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Every Moment Was True

Over at City JournalMatthew Hennessey has a thoughtful essay

Philip Seymour Hoffman, R.I.P.

Philip Seymour Hoffmann as Robert Gelbart in A Late Quartet.

Philip Seymour Hoffmann as Robert Gelbart in A Late Quartet.

Matthew Hennessey  writes: Why is that when a talented and beloved actor dies, the tributes that pour forth always seem to make qualifying references to his or her “generation”? When news raced around the Internet yesterday that Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman had died of an apparent heroin-overdose at the age of 46, there it was again: He was one of the best actors . . . of his generation. It’s hardly fair to the artist—and nearly everyone seems to agree that Hoffman was an artist of rare ability—to imply that he was only one of the better ones to pop up in the last ten or 15 years. Hoffman was much better than that.

[See more of punditfromanotherplanet’s Philip Seymour Hoffman coverage here]

Philip Seymour Hoffman was orders of magnitude more talented than the other actors of his generation, who, like the well-known actors of most generations, tend to opt for the obvious over the obscure and a big paycheck over a big challenge. Most actors desire more than anything the respect that comes from making brave choices. But few have the horse sense to distinguish between a brave choice and a boring one. Fewer still have the commitment necessary to deliver on those choices. And almost none have the chops to pull off what Hoffman did in his too-short career. It’s no exaggeration to say that he was one of the greatest film actors of the last 50 years or more.

Film acting, it is often said, is the art of listening and reacting. Most of the time—especially for actors who begin their careers on the stage—this is reduced to a simple direction: do nothing. The idea is to hold it all inside, simply to glare at the camera or smolder in the direction of a co-star. The camera is an emotional X-ray machine capable of seeing directly into the soul. Thus, it’s best to say your lines and let the camera do the work. The real danger is in overacting, or appearing to work too hard. The camera magnifies those efforts; it can be your worst enemy and make you absurd. Best to err on the side of doing nothing.

Hoffman never did that. His appeal, and his emotional resonance as a performer, came from a more powerful choice: restraint. The mistake that most actors make is in thinking that doing nothing is enough—enough to convey emotion, move the plot along, and get you the next job. For some actors, it may be, but not for the great ones. Not for the actors whose work we remember long after they’re gone. The great ones know that hiding it only works if you have it. Hoffman had plenty…

Read the rest…

City Journal

Matthew Hennessey is an associate editor of City Journal.

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One Comment on “Every Moment Was True”

  1. […] Pundit from another Planet Over at City Journal, Matthew Hennessey has a thoughtful essay… Philip Seymour Hoffman, […]


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