I saw this movie in HD. I'm not sure I completely recognized the brilliance of this in the VHS, post-widescreen world because of it having been pan-and-scanned down to 4:3. (Although I believe 4:3 is the ratio of the gods, it doesn't mean I think pan & scan is good for movies composed for 1.85 or 2.35).
Silence of the Lambs is not great because of Anthony Hopkins. It's not great because of Jodie Foster or because of its script. They give great performances, but the movie is great because of the composition during dialogue. This entire movie is told from point of view, that is what makes it awesome.
I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie before or since that had so many characters speaking directly into the camera. Usually, it doesn't work because the audience feels they are being spoken to like a bad anti-drug commercial. Jonathan Demme made it work perfectly here because he carefully crafts the way he leads into a POV (point of view) shot.
When Clarisse and Lecter are down in the jail, notice that Jodie Foster doesn't look into the camera until way, way later in the conversation. She looks just to the left of the camera to lead into the POV shot of Lecter. Lecter then speaks directly into the camera throughout. But did you for one second think he was speaking to you, the audience? No. You were in Clarisse's shoes. Demme sets you up that way.
There are many, many examples of the POV shot in this movie. Essentially you are in the shoes of the people speaking to Lecter. Clarisse, the doctor, and the senator speaking to Lecter -- you are also placed in her shoes for the scene in the airplane hangar. But Clarisse talking to her boss, looking around the room of cops in West Virginia. The entire movie is from behind Clarisse's eyes.
However, there is a twist: Buffalo Bill. We get placed in his shoes in this movie. It starts when he puts on his night vision goggles at the very beginning and doesn't stop until he gets shot (hope I didn't give anything away). We constantly look down on the victim in the well from his point of view, or looking in the mirror, etc.
The dialogue in this movie would have been really, really cheesy if Demme hadn't put it together so well.
BTW, the artist who sang that song "Goodbye, Horses" when Buffalo Bill is dancing naked in the mirror... she has her own Myspace Page. Speaking of long tail.... a one hit wonder from 17 years ago has her own myspace page.
JSS Rating: Good/Good. This movie easily deserved Best Picture.