Lately I find myself applauding and searching for competence. What sounds like resignation and a lowering of standards is in fact the exact opposite–I am in awe of someone who is getting it right without any fuss, every time, without fail, because it is so bloody rare. This might seem like an ode to journeymen the world over (and maybe it is that as well), but the older I get the more often I declare “Talent ain’t worth shit”. The world is flooded with talented people (I find it hard to not put the word in quotation marks) , but it is work that makes the artist. I might concede that one carries the germ of artistry during the long years of artisan apprenticeship [aka: getting the shit knocked out of you and growing a thick skin], but behind the awe & beauty of a masterpiece lies years and years of work, thought, revision, deliberation, and conscious effort to achieve or approach an artistic ideal.
I didn’t know Philip Seymour Hoffman, but his death affected me about as much as an artist can, which is to say it was a mild shock to the system but a damn sight more frustrating than that. “Sad”, “Untimely”, “Tragic”–that goes without saying, as vapid as those words can seem at times, but now that a bit of the shock has settled and the initial outpouring of grief has passed I wanted to make my own small sad circle of flowers and remember him for the craftsman and artist he was. The world lost a great actor, and I don’t use either term lightly. I don’t know shit about acting, but I think I know enough to realize that he was an actor whom his peers thought highly of. That means something in my book. I don’t go to the doctor and tell him what I think, and I don’t think art in any form should be exempt from the same standards. Know your instrument, know your craft, work harder, fail better, do it again.
With that in mind I wanted to share three of his performances that remain my favourites and are the images I will most likely see whenever someone mentions his name.
This one always hits me hard. Like, personally hard. I won’t tell you which character I relate to most in that sad relationship, but damn if my heart don’t break when Scotty collapses in the car and beats himself up. Unrequited love is brutal.
I’ve been shocked that in all of the press surrounding his death I’ve yet to see a single mention of Love Liza, which is even more surprising given the circumstances of his death. The movie is one long awkward unraveling in suburbia, filled with the banal minutiae of human existence that continue even as the world collapses around you. Tragedy strikes, but the phone bill is still due.
The last is not a clip, but a personal anecdote, which I will try and keep as brief as possible. In my former life [read: before I arrived in Australia], I always seemed to be surrounded by people involved with film & theatre. When Hoffman and John C. Reilly performed Sam Shepard’s True West in 2000, they alternated roles every night, resulting in a long run of sold-out shows along with both critical & popular acclaim. The awe and respect amongst the theatre world was unlike anything that I had ever heard before or since, and as I sat and listened to their excited chatter (saying nothing except to ask a question, coz what the #$@! do I now about acting?) it made me glad to know that even though I couldn’t truly appreciate the breadth & depth of their achievement they were at least being recognized by those that could.
That’s what I’ll remember, and what inspires me in my own endeavors as I play supporting roles on the big stages and my leading roles on the fringe. Thank you, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. For everything.