It was very sad to hear the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing last night. From a fan’s perspective (which is the only perspective I have other than being a lifetime member of the same club as he: the Human Race), it’s a gutshot to an industry I love. As a writer this is hard to admit, but it’s a truer love than I have for books.
I love literature, but in my pursuit of becoming a better writer I have had to make certain sacrifices to my enjoyment of it. I’ve had to study style and tone and pace and structure and characterisation and all the stuff that combines to make a great book. When I read nowadays, it’s rare that I can switch off the analytical side of my brain and just enjoy the story for what it is. I can see the mechanics – the author’s cogs turning beneath the surface. The truly great writers can sometimes make me switch this side of my brain off, and in those rare and beautiful moments I am regressed back to when I had no aspirations about writing, and I can just enjoy the story. But it’s rare.
Films are different for me, and I’ve tried very hard to keep it that way. I know there are certain directors that I like, but I don’t want to go out of my way to know why I like them. I don’t want to recognise their styles and habits or know too much about their influences other than what I pick up naturally, just by sitting down and watching the films and letting them seep into me via osmosis. I don’t want to be conscious of the mechanics. I just want to escape.
With the actors though, it’s a little of both. I’m an unabashed movie fan, and I have unabashedly bought into the allure of movie stars my whole life, but I’m not talking about the glitzy stars, I’m talking about the purists, that rarer breed that treats his or her work as an art form. I like them serious and uncompromising, and above all I like them to be good. Like literature, ‘good’ is a subjective thing, but you’d have to be in a coma not to see that Hoffman was very, very good. When you’re watching a Bruce Willis movie, you’re watching Bruce Willis. When you’re watching Hoffman, you’re watching whoever it is he wants you to see, be it a
drag queen, an eccentric southern
writer, or a sleazy tabloid journalist.
When you’re there and in the moment with him, he’s like one of those
great writers who can hide the process, but when the film is over you can look
back on what has just passed and say, ‘Damn, he was good...’ New York
|July 1967 ~ February 2014|