by Gavin Smith
When people talk about A Jonathan Demme Film, it can mean several things. Which Demme Am I This Time? Born on Long Island and growing up in Florida, Demme, like local asthmatic Scorsese, was a Sixties kid: movies vied with rock 'n' roll for their souls. Like a protagonist in one of his own movies, the quirks of character and chance, not destiny or Scorsesean grand obsession, brought Demme to film. Try this: his ambition was to be a veterinarian, but he lost the bug for it at college and wound up in the movie foodchain - moving up from campus film critic to publicist in the late Sixties (that twilight of the student gods) to foot soldier in Roger Corman's army in the early Seventies (mandatory service for a, well, certain kind of filmmaker. Was it a way of beating the draft?).
Now living in London, Demme commuted to the U.S. where he co-wrote and produced Angels Hard as They Come (1972), and to the Phillipines for The Hot Box (72), then moved back to L.A. in '74 and switched to directing. He had assumed the first of his identities: Demme the Exploitation Filmmaker (from Caged Heat in '74 to Fighting Mad in '76). Jonathan Demme Mark II followed soon after and goes like this, according to conventional wisdom: warm-hearted documenter of small-town Americana, filled with affection for eccentric humanity and the quirky richness of life. This roughly covers the period from Citizens Band in '77 to a little-seen one-hour TV drama, Who Am I This Time?, with Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon, in '82. It includes, of course, his much-loved Melvin and Howard ('80).
The next incarnation of Jonathan Demme was short-lived and doesn't count: Jonathan Goes to Hollywood and gets burned. He directs Goldie Hawn's project, Swing Shift (1983), and the film is rewritten, reshot, and recut at her behest. Full of Demme moments and people, Swing Shift is the Demme movie that never was, his dark night of the soul. He returns to New York, his base since '78, and before long Demme Mark III emerges: still quirky, still doing his own thing, but now the words most frequently attached to him by critics are "hip," "urban," "multi-ethnic," "wacky," "kitschy," "subversive." Somebody somewhere must have called him a Downtown, as in hip, filmmaker - after all, his office is in NoHo, no-man's-land between the Village, SoHo, and Little Italy. Yup, that's Demme, always on the edges.
This period began in '84 with Stop Making Sense, the start of an occasional professional association with Talking Heads' David Byrne, whose first film, True Stories, is reminiscent of the earlier, Middle-America Demme. (Byrne acted in Demme's Trying Times episode "The Family" for PBS.) He became visibly involved in political issues, notably the anti-apartheid movement (he directed the Sun City video, a breathless piece of rap-graffiti agit prop), and in efforts to publicize the political situation in Haiti and promote Haitian music and culture. He made music videos for the likes of New Order and Fine Young Cannibals, and a performance film with Spalding Gray, Swimming to Cambodia ('87). Recently he contributed a music video of New Orleans' The Neville Brothers to the international AIDS benefit event, Red, Hot and Blue, in which a dozen world-class directors directed videos of bands interpreting Cole Porter numbers.
Somehow he also found time to direct two features, Something Wild (1986) and Married to the Mob ('88), which reflect Demme's expanded sensibility in their offcenter subjects and styles, their almost in-jokey cameo appearances by the likes of John Waters, David Johansen, and Al Lewis, and above all in their music soundtracks which burst at the seams with rock, rap, reggae, and Latin music. It sounds like a case of Anything Goes, but when you look at those films again, actually they're pretty well-controlled. Still, Demme's level of productivity has become quite alarmingly high. He is currently completing Cousion Bobby or: The Isiah Rawley Story, a documentary commissioned by Spanish TV about Demme's cousin and, in Demme's words, his "lifelong push for social change via his church work."
If all this dissecting and cataloguing of Jonathan Demme the filmmaker seems like glib overkill, go see his new movie, The Silence of the Lambs, adapted by Ted Tally from Thomas Harris' bestseller. It may be the distillation of everything Demme's done up until now (though he'd insist that's making too much of it). Some reviewers will surely announce that Demme Gets Serious (i.e., it isn't a comedy); others will say Demme Sells Out. But that would be to misunderstand his whole career: Silence is charged, compulsive filmmaking, full of darkness, urgency, and uncanny movement. It is every inch a Demme film.
In cinematic terms it precisely inverts the psycho-chases-girl format, in accordance with Harris' novel. But the film version's reinvention is in some way more potent because the genre is essentially cinematic, its central device the voyeuristic-subjective camera. Demme grasps this need for inversion and applies it elsewhere - in the casting and in the look of the film.
There's nothing hip about Silence, and you'll search in vain for Demme trademarks and tics. But the director has almost always been concerned with one notion, and Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling, FBI agent-in-training, is its latest instance: The film's opening image is of an ordinary-looking young woman in sweats, dragging herself up a steep slope and running through a wooded training course. Not fleeing from the killer, but maybe fleeing from her past, or her average self. It's Aspiration that drives her obsessively - to change herself, to become something better, to achieve the "Brand New You" that Angela, like a score of other Demme characters, discovers in Married to the Mob. There's really only one Jonathan Demme, and he understands what it is to want another life. The filmmaker has already had a few.
FILM COMMENT: Aside from the fact that it's a good story with good characters, what
was it in The Silence of the Lambs that really resonated in you?
JONATHAN DEMME: Ever since my days of working with Roger Corman, and perhaps before that, I've been a sucker for a woman's picture. A film with a woman protagonist at the forefront. A woman in jeopardy. A woman on a mission. These are themes that have tremendous appeal to me as a moviegoer and also as a director.
You weren't drawn to the serial-killer aspect?
No, I was repelled by the idea of doing a film about a serial killer. Quite apart from do you want to make a film of it, do you want to see a film of it? [Then] I started reading the book, when Orion sent it to me, and I leapt at the chance to get involved with characters of such dimension, and a story with so many complicated and interesting themes.
Why is it that you are drawn to women's stories?
It has to do with the fact that just in everyday life, in this male-dominated society, women are operating under some handicaps. For women to achieve what they want is harder than for men to achieve what they want. That brings a touch of the underdog to them, and I respond to that. So I'm partial to women in that sense. I think they're better people, by and large.
Also, the male characters in Melvin and Howard, Something Wild, and
Married to the Mob are not men's men in their masculinity - there's a
sensitivity to them, a more feminine side in some way.
Well now, Gavin, I don't want to come across as some kind of sissy in this interview! But I'm pleased you feel that way. Because from what I understand on the subject, we've got our female hormones and our male hormones regardless of which sex we happen to be. If I have a female side to me, I value it for the reasons I said before. And I like it when men feel free to not show that they're the toughest guy around. I find a lot of fault with aggressively tough guys. On every level, globally, personally, this is the sort of attitude that gets us into trouble. I don't think I've particularly done anything with the characters as written, to sort of take them away from a 100-percent maleness. But I may be more drawn to men who are willing to show their vulnerability.
Did you see Silence as having a kind of subversive potential?
No. I need to find good scripts that I have regard for in order to do what I do. And apart from constantly searching for a script that would work in the race-relations arena, I don't really seek out particular kinds of scripts. Something Wild I thought was a wonderful screenplay. I liked its originality. I liked very much that E. Max Frye was able to start us out thinking that we're seeing one kind of story, and then gradually take us into a much darker kind of story. If there were certain themes about the dark side of America lurking beneath the surface, terrific. But it's not like a deep-seated vision that exists already within me, and now Something Wild comes along and gives me an opportunity to express that. I just respond to writers' work.
My whole process is really, come to think of it, a series of responses. First, I respond to a writer's work, and then the next big thing is responding to the work of the actors. And finally, in the cutting room, I'm responding to the footage we've wound up with.
I did like that The Silence of the Lambs was a woman's picture. Is that vaguely subversive? - I don't know. I haven't talked to Tom Harris about this, and ultimately I don't think this is of special interest to moviegoers, but I love that he's taking some really good pokes at patriarchy while spinning this tale. And I think the movie sort of manages to do that, too.
Some people say directing doesn't require the creativity or imagination
of acting or writing. You talk about responding to things instead of, say,
"the director's vision."
The director doesn't have to take the creative responsibility of dreaming up what all the actors and crew should be doing. When you start out you think you have to. If you're working on tight budgets and fast schedules, you think you have to know everything, because if you don't then how's it all going to get done in time? But the better the people you work with, the more you realize you can relax and perceive and enjoy and respond.
How did you arrive at your portrayal of Dr. Lecter? There's almost an
abstract quality to him, and you place him in very stylized, gothic settings - not
More than anything, I was trying to be utterly loyal to the spirit of Lecter as I understood it from the books [Red Dragon - filmed as Manhunter in 1986 - and The Silence of the Lambs] and the script. You read them and you just get a certain kind of feeling about Lecter which stands apart, I think, from all other characters in all other works of fiction. And now he's got to be on screen. And luckily, it's going to be Anthony Hopkins bringing him to life. Anthony really knew exactly what to do there. He got this joke.
Kristi Zea - the production designer - and I spent a tremendous amount of time trying to deal with the bars on Lecter's cage. We were never happy with the different looks we were experimenting with. And finally we went to glass. The looks of Lecter's environments are sort of one step beyond, one step into active imagination in the presence of a lot of ultrarealism elsewhere in the picture.
Were we on some level trying to make it easier for the audience to deal with Lecter? One of the big challenges for this movie was, how do you depict some of the shocking scenes described in the screenplay? Like when the police officers burst into the room in Memphis to discover their fallen partners. Ted wrote, "What greets them is a snapshot of hell." [Laughs.] Thanks, Ted. But it's okay, we got that.
It was very hard, because you want to own up to the content of the book and script. But you don't want to cross the line with people, make people physically ill. You don't want to compromise them to that extent. You want to give them the good old-fashioned kind of shock they paid their money for without mortifying them. I'm not against mortification in films, by the way, as a moviegoer; but in my own films I think I will always stop well short of it.
But, again, the look of Lecter's cell block was gothic, even medieval - anything
but modern and institutional.
I didn't want people to feel, for a second, they were seeing anything remotely like a prison movie. When Clarice and Lecter square off against each other, one on the inside of the cage, one on the outside, I didn't want to settle into a someone-visiting-a-prisoner scene. We aspired to creating a setting for these encounters that would not evoke any other films, that would have a freshness and a scariness all their own.
To me, those encounters are staged somewhere between psychoanalysis sessions - given
that Lecter is a psychiatrist - and Catholic confessionals.
I thought it was essential that the movie really put the viewer in Clarice's shoes. That meant shooting a lot of subjective camera in every sequence she was in; you always had to see what Clarice was seeing. So as the scenes between her and Lecter intensify, inevitably we work our way into the subjective positions. And maybe that brings that heightened sense of intimacy we associate with confessionals or with the psychiatrist's couch.
You had the actors looking as close to the lens - without looking into the
lens - as possible. Standard over-the-shoulder shots or matching singles are
done with plenty of distance between the eyeline and the lens - but you cut
them as close as possible during those scenes.
Well, in most of them, one is looking slightly off - just slightly - and the other one is smack into the lens. We really pushed for that.
Then in the final sequence in Gumb's basement she can't see and the
subjective shooting shifts to the killer's POV through his infrared
Exactly. I relished that on a technique-of-making-a-movie level: the idea that we'll be predominantly in the shoes of the protagonist throughout, and then when she's deprived of her sight, we'll be in the shoes of the killer. And perhaps that abandonment of Clarice's point of view will make the situation even more distressing on a certain dialectic level.
In that scene I felt he was way too close to her. In the book I visualized
him stalking her across the basement, instead of on top of her. You made it
The idea that Gumb would try to get as close as he possibly could, and touch her hair and - given that he holds the power, he has the gun - he would play with this proximity: that appealed to me as a way to stage the scene.
Overall, how did you approach the material stylistically? What were you
aiming for in terms of the look of the film?
It started off with wanting to have a film that was rich in closeups and subjective camera. One of the reasons I work so consistently with Tak Fujimoto is that Tak comes up with a brand new look for every movie. Which is what gifted DPs are supposed to do. I've almost stopped talking to him about lighting going into films, because his conception of a look for a film is inevitably going to be a lot more interesting and appropriate than what I might have dreamed up. Because that's not really one of my strong points - conceiving the kind of lights and shades of a look for a movie.
My only thing was, I didn't want the film to look like another modish, stylish, moody broody long-shadow catch-the-killer movie. And because of the incredible heaviness of the subject matter, it was important to aspire to a certain brightness whenever possible. To that end, Tak and I looked at Rosemary's Baby together a couple of times. A very bright picture most of the time. Tak then spun off from there.
But as a director, how do you make sure you're all making the same movie?
Do you sit down with your key people and give them a concrete image to work from?
Noooo...no...no...[Laughs.] I wish I had, but no. We sit down, Tak, Kristi and Chris Newman - our soundman - and we swap views and impressions. The thing is, we were all responding to the book and the screenplay. You read that book and you're going to come away with an impression of what that stuff looks like. None of us were thrilled about having to depict some of the more shocking aspects of the story. It took months during the pre-production process to get over being appalled at the subject matter. By the time it came to film it, I was happily desensitized, to the degree that I could go out and just do it with great gusto and abandon.
Did the demands of making a real down-the-line, narrative-driven film result
in a suppression of your tendency to direct the viewer's attention towards what's
going on at the edges of the story - the incidental details you have a fondness for?
No, all that energy gets channeled into what the new demands are. I was thrilled to have such a strong story, told at such a relentless pace, to focus all that energy on. What was at the forefront was too important to be distracted by the details on the fringes.
It's the same thing with any kind of comedic aspect, because most of the pictures I do try to have a very active sense of humor about them, whether or not they're comedy. And I was just delighted to be freed from the discipline of comedy - not to have to think in terms of where are the laughs going to be, and is this funny enough?
What are you aiming for when you go off at a tangent in a film, as you often do?
Something Wild comes to a dead halt during the high-school reunion sequence - and
then coming out of that, becomes a different movie.
That was an important part of what Something Wild was about. I was just having fun off to the sides - it was a film about this guy's awakening. Jeff Daniels was a total shades-down bonehead at the beginning of the story. And when he goes with Lulu [Melanie Griffith] , she takes him on an exhilarating journey that opens his eyes to the life out there. Therefore it was important to populate the environments their journey took them [through] with a tremendous amount of human activity - lifeforce kind of stuff. So I was actively seeking kind of fun things - most of which were drawn from things I was seeing around Tallahassee while we were shooting. Just the kind of things that a lot of us ignore if our minds are turned inward and we're walking around, you know, thinking about our problems and our day's work...
Same thing with Married to the Mob. From the closed world of the Long Island
Italians, she goes into the Lower East Side.
Yes, exactly. I like that theme a lot.
It's also part of the Jonathan Demme stereotype - Demme, he loves all that quirky
kitschy stuff; he's wacky, he's zany. Does that bother you?
No, I don't mind. I don't pay much attention to that. In terms of my stereotyping as a director, that's one of the least offensive stereotypes that we see around us all the time. If you get to pick what you're going to be perceived as, I would pick being perceived as unpredictable. 'Cause for me I'm unpredictable: I haven't got the foggiest idea what's going to turn me on next, and what's going to speak to me as something that I want to make. I haven't got a clue what the subject matter is going to be, as proved by The Silence of the Lambs.
You do a lot of other projects, apart from features - music videos,
documentaries. Do you ever worry that this diverts your energies and
undermines your ability to make the breakthrough personal project that
[Firmly, laughing.] No. I think I bring an uncommon amount of enthusiasm to the feature films I direct. And I think one of the reasons I'm able to do that is that I don't feel chained to it. I get away from it, I explore other mediums, and get to work away from the discipline of the big box-office success, which allows me to come back with great enthusiasm to go for it again.
But there must be that one special project that still eludes you.
More than anything I hope one day to do a movie that has a lot of meaning for people in the area of race relations. Also, as the father of two kids I suddenly have this deep desire to make a wonderful film for children.
Ten years ago you said in FILM COMMENT that you weren't interested in
violence anymore. Why has your interest revived since Something Wild?
I'm sure that has something to do with becoming more distressed again, in my life, about the violence in our society and around the world. I'm not sure if that's me reading the newspapers more than I once did. I'm not sure if it's me having discovered children. Not my own children, just children. I'm probably a little more concerned on a specific level with humanity. I'm just appalled with what's going on.
But I bet you enjoy violence in movies when it's well done.
Well, what do you mean by "enjoy"? I'm not sure I get the same kick out of violence I once did. I'd have to go back and see The Getaway again to tell you; I might not respond the same way I once did. It doesn't mean I hold it in any less esteem, but I may not get off on that quite as much as I did.
The most violent thing I've ever seen in a movie was when Jack Palance got his arm run over by a tank in Attack - which right on the spot made me, without realizing it, absolutely antiwar. I was the typical American boy who played with his tin soldiers all the time, loved the idea of GI Joe and so on, and then I saw Attack one day and that was it. Just to see that kind of destruction being done to a person, and to contextualize it in war.
So, ever since then I've had sort of standards about violence. I loathe and despise fun violence. I feel it's important to have violence in movies so that people can see how awful it is. The Getaway - that kind of violence is in its own little corner. I wish I could explain my complex feelings about screen violence to myself, much less you.
Isn't the violence in Married to the Mob fun violence?
Well, it definitely treads in there much more than I'm pleased with. Yeah. That one particular Burger World shootout...
I bet the audience cheers when Chris Isaak gets shot through the car windshield
glass - 'cause it's so cool.
Yes. Well, see, that's a little bit of prostitution going on there, probably. But that scene contains what I, quote, "like" about violence, and what I don't like anymore about violence. I like when Paul Lazar, who plays Tommy, says "Don't," because I think there's a moment of truth there. When Dean Stockwell pulls out his .45s and does his Gatling-gun, two-handed thing, the adolescent moviegoer in me thrills to it. And the anxious-to-have-a-movie-that-pleases-people director in me goes, That's a great shot. And then another part of me goes, Be careful there, 'cause you just crossed the line. You just turned violence into fun, you really must strive to not do that anymore.
One of the themes that I was working really hard to put across in Something Wild was how awful violence must be. And I know that the first time we previewed the movie, and there was a moment when Charlie turned the tables on Ray early on in the fight and got his handcuffs around Ray's neck, some people in the audience cheered at the reversal. And I just thought, Oh - they totally got the wrong idea what this scene's about. I have an aversion to the idea of cheering death. I don't think it's fair to the character who lives, as much as anything else.
In The Silence of the Lambs, when Jodie finally shoots down Jame Gumb, I wanted to avoid the obligatory triumphant shot of Clarice's face. I wanted to respect her privacy at the moment of having just taken a life. And the camera doesn't travel to her. It goes in on Gumb.
What did you think of Michael Mann's Manhunter? Did it affect your choices?
I saw Manhunter when it came out. I found it very effective, very disturbing. [Pause.] Then, when I knew I was going to make The Silence of the Lambs and it was pointed out to me that this was Tom Harris, and Dr. Lecter and Crawford had appeared in Manhunter, I felt immediately that it would be smart to look at it again. And I started watching it, but I didn't get very far. I felt my feelings for what Silence of the Lambs should be like were so strong that it was impossible for me to learn anything from Red Dragon/Manhunter. And I stopped watching it. I saw one Lecter scene, and I thought, "Oh, my God. That's not my Dr. Lecter." [Laughs.]
In no way is The Silence of the Lambs reactive to Manhunter, because the gap in seeing it was too long. Now I should see it again.
You cast Anthony Hopkins and Scott Glenn both against type. You would've
expected Scott Glenn to be the serial killer and Anthony Hopkins to be the
[Laughs.] Right. With Tony I just got a bee in my bonnet early on about him in this part. I think he has the ability to project an extremely heightened intelligence, which was key to Lecter as a lover of words - words just roll off Tony's tongue.
Jack Crawford should've been a couple of years older than Scott. And I was thinking of actors older. Scott came into the equation late in the game, and it was funny because I've worked with him in the past; he was in Fighting Mad and, indeed, the first movie I produced, Angels Hard as They Come. Scott is a very cerebral guy; I felt it would be fun to give him an opportunity to really work with his mind in a part, to put on a great-looking three-piece suit - 'cause Scott's in exceptionally good shape - put some glasses on him, and completely leave everything he had ever done before at the door.
What about Ted Levine's portrayal of Gumb? What lines did you draw
in terms of visualizing that character?
The one thing that was more important than anything else, in terms of the character, was that the pathology be as accurate as we were capable of understanding. We received a lot of guidance from the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit on that. Before Ted was even cast, I was working on profiling Gumb. I wanted my understanding of this deranged person to be as accurate as possible. So I would write my own profile of Gumb and send it to the guys at Behavioral Science and have them critique it for me. In a way, understanding Jame Gumb is comprehending the incomprehensible.
But the guy has his own logic.
Yes. And his own motivation, and his own methods. Ted Levine had a lot of good ideas for that; there were certain guidelines drawn. Also, obviously, we knew that it was tremendously important to not have Gumb misinterpreted by the audience as being homosexual. That would be a complete betrayal of the themes of the movie. And a disservice to gay people.
The scene where he dresses up and talks to Kathryn in the pit, when he appears to be a transvestite - we didn't want people to think he's a transvestite. It was critical to understand that he shouldn't be doing this. He's dead wrong. (Lecter explains it; hope the audience is paying attention.) This is someone who is so completely, completely horrified by who he is that his desperation to become someone completely other is manifested in his ill-guided attempts at transvestitism, and behavior and mannerisms that can be interpreted as gay.
Is Charles Napier going to be in every movie you do?
I certainly hope so. I'd love to see his parts get larger again. Some people say, "Oh, is Chuck your good-luck charm?" It doesn't have anything to do with that. Chuck is a wonderful actor; I think any film with him in it benefits enormously. Same thing with Tracey Walter. When I know I'm doing the script, I send it to Tracey and say, Tracey, please pick something out. We have a lot of fun working together.
Is that George A. Romero we glimpse in the courthouse where Lecter is being held?
When I first called him up it was like, Hi, I've come to Pittsburgh to make a scary movie. And you've got to call the king when you come to town. So, we're here. And he said, Good, welcome, thank you very much. Then later, I thought, gosh, I wonder if we could get George to do a secret cameo. So I called him up and he came in.
How come Roger Corman gets to be the director of the FBI?
Well, he was so good as the senator in Godfather II; I always thought that was brilliant casting on Coppola's part. I'm so fond of Corman. The only way to get to see him, he's always so busy working on his empire, is to offer him a part in a movie. He's in Swing Shift; he played the owner of the factory, Mr. McBride.
Why did you choose to have the last scene with Lecter in Haiti? I know you've
got a thing for it - the music, the culture...
It's not necessarily Haiti.
Yeah, but it is.
[Laughs.] I thought you really had to get a sense in a very brief time that Lecter had tracked Chilton to the ends of the earth, to a place that redefined "off the beaten track." So, because I'm very familiar with Haiti and the Creole language and the atmosphere, it seemed like a good choice.
What creative involvement did you have in George Armitage's Miami Blues,
which you exec-produced?
I participated a little bit at script level and later a little bit at the editing level. And I scrupulously avoided anything to do with the shooting of it.
How do you work with screenwriters?
You've got to have a gifted writer in order to get a good script, 'cause no director, no matter how many ideas he has in his head, is going to help make a good script out of the work of a bad writer. It's important to sit down, and you tell the writer what you like and what you don't like. And you tell him if you feel there's something missing, and you discuss it a little bit, and then you let him go write it. And then come back and read it again. I'm too into sitting and working out scenes in great detail. Every once in a while that happens.
You seem interested in people who want to change, who transform or experiment
with their identities, who want to become something better.
Isn't that one of the great old chestnuts, though?
No, I think the old chestnut is, "I like a movie where there's a strong conflict."
[Laughs.] Of course, it's not a story - it's the theme of change. I don't know the answer to that. But I do know, as you know, that one of the ways actors decide if they want to play a part or not is, is there a good arc there? That wonderful, wonderful word, right? It's always, Well, she's not that different at the end of the film than she was at the beginning, so what happened to her in the course of the story maybe isn't interesting enough to make a movie about her. So the whole idea that you must witness change in a character to have a meaningful story is now taken to extreme.
But the main character in Melvin and Howard doesn't really change, and that's a
more truthful portrayal of life. He has a few new insights, but his life hasn't
I'll tell you what appealed to me so much about Melvin and Howard. Once again, it must be said, a brilliant screenplay. What appealed to me tremendously was the portrait of a hardworking man, an American guy working his ass off in a million different kinds of jobs and never getting ahead - always pursuing the dream. It's a quintessentially American story. In the typical Hollywood version of that story, he would achieve his dream. But Bo Goldman's screenplay remains true to the truth of the actual American Dream - that far more don't achieve it than do. The poetry of Melvin's story is that at the end, in fact, he had changed because he has come to realize that maybe it's more important to treasure your experiences and your interactions throughout the course of your life, rather than the amount of material goods you're able to amass.
That beautiful line that sums it up - "Howard Hughes sang Melvin Dummar's song."
It sums up this idea of, it's the experiences that count, not the size of your bank account. That was the measure of Melvin's growth. You think about how obsessively he was chasing the golden ring. The end of the trial was, I guess, his great moment of truth - he's put to the test, where his values were. He went into the trial wanting to get that money. And then suddenly all his integrity was on the line, and the truth of his life became more important than what he was going to walk away from financially.