I'll start by saying that the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman stands as one of the great tragedies of my movie-loving life. He was an actor of immense skill and passion. One able to transform into any character, make us believe him, and thus effortlessly reminding us that performers can truly transform us.
Last week, a new blogathon made its way to me by way of Wendell at Dell on Movies, a movie blogger tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman.
It comes from a blog new to me but one I plan to keep up with going forward.
That blog is Epileptic Moondancer. And this is my contribution to the Philip Seymour Hoffman Blogathon! Note that I am going outside of the original rule of choosing one Hoffman role and discussing it. I just can't do that. Hoffman's work is too ingrained in me. I can't choose one. I have to choose many. I promise. I'm not showboating. I'm just in awe and still utterly devastated by the loss of a man so dear to me, a man I only knew through these great performances I hold so dear.
On the day of his death, I was dumbstruck, sad. It was the first time I knew I would truly feel the loss of an artist I had admired for so many years. I put together a post that day, covering the great roles he took and embodied so perfectly. What follows is an adaptation of the In Memoriam post I did that February day in 2014:
When First I Saw Him
Dir. Jan De Bont, 1996
I was in the sixth grade in 1996, and I remember well going to the theater to see it. It was, if I remember correctly, one of the great thrills of that summer, an even better movie than its summer blockbuster competition, the Will Smith vehicle Independence Day.
Here Hoffman caught my attention playing the chubby, goofy one in a group of Oklahoma "Storm Chasers" led by the dynamic duo of a straight-laced Bill Paxton and a devil-may-care Helen Hunt. A small role but a fun one, marking the beginning of my relationship with who would become one of my favorite actors.
Then, in the Films of Paul Thomas Anderson
Philip Seymour Hoffman became most well-known as a character actor with the help of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. Through these five films, Hoffman put himself on the map. Their work together began with Anderson's debut feature Hard Eight, where Hoffman's talents were used for loud, darkly comedic effect in a cameo as an obnoxious Reno craps player.
From there, he would get bigger roles in Anderson's early masterpieces as the sexually ambiguous Scotty J., a porn set boom operator in Boogie Nights. He went on to strong supporting work once again in Anderson's mosaic tale of coincidence and chance in Los Angeles, Magnolia, as hospice nurse to Jason Robards' dying TV exec.
His extended cameo turn as a dirtbag mattress salesman in Punch-Drunk Love showed a comically angry side we hadn't seen before. And, finally, a starring role in 2012's The Master showcased Hoffman's ability to outright own the screen.
Also, as One of the Finest Character Actors of his Generation
Dir. Todd Solondz, 1998
Dir. Cameron Crowe, 2000
Dir. Spike Lee, 2002
Dir. Bennett Miller, 2011
And, finally, as a Leading Man; (or, The One Film I Truly Want to Highlight)
I will never discredit Hoffman's Oscar-winning leading role as Truman Capote in Bennett Miller's Capote (2005). He deserved every bit of praise he got for it. But it's a movie that I've never been able to watch for a second time. I barely got through it the first time. Apart from the performances, especially Hoffman's, I had a tough time focusing on this film, and it stands as another example, like last year's Foxcatcher, of a simple dislike I have of Bennett Miller's slow style.
This is the movie I want people to focus on...
Synecdoche, New York
Dir. Charlie Kaufman, 2008
The range Hoffman pulls off here can almost be seen as his own career in microcosm. A synecdoche in and of itself. Kaufman in a writer of lives in layers. He appreciates and understands the intricacies of life and emotion, how we look at our own pasts, how our pasts shape us, how we can never fully understand ourselves. Philip Seymour Hoffman channeled Kaufman's ideas into a performance that could truly not be created by any other actor...period.
This is his defining work. A work of genius on all levels and by all involved. Now, Synecdoche, New York is a challenging film. One that many people hate. That's the truth of this movie though, a truth that I adore about it. I don't even fully understand it. I also know I'm not supposed to. And that's why I know it to be a great movie because, if I fully understood it, I would fail to be human. It defies everything we know about art and movies and movie characters and acting and even our own lives. It is Philip Seymour Hoffman that made this film relatable enough to exist as the statement it was meant to be.
Then, of course, there's this: