Silence of the Lambs, The: Collector Edition

Collector’s Edition DVD (2007)

This Collector’s Edition is actually the third “special” DVD of the 1991 Oscar-winning picture. Hence, some of the previous features, such as deleted scenes and Hannibal Lecter’s phone greetings, are also included in this edition.

The two new docus discuss Thomas Harris’ inspirations for the central role (Ed Gein, Ted Bundy) and also how and why the actors who were Demme’s first choice, Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer) turned the project down. Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster both grabbed the opportunity to work with Demme.

One of the revelatoriest comments is by screenwriter Ted Tally, who now has second thoughts about his depiction of the serial killer Buffalo Bill, which upset many gay viewers at the time. Says Tally: “We certainly wished we had crafted that character in some different way. At least, God forbid, not give him a white poodle that he names ‘Precious.'”

One of the positive things that came out of this collective guilt is that Demme chose as his next film project “Philadelphia,” the first major Hollywood movie about AIDS with Tom Hanks (in an Oscar-wining turn) as a gay man with AIDS.

Despite the fact that the Collector’s Edition doesn’t have many new featurettes, it’s an opportunity to revisit and treasure the film’s artistic merits. There’s no doubt that “Silence of the Lambs” is the best of the five films in the franchise, if you include “Manhunter” and the latest installment “Hannibal Rising,” which is both an artistic and commercial flop.

Film Review

Based on Thomas Harris’s best-seller, this suspenseful and gruesome thriller centers on the battle of nerves between an FBI trainee named Clarice (Jodie Foster) and a diabolical psychiatrist turned cannibal, who becomes Clarice’s sparring partner, in her efforts to hunt down a serial killer.

The acting of the two stars is superb. Anthony Hopkins almost made a likable hero of out of Hannibal Lecter’s sadistic, unruly demon. As Clarice, Foster embodies the gentleness of an initially naive county girl who becomes susceptible to Hannibal’s advances.

For some viewers, the movie was too creepy and disconcerting in its hints of romantic attraction between Hannibal and Clarice. The more conservative moviegoers were outraged by the picture. First Lady Barbara Bush stormed out of the theater, protesting, “I didn’t come to a movie to see people’s skin being taken off.” Then gay activists threatened to disrupt the Oscar show as a protest against Hollywood’s representations of homosexuals in The Silence of the Lambs, as well as in Oliver Stone’s JFK (also Best Picture nominee that year) and the Sharon Stone psycho-thriller, Basic Instinct, which was released during the 1992 nomination period.

The first of 1991’s five nominees to be distributed theatrically, “The Silence of the Lambs” opened at an unusual time, in February. By Oscar time, the picture has grossed $130.7 million, which made it the last successful release by the then-recently bankrupt Orion Pictures, the company responsible for “Dances With Wolves,” the Oscar-winner of the previous year. This bizarre financial situation was not lost on director Demme, who remarked, “I know everyone feels the incredible irony of what’s happened to Orion.”

“The Silence of the Lambs” swept all five major Oscars: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay. Only two other films in the Academy’s history have been recognized in all top five categories: “It Happened One Night,” in 1934, and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” in 1975.

Oscar Nominations: 7

Picture, produced by Edward Saxon, Keneth Utt and Ron Bozman
Director: Jonathan Demme
Screenplay (Adapted): Ted Tally
Actor: Anthony Hopkins
Actress: Jodie Foster
Sound: Tom Fleischman and Christopher Newman
Film Editing: Craig McKay

Oscar Awards: 5


Oscar Context

At Oscar time, “Silence of the Lambs” swept all the major awards: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay. In only three times in the entire Academy’s history, a single film has been recognized in all top categories: It Happened One Night in 1934, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975, and now Silence of the Lambs.

In 1991, “Silence of the Lambs” competed for the Best Picture Oscar with Disney animated feature “Beauty and the Beast”; Warren Beatty’ star vehicle, the crime-gangster bio “Bugsy”; Oliver Stone’s paranoid bio-thriller “JFK”; and Barbra Streisand’s therapeutic romantic melodrama “”The Prince of Tides.”

The Sound Oscar went to “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and the editing to “JFK,” to Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scala.

With the exception of Jonathan Demme, no filmmaker has ever won a directorial Oscar for a thriller, including Hitchcock, the genre’s acknowledged master. Hitchcock was nominated five times: for Rebecca (1940), Lifeboat (1944), Spellbound (1945), Rear Window (1954), and Psycho (1960).