I received news today which sucked the oxygen from my lungs and tore the walls down around me, leaving me exposed, afraid and incredibly vulnerable. A death in the family? Yes actually, Philip Seymour Hoffman was and will always be my brother. We never actually met per se although I did have the exclusive pleasure of attending one of only two performances of a radio days-style play penned by The Coen Brothers and Charlie Kaufman where he appeared on stage alongside John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Meryl Streep, Hope Davis and Peter Dinklage in the Coens’ segment Sawbones and I will treasure that memory for as long as I live.
Seymour-Hoffman was, in my opinion, the finest character actor of our generation…Period. Bold as my statement may be, there was no other man alive who could convince you that you were, in fact, a penguin than this fine figure of a man. My bucket list is all messed up now as, very close to the apex, was my desire to lick his beard from chin to cheek and plant a soft kiss on his forehead. Hell, I probably would have gone all Lost in Translation and whispered concealed nothings in his lobe too.
As the grim tidings soaked into my cerebellum, I felt a sadness I had not felt in many a harvest. You could have slid my kidney from its receptacle and replaced it with a stick of dynamite and I would have been none the wiser until…Kaboom! But we’re only talking a little fan-boy adoration right? You couldn’t be more wrong in your assumption. I take film very seriously indeed and it has been my big brother, mentor and life-mate for longer than I care to remember. It has the exclusive power to move you, bring you tears of joy, of sorrow and of every other emotion across the spectrum.
He had the ability to exhibit such vulnerability on one hand but assured swagger on the other. Even more alarmingly there was never a transition, no seams, no strings being pulled. He could just pluck that shit out like a thanksgiving turkey. No sweat, qualms or quibbles…just raw organic ability. In a career spanning 23 years and 51 movies, not every film he appeared in was particularly great. But one constant through each picture was this…he was always superb, absolutely without exception.
Even in the wishy-washy rom-com Along Came Polly, where Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston shared all the chemistry of a pair of paranoid ferrets, Seymour Hoffman’s Sandy Lyle introduced us to the word ‘sharted’ with such deadpan brilliance that you could almost smell the feces. The Boat That Rocked was an ill-fated voyage which capsized without trace and yet, despite its critical mauling and sunken fortunes at the box office, his was the only character we desired to throw a life jacket.
There was a nonchalance about his short but significant turn as Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s coming of age drama Almost Famous. He convinced us that he was the coolest cat on the circuit there, whilst appearing totally lost in his skin as Allen in Todd Solondz’ Happiness. Meanwhile as Dean Trumbell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s understated Punch Drunk Love he gave us reason not to ever spill his latte.
Of course, many will remember him most for his Oscar-winning performance as Truman Capote which also bagged him both a Golden Globe and Bafta, in a year where it was barely worth any of the other sorry hopefuls even showing up. For me, my fondest recollection is of small independent pictures like Love Liza and Owning Mahoney which consistently proved his mettle. The former gave a heart wrenching account of a recently widowed man whose world had been flipped upside itself by his wife’s sudden suicide. As he filled his Jerry can with gasoline each night and used it to blank out the incessant world which had the audacity to still spin around him, I felt every ache of his loss.
Just so happens that Keeper has a raging hard-on for The Big Lebowski. While this wonderful piece of cinema belonged largely to Jeff Bridges’ Dude and his unhinged vet-buddy Walter (John Goodman), Philip popped up as bashful skivvy Brandt and really ‘tied the room together’. Likewise a bit part in Boogie Nights allowed us to see him at his awkward best as Scotty J, a sexually befuddled latcher-on who became infatuated with Diggler’s mesmerizing mega-schlong. A few minutes in his company were always a delight, every muscle in his face acted for him, although it just appeared so effortless to him.
Synecdoche: New York, The Savages, The 25th Hour and Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead were all fine examples of a man on top of his game. Indeed, he achieved the unthinkable by making the marvelous Ethan Hawke appear ordinary in the lattermost. You see, halfway to the top of Seymour-Hoffman’s game was the apex of every other bastard’s game, he stood on the shoulders of fellow giants like a beautiful bearded sentinel.
Now his light has been extinguished and that breaks my heart, nay shatters it into miniscule weeping fragments. I shall light a candle this dusk, bow my head and spare a few moments of silence for the true behemoth of film and theater that was, and forever will be, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Philip Seymour Hoffman (July 23, 1967-February 2, 2014)