Friday, August 15, 2014

Remembering Hoffman, Williams, and other thoughts

So, among the first things I was going to do, after writing some reviews on the site, I was finally going to talk about one of my favorite actors. To say it better, the one actor who helped to change the way I watch movies, the one actor that really made me sit up and take notice of great acting. When I was in high school, and really started to watch movies and pay attention to them, I didn't know who my "favorite actor" was. Usually, it'd be a comedian. It'd be Bill Murray or Jim Carrey. Or... *gulp* Robin Williams. Of course, those guys did plenty of serious performances, but the point is, I didn't think about serious acting. I knew there were great actors out there that did great work, I knew Robert Deniro and Al Pacino were considered great. I knew Marlon Brando was a highly celebrated legend. I liked Jack Lemmon, but I really only knew him, at the time, from his collaborations with Walter Matthau. I didn't really KNOW acting until I saw Robert Deniro in "Taxi Driver." Until I saw Al Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon." Until I saw Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront." Until I saw Jack Lemmon pour his heart out in a 9-minute monologue in "Short Cuts." I didn't watch these movies until high school. Finally, at age 15 or 16, I was paying attention to acting. Good acting. Actors and actresses.

And when I started paying attention, I noticed a peculiar actor who seemed to have been in many of the recent "great" movies that I had discovered around that time too. We're talking 2002/2003. And there he was in "The Big Lebowski," in a role where he's practically unnoticeable. I really noticed him in "Happiness," when he played a depraved pervert who randomly called up women in the white pages and would say these lewd things to them. He was captivating in that movie. And there he was in "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and "Almost Famous" and "Magnolia" and "Boogie Nights"---these movies were filled with so many great actors, other actors that I knew more about, yet here was this one guy who seemed to tower over them all no matter how small the performance was. I saw him play the sweetest person ever in "Magnolia," then three years later, play a nasty son-of-a-bitch in "Punch-Drunk Love." Sophomore/junior year was when I really fell in love with the films of Paul Thomas Anderson, but in the midst of that, it was starting to become readily apparent that this dude who keeps appearing in PTA's movies... he was starting to become my favorite actor. That dude was Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

And much to my delight, for the next 10 years, he kept proving why he was the best. He kept taking on roles where he just immersed himself into the role. Much to my delight, the Academy actually acknowledged his greatness in 2006 when he won Best Actor for "Capote." There he was, this guy who was so great and yet really wasn't a household name to general audiences. He played the bad guy in "Mission Impossible III," but he was so good at what he did that people didn't stop and say "oh that's Philip Seymour Hoffman." For many of us, it took a few movies before we realized "that's that guy who's in that other thing!" He didn't call attention to himself, and yet, he was the best damn thing on screen.

And he quietly ruled cinema for over 15 years in indie and big budget films. He started getting starring roles in movies like "Synecdoche, New York." He nabbed a few more Oscar nominations. The MSG Channel would actually point him out in the crowd at Knicks games. As a Knicks fan, it made me love him even more. Not just because he was in the stands, but he used to dress up in clothes that I would wear. Off the screen, he just seemed like another dude. He seemed cool. He wasn't a pretty boy actor, he was just an actor. A great one. Like Pacino or Deniro, he was never a hunk. But when he'd show up on screen, he'd captivate you.

Then all of a sudden, Super Bowl Sunday 2014, I hear about it through a text. Now, there's really not a good way to hear about something like this, but through text makes it even worse. But I read the words. Just like that, Philip Seymour Hoffman was gone. The man was only 46 years old. So many great actors don't even reach their peak until age 46, for crying out loud. How could he be gone? Never mind the circumstances of his death, which were awful to begin with. Just the idea that a giant like that, a cinematic giant like that, could die at such a young age just broke my heart. Yes, there were many others before. Every few years, someone dies that just shocks everyone. But it was never going to be someone like him. Not to me. It was crazy. My stomach turned. I truly felt terrible about this. I could only think of the wife and children he left behind---I don't know how you handle something like that. It's one thing to have an old relative die---my grandfather died at age 70 and that hit hard, for sure. But I've been pretty lucky so far in that I haven't had anyone close to me die that young. And there are many times where I think about that and can't help but appreciate what I have.

But as a fan of his work, as a fan of cinema, this devastated me. I could not enjoy the rest of the day. I couldn't enjoy the next few days, really. And this is someone that I've never met. I've never had that feeling happen to me before. Never. Not with someone I don't even know. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as an entertainer, he impacted my life. There's no denying that. Knowing that, I knew I had to say something about the man. I couldn't do it in February though, it was too hard. I needed time to really gather my thoughts.

And so, coming back to this blog, Hoffman's death was one of the first things I wanted to address, especially after seeing "A Most Wanted Man." But then, the day I intended to write this, another giant in the entertainment world, Robin Williams unexpectedly passed. I've followed Robin Williams's career since I was a kid. "Aladdin", "Mrs. Doubtfire", "Jumanji"---these movies came out when I was 5, 6, and 8, respectively. You've been reading it all over, I'm sure. Most unique comedian, actor, and entertainer there ever was. There's no doubt about it. Anytime he'd appear on a talk show - it was a must-see. He was just such a pleasure to watch. Yet he, like Hoffman, has been taken away from us too soon. And the situation surrounding his death, like with Hoffman's, is just too awful to talk about. Though, perhaps, we should start talking about it. Really talking about it.

Dealing with death is never easy, talking about it is certainly a struggle. Talking about suicide? Heroin overdose? That's even tougher. So many questions arise after something like that happens. People suddenly come out of the woodwork, get on their high horse, and try to dismiss the person's death as being selfish. I remember when Kurt Cobain died in 1994, the shock that there was surrounding it. He was both high on heroin and shot himself. Many people mourned, but there were plenty others who called him selfish and stupid. Thing is, even if it is selfish and stupid, that doesn't make it any less mournful, not to me. People do selfish and stupid things all the time; nobody's perfect. Of course, dying via suicide or drugs is on the top of the list for some people. Regardless, I just find it disdainful the way a lot of people treat those causes of death.

Here's the reality: people are committing suicide in this country every day. No matter how stupid drug use may seem to you, there are still plenty of people who do it and die from it. If we turn a blind eye from one victim of suicide, we're just exacerbating the problem, in my view. These people needed help and, in some way, we failed them. We later found out Robin Williams had early on-set Parkinson's, but it pains me to think there was no way to prevent him from doing what he did.

This country has a serious problem with the way we treat depression and drug use. I'm tired of seeing so many wonderful people come to an end this way. I hope anyone struggling with drugs or depression get the help that they need, and I wish more can be done. I really do.

By all accounts, Hoffman and Williams were beautiful souls. We've been denied 30+ years of stellar PSH performances and we'll never get to see Robin Williams act like a maniac on stage. Never again. It's all really hard to take. The only thing I find comfort in is knowing just how many wonderful things these two actors left behind. I know I will cherish their work for as long as I live, but I'm not gonna sugarcoat it... the fact that they're both gone really sucks. It really, really sucks. The last thing I ever wanted to do was write a eulogy for these guys. It just doesn't feel right.

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