99% of Acting These Days, Silence Is More Compelling


If you were there, deep in the early 70’s music scene, you have every right to dislike Almost Famous for its artistic license. And for those that weren’t, I get the knock on Cameron Crowe, that his movies always have populist sentimentality at their core. Crowe figured out that, like a dog turning over reflexively to have its chest scratched no matter what else is going on, most humans react sympathetically to this stuff.

Philip Seymour Hoffman understood every bit of this. And he also got that for almost everyone who didn’t actually know or wasn’t a total obsessive about his character, Lester Bangs was just a blip in the arc of art, music, and life. Hoffman by no means carried Almost Famous any more than Lester Bangs truly changed your life. But Hoffman was a monumental blip in Almost Famous that challenged the viewer, made you distrust how much the movie really meant, and what would have happened if the whole story had been about what Hoffman’s character would have wanted. Just like Lester himself. What this says about your life I leave you to suss out.

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There are such things as great, meaningful deaths. If St. Joe Strummer had died right after London Calling, we’d never have understood that the Clash had to burn up from within, no denouement was possible. Elvis needed to turn into a pig before he died; the depth of his true believers could never be imagined unless you understood that they still worshipped that pig. Peter O’Toole needed to perilously skip from rock to rock through the rapids before ever-so-gracefully meeting his maker to bring truth to his Lawrence, his Murphy, his Eli Cross. I’ve got no narrative to attach to Hoffman’s stupid exit strategy, doubt I ever will.

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Who’da thought that Hoffman and Woody Allen would dominate the news on Super Bowl weekend? Manhattanites but so different—Allen’s neuroses and despicableness fed his art, whereas Hoffman, like George Jones, evidently suffered by succumbing so totally to the consequences of the artistic experience. Among the three of course Hoffman was the nice guy, and you know where nice guys finish.

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A completely unnecessary book will come out that will twist Hoffman’s life, or parts of it, into a sordid tale a la Bob Woodward’s Wired. I might even read that book, searching for something that I won’t find. There is nothing about Hoffman’s death that explains what he breathed, how he brought life to the usually misanthropic characters he portrayed. And neither is there a sense of emptiness at the bottom his art (it’s there too often in the work of vaunted character actors like Meryl Streep and John Malkovich) that one could attribute to drugs or, worse, narcissism. Uniquely, only Philip Seymour Hoffman could play Philip Seymour Hoffman in my mind’s eye.