Friday, July 24, 2015

A Tribute To A Real Genius

Every once in a while, every other generation or so, we get a gift from the acting gods to grace the silver screen with their incredible and versatile talent. And more often than not, those wonders get taken from us far too quickly. In the past decade we've had more losses than we know what to do with, and the landscape of film has become lacking no matter how many surprisingly good performances Jennifer Lawrence turns out. 
The most obvious that comes to mind is last year's loss of comedy icon Robin Williams. It hurt particularly because he dedicated his life to making people laugh and in this world there is no more a noble profession, with the exception of Doctors Without Borders. But I'm speaking about entertainment here. 
For me personally, a day I will never forget was January 22nd, 2008. My mom called me around 8pm New York time to tell me that Heath Ledger was found dead in his SoHo penthouse. I didn't have a TV, so I hadn't heard, but made it over there in time just to watch the camera crews surrounding his building pack up for the night. It didn't take me long to realize the gravity of that loss. Heath Ledger was very much on his way to being our generation's Marlon Brando, and to die so tragically without even peaking at the young age of 28, without all of us seeing what more he could have given us, fresh off of his performance in Brokeback Mountain, none of us in the film community were ever the same again. 

Arguably his best performance in the rather flawed epic The Master working with frequent collaborator, P.T. Anderson as egomaniacal cult leader Lancaster Dodd.
Just when we had begun the healing process, we had another enormous blow; last year in February when one of the most talented people to ever gift the acting community with his presence lost his life; Philip Seymour Hoffman. Yesterday was his birthday, and instead of dwell on the fact that we will never have another brilliant Hoffman performance, I'd like to remember some of the best that he left us with. Unlike Ledger, Hoffman left behind an indelible legacy of stellar performances that will always be iconic and always be studied, analyzed, and used as basis and inspiration for others. As a true actor's actor, Hoffman had such a profound understanding of his craft and an even bigger respect for it. In every role he played, he brought to it heart, sincerity, and immeasurable depth. There will never be another Hoffman, but at least we have his legacy that generations upon generations of actors will look to when building themselves as masters of their craft. 

Hoffman so brilliantly embodied Truman Capote that his pastiche would be just as good to show someone if you were trying to tell them about who Capote was. It wasn't an interpretation, and it wasn't an impression. It was bringing someone back to life. 
I would go out on a limb and say that there is not a bad performance in his repertoire. From flimsy films like Along Came Polly to bravado like The Master, Hoffman never missed a beat. I personally will always remember his performance as Rusty, the down on her luck drag queen in the teeny Joel Schumacher film Flawless, opposite Robert DeNiro, as well as the awkward boom operator for a porn producer in Boogie Nights, as well as of course, his second to none almost carbon copy of Truman Capote in Capote, for which he won a well-deserved Oscar. Then there was Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, and perhaps my personal favorite; the blocked introverted novelist-turned-screenwriter in State and Main. No matter how small the role, or how small the film, Hoffman took it upon himself to elevate his role in the project and basically carried a lot of the films towards their successes. I don't know what the scope of cinema would be today without him, I would imagine very different. This was a man who could literally do anything, and was such a absolute master of his craft that he raised the bar for everyone else. So on his birthday (one day late, forgive me) I salute you sir. There will never be another, and you will always be missed. Thank you for sharing your gift, and even from a snarky sarcastic cynical person like me, I truly mean it. 

Below, some of the performances mentioned. All of which, unforgettable. 

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