July 20, 2014

This Tasty Doc on 'The Silence of the Lambs' Shows the Roots of A Modern Horror Classic

When it was released in 1991, director Jonathan Demme's adaptation of Thomas Harris' Silence of the Lambs, starring Jodie Foster and featuring an unforgettable performance by Anthony Hopkins, changed the rules of how horror could be presented in mainstream film; the Oscar-winning classic's reverberations continue today, while the Hannibal Lecter money train keeps on rolling. This 90-minute documentary on the inside story of the Silence of the Lambs shows just how all the right elements came together to create a modern classic.

Courtesy of Filmmaker IQ, the doc goes into the film's production and is required viewing for fans of the classic, as well as anyone interested in how a film comes together. Whether big-budget or indie, movie making is movie making, and there's something to learn from every production, from what to do to what not to do:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgA0_4WKegA

Novelist Thomas Harris first used the Hannibal Lecter character in his 1981 novel, Red Dragon. In the 1987 film adaptation, retitled Manhunterthe evil psychiatrist was portrayed by Brian Cox, in a performance that many think was superior to Hopkins'. In that film, the character's last name was changed to Lektor, but he still 'helps' an FBI agent track down a serial killer, even though he tries to get the agent killed (cf. his weirdly romantic relationship with Agent Clarice Starling in the other films and books).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44EtfUeox0c

At first, Demme was not convinced that Jodie Foster was right for the part, though the Oscar winner had a strong desire to portray Clarice Starling, the FBI trainee who develops a strange relationship with Lecter and eventually catches the killer known as 'Buffalo Bill.' Demme's first choice for the role was Michelle Pfeiffer, who turned it down, and actors in the running to portray Lecter included Daniel Day-Lewis (which would have been, just, I can't even) and Sean Connery. In the end, though, the role ended up going to Hopkins, who brought a seething intelligence and menace that made the character instantly iconic:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9cERvUX6sE

The film went on to win five Academy Awards, and spawned a Lecter franchise that is still going, more than twenty years after the iconic film. The combination of Foster and Hopkins, along with the moody cinematography of Tak Fujimoto and the sets and production design (the exterior of Lecter's first prison is actually a real mental hospital in Pennsylvania, now closed, and the FBI let their facilities at Quantico be used for scenes) brought a new realism to the Hollywood thriller, as well as kick-starting a serial killer film craze. But the film would probably not have been such a phenomenon if not for Hopkins' startling portrayal of evil, an object lesson in the fact that casting can make or break a movie (though I would still love to see a version with Daniel Day-Lewis sucking through his teeth). Silence was such a phenomenon that even Howard Shore's brilliantly unnerving score did brisk business when it was released:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8U82qRblyEs

Beyond being a great movie, with a superbly crafted story and unforgettable performances, Silence of the Lambs is a great example of how filmmaking is contingent on so many factors, and, in the end, is always a case of the sum being more than its parts. This is, of course, to say nothing of the sheer, dumb luck, that no one has control over. But the wrong casting decision, set, or even music, can turn a brilliant film into a mediocrity, or even a flop. In this case, everything came together by sinister magic (and hard work).

[via Filmmaker IQ]

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2 Comments

Back in ... eh, 1994 or so, the first issue of the Screenplay magazine featured Ted Tally's Oscar winning work. Subsequently, Ted also wrote "Red Dragon" but is probably able to retire off the proceeds from his old screenplays (I assume he also does a lot of doctoring on the side).

July 21, 2014 at 11:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Thanks for the article. I was a big fan of the film. But I've obviously become a terrible snob - I just couldn't get through this documentary. The voice-over, sound-bite approach, dramatic music... It just made me cringe and cheapened the movie for me. I'm off to cook some fava beans instead.

July 25, 2014 at 5:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ben