchester. I loved the layout of it and the reviews section plus the final page was a classic scene from a classic film. Those first few months of buying were pretty uneventful, apart from many cinema trips which I loved, then the June issue appeared with it’s first 5 star review in my buying time for “The Silence Of The Lambs”, I had to see this film, everything about it looked amazing.

The novel was by Thomas Harris, a sequel to his 1985 book “Red Dragon”, which had been filmed in 1986 as “Manhunter”, by Michael Mann, but wasn’t released in the UK until 1989 when it didn’t get a wide release, I’ll come back to this.
To say I was completely blown away was a bit of an understatement, I can quite safely say it had more of an impact on me than any film that I had seen at the cinema since “Star Wars” back in ’78.

Silence of the Lambs 1

Why was it so important? It seemed to have a menacing film noir quality about it backed with superb performances from Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling), Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lecter), Scott Glenn (Jack Crawford), Ted Levine (Jame Gumb) and Anthony Heald (Frederick Chilton). It seemed to build on what David Lynch had done in “Blue Velvet” and “Twin Peaks” and transfer it to the FBI and the hunt for a serial killer. It’s style was unique and was rewarded with Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (for Jonathan Demme), Best Actress (for Foster) and Best Actor (for Hopkins, in what is really a supporting actor role) , the first film since “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” to do this and something that hasn’t been repeated since.
It was the first film in the Horror genre to be nominated for best picture since “The Exorcist” in 1973 and the only one to win. Roof Dirk thinks it looks like a TV movie and can’t see the fascination with it, but I think that is the influence it has had, if you saw it when it first came out and when it was fresh it seemed so new, everything seems to have copied it since then, like “The X Files” seems to have borrowed a lot from it’s style.

Thomas Harris’s first novel “Black Sunday” was turned into a film in 1977 about a terrorist attack that try to fly the Goodyear Blimp into the Superbowl, an excellent film, if you ever get chance to see it. His second novel “Red Dragon” was filmed by Michael Mann in 1986 as “Manhunter”, Michael Mann was known in the 80s for his work on the TV series “Miami Vice” and when I first saw this film over the summer of 1991 when it premiered in Alex Cox’s “Moviedrome” on BBC-2 I just thought it looked too much like that, but did return to it and I now believe it to be one of the best thrillers of the 80s, but it no “Silence Of The Lambs”. Worth noting it “Silence Of The Lambs” closes with a man looking through night vision goggles, “Manhunter” opens with that image.

Demme had wanted Michelle Pfeiffer to play Clarice, as the two had worked together on “Married To The Mob”, she rejected it, so the part fell to Jodie Foster who had just won an Oscar for “The Accused”. For Lecter, Demme wanted Sean Connery, who also turned it down and as he had admired Anthony Hopkins in “The Elephant Man”, Demme offered the role to him.
As I said earlier during the early 90s I went to the cinema a lot, but no film during the rest of 91 and 92 compared to this, it was only when “Reservoir Dogs” was released in January 93 was there another 90s masterpiece to look at.

I remember the day after it won the Oscars and Paul Gambaccini said “Watch out Kate!” (referring to the fact the Katherine Hepburn is the most rewarded Actress in Oscar history with four best actress statuettes and Jodie Foster had won 3 years earlier for “The Accused”). Jodie Foster has never really hit these heights again which is such a shame from the young promise she showed and the amazing performances she gave as a child. Whenever I see this film now, it takes me back to those early 90s years when I had just finished my A-levels and I lived for the cinema. The 90s was already shaping up to be a better decade than the 80s.

“I have to go now Clarice, I’m having an old friend for lunch”

– Dom-Dirk

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