Monday, February 03, 2014

Phillip Seymour Hoffman

I am no fan of popular culture. Even before having young children provided a good excuse not to go to the movies, I didn't find myself shelling out 8 or 10 dollars for a ticket and 15 dollars for a soda with too much ice and a bag of popcorn very often. My movie philosophy was summed up nicely by Gene Wilder recently, in an interview on AMC that I caught accidentally; when asked why he wasn't doing much film acting these days, Wilder looked pained, as if he was letting the interviewer in on some unfortunate secret that could no longer be kept from him: "Because most of them" The audience laughed, but Wilder just shrugged, perhaps frustrated by their laughter.

I am sure there are lots of great movies being produced, but the ones that I am told are going to be great, never are. I recently saw American Hustle. The theater was packed and yet the movie was just...okay. It  was too long, there were entire segments I thought could have been left out, that forwarded the story in no meaningful way, and yet here we were on the wrong side of two hours invested in a movie that was blowing no one's socks off. I thought to myself, and probably said out loud, if this is on the short list for Best Film, the competition must be incredibly weak.

But there are a few actors who can make me want to buy a ticket. Daniel Day Lewis leads a short list. Leonardo DiCaprio. And increasingly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I thought Hoffman's performance of Truman Capote in the film Capote was truly masterful. Hoffman immersed himself in that role the way Day-Lewis did in Lincoln, and the result was just as astounding. One forgets where the actor ends and the role begins. I am no film critic, nor what anyone would call a movie buff, and perhaps there are better, more technically sound, ways to describe Hoffman's performance in Capote, but I will leave it at exceptional.

I tried, although maybe halfheartedly, to see Hoffman perform on the Broadway stage as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, a role he was said to have mastered on the live stage. But traveling to Manhattan for painfully white collar entertainment wasn't in the cards. I find myself wishing it had been.    

I am no fan of popular culture. So much of it is vapid, empty, and temporary, that it is just not worth paying attention. But such as Mr. Hoffman's work was popular, it was worth paying attention to, it was none of those things. A man whose extraordinary talent came at the cost of an extraordinary vulnerability has left this planet far too soon with far too much left to do. I found myself unexpectedly moved at the news of his passing and pledged to recommit myself to my own writing, for one day, there will be nothing more to write.     


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