As I watched the frenzied Sky News coverage of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman last night I became enraged at the idiocy of the media. Not a surprise really. The anchor was talking to a “guy on the scene” in New York. The two were conversing about Hoffman’s battle with drugs and alcohol. The anchor said “did Hoffman ever speak candidly about why someone with all that success and money would need to do drugs?”
What a vile question. If there was ever a question that summed up the problems with how the modern world works that was it. The assumption that all a great artist like Hoffman was pursuing was fame and fortune in his quest for fulfilment is ridiculous.
For Hoffman was an artist. In his performances there was a raft of emotion, a subtle sexuality, an exuberant charm, but most of all there was honesty and vulnerability. Even as The Master himself, Lancaster Dodd, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant work, Hoffman’s performance centred around the weaknesses of his character; the fact that his true love for Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell made him question his faith and his entire being. It was this truth that made it obvious Hoffman was propelling much of himself into his performances. You can tell when an actor isn’t just utilising learned techniques, but instead brandishing their very souls on to the screen. Those are the world’s greatest actors and Hoffman was one of them.
Suddenly a question about why such a man may struggle with substance abuse becomes all the more lurid. Of course we cannot condone use of such drugs. We know the problems they cause, the lives they wreck. I’m certain Hoffman, a man of fierce intellect and artistic integrity would know the ramifications more than most. But we all get vulnerable. We all struggle in our own way to deal with elements of our lives, and how the world works/perceives us. Sometimes struggles lead to the need to escape. This was Hoffman’s. It is amongst the most dangerous, but his was the most dangerous of talents; the kind you could feel. The kind that made you wonder how a man could possibly transform in the ways Hoffman did.
I have loved and continue to love every single Hoffman performance. Whether that be the absurd comedy of Brandt in the Big Lebowski, the dogged grit and desperation of Andy in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead or the strikingly nuanced vulnerability and artistic honesty of Caden Cotard in Synecdoche New York (possibly the most revealing portrait of the man himself). Philip Seymour Hoffman was the embodiment of cinema; all of the escapist, realist, transformational, emotional and awe inspiring qualities that make movies unlike any other art-form.
There are some great performances of Hoffman’s that I am yet to see. Films like Magnolia, Charlie Wilson’s War and Doubt. At such a sad time it is heart warming to know that I can discover even more of a man who gave so much to cinema, in what was actually a very short space of time. Though I can’t claim to know the man, I will mourn the loss of an enormous talent, an enormous contribution, and what would have been an enormous future. Hoffman was an actor that did, and could have continued to do literally anything. He will be sorely missed.