I just watched the second Hunger Games film, Catching Fire, and was a bit stunned at how much I enjoyed it. But the ending made me sad, since one of the final faces onscreen is that of Philip Seymour Hoffman. I recently wrote a piece about the actor for Buffalo Spree’s Rochester publication, (585) Magazine. And here it is …
“Their art never lasts.” So says Philip Seymour Hoffman as the late rock critic Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s modern classic Almost Famous, explaining to his young protégé why it is better to be one of the “uncool” than one of the vapid “good-looking people.” It is a wonderfully self-deprecating line delivered with exhausted authority by the greatest actor of his generation.
Hoffman was born in Fairport, New York in 1967, attended drama school at New York University, and prior to his devastating death on February 2 amassed a resume as strong as any actor in film history. Consider: Boogie Nights; The Big Lebowski; Happiness; Magnolia; The Talented Mr. Ripley; Almost Famous; Punch-Drunk Love; Capote; The Savages; Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead; Synecdoche, New York; Doubt; Moneyball; The Master. That list does not even include the lesser works he elevated with his performances: Owning Mahoney, Love Liza, Flawless, Along Came Polly, Mission: Impossible III, A Late Quartet.
What these films, and, more specifically these characters, have in common is the feeling that no other actor could have brought the everyman essence that made Hoffman so exhilarating, so uniquely identifiable. I recall the exact moment in which I realized the rumpled Dusty from Twister was on the road to greatness. It was the last Buffalo-area showing of P.T. Anderson’s porn epic Boogie Nights, at an appropriately skuzzy, cheap-o theater whose audience consisted entirely of my seventeen-year-old, budding-cinephile self and a couple friends there to ogle Heather Graham. As the sad-sack Scotty J., forever lusting over Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler, Hoffman was a revelation, creating a character as memorable as any in nineties cinema. His best work, in fact, came in the films of Paul Thomas Anderson. The Master’s enigmatic character Lancaster Dodd should endure as Hoffman’s finest hour.
We will continue to see new work from Hoffman over the next few months, and hear more stories of his Rochester-area youth, his Hollywood majesty, and his sad end. The talk of his death may never go away, but neither will films like Synecdoche and The Master.
His art will last.