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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

dammit dammit dammit, Philip Seymour Hoffman is gone

Philip Seymour Hoffman Twister

Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead. Damn you, universe. Damn you.

I’m not sure there’s anything truly productive or enlightening to be found in a debate over which of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performances is the greatest. Every movie he touched was better for it. He is extraordinary in The Master. He won his Oscar for Capote, and rightly so. If I may quote myself:

[Capote is] about, although this only slowly becomes clear, Truman Capote’s capacity for self-deception, for avoiding facing his own mental reality, for not even understanding, probably, the source of his own genius. (Well, who does understand genius?) Capote is at first “merely” a darkly engaging portrait of a great American oddball, one that makes a point of agreeing with Capote himself, that he has been misjudged by those around him his whole life. Philip Seymour Hoffman doesn’t impersonate Capote: he embodies the author so intimately that there is no artifice or actorly showiness in the Capote-isms: the lisping, the dapperness — even when Capote is being deliberately affected, as when he tells outrageous and dubious stories at parties, Hoffman finds the sincere confusion and insecurity behind it.

Almost Famous. The Talented Mr. Ripley. Maybe my favorite of Hoffman’s movies, and performances, Synecdoche, New York, which was all about the meaning of art, a thing impossible to pin down and yet the chasing of which is everything.

Yet the Hoffman role that jumps out most for me is in Twister. I know: it’s a silly movie. (But underrated, too. An argument for another day.). Hoffman wasn’t famous then. So it’s not like we went, Oh, hey, it’s PSH! No, he just walked away with every scene he was in via some filmic alchemy that was uniquely his own. His character, Dusty, one of weather nerds working on tornado prediction, was barely more than part of the scenery, and yet, Hoffman forced us to pay attention to him… though never in any way that detracted from the larger experience. Quite the contrary: he helped create the illusion of a band of realistic science geeks working on a real problem that needs solving, and having a blast while solving it.

I suppose we can now assume that Hoffman was himself having less of a blast than it might have seemed to us. It’s very sad that someone who had achieved so much doesn’t seem to have taken as much pleasure in it as we did.


posted in:
talent buzz
  • Matt Clayton

    Glad I’m not the only one who thought PSH was a scene-stealer in Twister. I think he did a great job establishing the camaraderie of the storm chasers — and had great chemistry with Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, and especially Jamie Gertz. He was also freaking scary and menacing in Mission Impossible 3.

    The tragic thing is, he sought help for his addictions several times. I really hate how people see his name and “cause of death: drug overdose” — and think he didn’t do a damn thing to help himself. And the fact that he has three young kids — now fatherless — that’s the real tragedy.

  • Danielm80

    The universe clearly isn’t working properly. I’ve made my peace with the fact that people die, but in one year we lost Pete Seeger and Nelson Mandela and Roger Ebert and Peter O’Toole and Richie Havens and now Philip Seymour Hoffman. There must be a glitch somewhere. I want a better universe, one with more compassionate politicians and fewer school shootings and clean air to breathe. You’d think that in a world that had such great artists and writers in it, we’d be a little closer to solving the problems we created. I don’t want to end on a bleak note but: fuck. We have to start listening to these people while they’re still here.

  • I was so hoping it was one of those stupid Internet rumors…And then I saw the first report came from the Wall Street Journal…I thought he was an amazing actor. I think back to Magnolia and Boogie Nights in particular. And while Synechdochie, NY was flawed, he was mesmerizing.

  • Very sad indeed. And yet, he did it to himself. I’ll never understand drug addiction. I’ll never understand why anyone even tries them once, let alone over and over again. It’s just so goddamn stupid.
    Anyway, this sucks. Such a great actor gone too soon. ugh.

  • Devo

    This is a common reason people overdose…it’s when they’ve been clean for a long time and then just cannot fight the cravings for a moment. their tolerance to the drug is gone. One strong hit after a lengthy abstinence will be the one to kill you. Think about others who we have lost recently with the same story.

  • Michael Brown

    We can hope that Charlie Rose will run a retrospective of PSH interviews, we can hear from him again.

  • You know, though: Seeger and Mandela were quite old and lived full lives and at least in Mandela’s case, got to see the fruits of his work come to pass. I don’t think we can call their deaths tragic — sad for their families, but reminders that life can be full and satisfying.

    Hoffman, though, is just completely tragic, because apart from the private aspects (his young kids have no dad), there’s also the art we all will now never get. We *know* he would have gone on to do more amazing work. He had a lot to do still.

    So so sad. I’m really upset about this.

  • I think we’re coming to understand that addiction is a disease. I don’t think it’s fair to blame an addict. Quitting can be very hard… and of course, lots of people put dangerous things into their bodies and do not die young or even become addicted. It’s a crapshoot, and it’s biology.

  • Bluejay

    I remember seeing him for the first time in Scent of a Woman and thinking, “Gee, the actor playing the smug, skeevy prep school kid that I really want to punch in the face is… really good.” It was a minor role in the shadow of Al Pacino’s scenery-chewing, but it stuck with me; and for years after that, whenever I saw him in a movie I’d think, “Hey, it’s Skeevy Guy from Scent of a Woman — and he keeps getting better!” I’ve enjoyed his work ever since.

    Terribly sad news.

  • Bluejay

    He had a lot to do still.

    Someone on another site mentioned wanting to see Hoffman play the lead in a biopic about Christopher Hitchens, and I have to agree that would’ve been amazing to see.

  • Rod Ribeiro

    Very, very sad. How many talents do we still have to lose to drugs?

    Apparently, he died of a drug that hasn’t been in circulation for a couple years. Maybe he had some stashed. He obviously didn’t want to do drugs and sought help several times. Maybe the temptation was just too great at that moment.

    As MarkyD said, I can’t understand why would anyone need to shoot heroin mixed with cancer meds though their veins. But we can’t know other people’s miseries, so… we can only accept that humanity is so fucked up that a PSH has to die once in a while.

  • Wow. Yes.

    Now I’m even more sad.

  • Man, that would have been fantastic. Bummer.

  • I’d rather not get into the disease/not a disease discussion, as I won’t make any friends with it.
    Thing is, it has to start somewhere, and a disease didn’t force him to stick the needle in his arm the very first time. That’s really my issue. Why ever even try it? Especially in this modern world, and with all that we know. Are people still getting pressure to do such things? Is Hollywood still that ass backwards? They’re out of sync with a lot of things, so I guess it wouldn’t surprise me that drugs are still that big a thing with celebs. So stupidly sad.

  • I suggest you give this a read:

    http://aisleseat.com/pshaddiction.htm

    The relevant bit:

    The thing about being an addict is that it’s all about avoiding pain. People try drugs for many reasons. Sometimes it’s to experiment, other times because it makes them feel more social or self-confident. Some people are looking for a buzz, while others simply want to forget something. It’s these last folks who run the greatest risk of becoming addicts. Many people fiddle with drugs for a time in their lives, usually when they’re fairly young, and then quit. Those who become full-fledged addicts have a different experience. In my life, I’ve known hundreds of drug addicts and alcoholics. They all had one thing in common: they were running from something.

    The key to understanding drug addiction is to understand shame, because shame is the gas that fuels addiction’s engine. Hardcore addicts take drugs to avoid experiencing some unpleasant emotion. Maybe it’s depression or anxiety from having been molested as a child. Maybe it’s the sensation of guilt from having a failed marriage. It could be a million things, but whatever it is, it’s painful as hell. Substance use dulls the pain, so that the undesirable emotion is pushed into the background. The problem is, once you sober up, it’s still right there, so you have to ingest more of your substance of choice to make it go away again. Here’s where shame comes in. Addicts feel very guilty about their use. They know, at some fundamental level, that it’s hurting their loved ones. They know it’s hurting themselves. Shame is one of those unpleasant emotions, though, and if your coping skill for dealing with them is to drink, snort, or inject them away, guess what you’re going to do? This creates a cycle from which it can be extraordinarily difficult to escape. Life becomes all about avoiding those awful feelings that you don’t know how to deal with. The shame of coping with it in a destructive way is what allows the substance abuse to perpetuate itself.

  • Bluejay

    Also relevant, from the same article:

    Let’s mourn all the individuals out there, famous or not, who are struggling with the same disease. They don’t need our scorn or self-righteousness. Those things just make it worse. They need our support, our encouragement, and our help.

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    He was one of the scariest actors on film. I’ll miss him.

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    I will always be thankful that the religion I was raised in prohibits alcohol and drug use, helped me avoid them in my teens one of the most vulnerable times in life. Addiction seems to be something that runs in our family and it only takes one moment of weakness to begin, which we all have at some point.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Well, my religious background doesn’t exactly promote drug use either but that didn’t keep one of my first cousins on my mother’s side of the family from either getting involving with illegal drugs or dying from an overdose. And after having a female friend once tell me about how she used to give injections to her drug-addicted white sharecropper father when she was a young girl, I’m not sure that there is an aspect of American culture left that is totally invulnerable to the lure of narcotics.

    Perhaps the only alternative to be so addicted to other stuff — life, for example — that you are not even tempted to go that route.

    As for alcohol, I used to think the French were smarter than the WASPs because they encouraged a more realistic view toward alcohol. A view that looked down upon drunkenness but not upon drinking alcohol in moderation.

    Then again, many predominantly Catholic countries like Mexico and Ireland share the same attitude toward alcohol that the French have — and yet alcoholicism is not unknown in these countries…

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    To be clearer, I wasn’t trying to parade around the virtues of religion, but to point out how I feel I am lucky to have avoided drugs and alcohol, as I think I might be predisposed to addiction. I empathize with the individuals caught in it.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Fair enough. I sometimes get a sense of “there but for the grace of God go I” whenever I come across such individuals myself.

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