Paul Thomas Anderson Says He Asks Himself: "What Would Jonathan Demme Do?"

Paul Thomas Anderson - Austin Film Society's Texas Film Awards - Getty - H 2018
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The 'Phantom Thread' filmmaker made the comments as he and Armie Hammer were honored at the annual Texas Film Awards, presented by the Austin Film Society, on Thursday.

As Armie Hammer took the stage to accept his honor from Timothee Chalamet at the 18th annual Texas Film Awards on March 8, he began his brief acceptance speech by quipping that he’d presented more than a dozen similar awards to his Call Me by Your Name co-star over the course of the past 10 months. “Now, you get to hand me one,” Hammer said with a smile.

Hammer, honored by the Austin Film Society alongside Oscar-nominated Phantom Thread director Paul Thomas Anderson, also thanked his wife, Elizabeth Chambers, as well as his mother, Dru Ann Mobley, who he said “put up with my shit for way too long.”

Anderson was presented with the first-ever Jonathan Demme Award, named for the acclaimed filmmaker who passed away in April. “Jonathan meant so much to so many of us, and he passed away less than a year ago, so the loss is still there,” said director Richard Linklater, one of the co-founders of the film organization. “You want to honor people, [and] this is something we can do well into the future. There’s always going to be a filmmaker who embodies the Demme spirit.”

Demme, whose work includes The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia and the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, was known for his eclectic style and willingness to tackle any genre.

Though he was born in New York City, he had a deep connection to the state of Texas, which began back in 1980 when Demme first experienced Austin’s vibrant nightlife. That led to him compiling a collection of six short films made in the city and screening them at the Collective for Living Cinema in New York City.

The shorts were eventually released on DVD in 2015 under the name Jonathan Demme Presents: Made in Texas. He was a frequent visitor to Austin, attending its numerous film festivals over the years, including SXSW.

At the awards event, a highlight reel showing clips from some of Demme’s best-known work was introduced by actor Thandie Newton (who appeared in the director's 2002 movie The Truth About Charlie) via a video she’d sent from her London home. She called Demme “a great risk-taker” with a penchant for breaking the fourth wall, who never seemed to let the realities of show business get in the way of his creative vision. 

Afterwards, Anderson was joined onstage by Linklater for a lengthy conversation about the late director, as well as Demme's lasting influence on both filmmakers.

“Those moments when you feel that you’re in a jam, you have to say to yourself — and I do — ‘What would Jonathan do?’” said Anderson. “And it is, at times, very helpful to help yourself get back on track.”