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Just Acting

It’s my life and it’s my wife– Lou Reed

In Sidney Lumet’s “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” Philip Seymour Hoffman lies on the bed in his androgynous drug dealer’s Manhattan high-rise and is injected with heroin. Moments later he sits in the living room, reflecting on his job and life:

The thing about real estate accounting is that you can, you can, add down the page or across the page and everything works out. Everyday, everything adds up. The, the total is always the sum of its parts. It’s, uh, clean. It’s clear. Neat, absolute. But my life, it, uh, it doesn’t add up. It, uh… Nothing connects to anything else. It’s, uh… I’m not, I’m not the sum of my parts. All my parts don’t add up to one… to one me, I guess.”

The dealer, unmoved, advises flatly “get a shrink or get a wife.” When Hoffman tells him he has a wife he reiterates “get a shrink.”

I’ve never tried heroin but from all I’ve read it’s the most wonderful, awful thing going. One prick of the skin and your life not adding up becomes a curious footnote; a detached observation. Everything simply and pleasantly “is.” There is no want or need, no ‘should’, no existential angst nor short-breathed worry over transgressions real or imagined.

In reviewing Philip Seymour Hoffman’s body of work, one is often hit with the thought “oh shit that’s right – he was in that ..” It isn’t because his performances are unmemorable; he’s typically the best thing about any film he’s in. It’s because his transformations were so complete, his acting so seamless. His losers and outcasts weren’t simply off-putting and creepy, they had a formidable, dangerous dimension. Clips of his characters – Scotty in “Boogie Nights”, Brandt in “The Big Lebowski”, Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous” – have been posted everywhere following his death. While the quality of the individual films may vary, the unavoidable conclusion is that this guy was good in everything he did. And he did plenty. I saw him in “Death Of A Salesman” a few years back and I’m not exactly a live theater junkie. This guy was always working.

I’ve read comments lamenting all the great roles that could have been and all those we will now never see. That’s a glass-half-empty way of looking at an already sad situation. That he left three young children behind is unalterably unfortunate but his résumé is something to be celebrated. It seems entirely possible that his work, or what it extracted from him, contributed to his addiction and decline. He didn’t mail any performances in .. not the ones I’ve seen, anyway.

Watching that scene in the Lumet film is kind of chilling now. His arm hangs to the lower right of the frame, tied off with a rubber tube as the dealer pushes the plunger on the hypodermic .. steadily, slowly. A slight sigh and then release. Almost like he’d been there before.

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  1. Paul Theodoropoulos wrote:

    Synecdoche, New York.

    Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 1:23 am | Permalink
  2. admin wrote:

    Great film but kind of makes “The Master” look like The Ropers in terms of linear simplicity.

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 12:44 am | Permalink
  3. Paul Theodoropoulos wrote:

    shit – that movie came and went from theaters so fast I forgot all about it. Adding it to my Amazon queue now, thanks for the reminder.

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  4. admin wrote:

    Great if frustrating film .. just got the Blu Ray and watched last night. Shot on 65mm no less .. ideal for that 847″ screen that you were showing baby pictures of to the bartender at Marin Joe’s.

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

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