Out of the box
So the past week was marked with another casualty of heroin addiction. A particularly brilliant casualty, to be sure. Philip Seymour Hoffman was probably one of the most underrated actors of our generation.
His roles – except for his memorable depiction of the title role in Capote – were invariably secondary, minor roles. His brilliance lay precisely in the way he managed to make these smaller characters leap out, creating a three-dimensional character despite the minimal screen-time enjoyed by said character.
Roles that we would not ordinarily remember much – such as the personal assistant in The Big Lebowsky or the mentor in Almost Famous – remained in the memory of the viewer thanks to the particular characteristics that Hoffman imbued them with.
Without any doubt, his loss is a lamentable one in cinematographic terms. However, I was somewhat disturbed to see the eulogies published and uploaded by all the media. Most of these eulogies praised the actor’s unquestionable talent, but stopped right there, without bothering to delve into the sad circumstances of Hoffman’s death.
Maybe it’s just me, but besides focusing on Hoffman’s talent, shouldn’t we also focus on the issues that plagued most of his adult life, in an attempt to raise awareness about addictions?
While discussing the topic, someone mentioned that Hoffman’s (alleged) overdose was a scene waiting to happen. Anyone who has followed the actor’s life, through the interviews he has given, will know that the observation is pretty spot on.
In many of his movies, bar The Hunger Games (and how on earth are the rest of the films going to be resolved without him?) you could say that Hoffman played different facets of himself. One of his most quotable lines ever comes from his character of The Count, in The Boat that Rocked: “Years will come, years will go, and politicians will do f*** all to make the world a better place.” It is something you might just imagine the real Hoffman saying.
When I lamented that, despite his amazing talent, Hoffman’s life was a bit of a waste, someone else pointed out that true genius is never what we like to refer to as ‘normal’.
All the greatest creative artists have suffered (or rather, enjoyed, in most cases) from some form of addiction or other. There was Hunter Thompson and his alcoholism; Kurt Cobain and his addiction to... well... everything; Charles Baudelaire and his opium; Van Gogh and absinthe.
Some of those who didn’t go by way of overdose went by way of suicide. Ernest Hemingway is probably the most famous of them all – so famous, that suicide by gunshot is still referred to as “pulling a Hemingway”; writers Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolfe are another two examples; Rembrandt, Mark Rothko... the list is a pretty long one, which is why many believe that there’s no genius without an amount of ‘madness’.
Which leads me on very nicely to Woody Allen and the way the whole Dylan Farrow abuse story exploded once again, after the director won the Lifetime Award Achievement Award and attracted the ire of his ex-wife Mia Farrow.
This is one issue I do not know where I stand on. I adore many of Allen’s movies, which, of course, doesn’t mean that the abuse was not within the realms of possibility. It is so difficult to get an objective view on a case like this: Allen was legally exonarated and there wasn’t even sufficient evidence to prosecute. The question begs itself – did this happen because of who he is?
The flipside, of course, is that when you’re such a big name, things can just as easily work against you as they can for you. Allen has been subjected to trial by media, in particular by Twitter. And on Twitter, there’s no presumption of innocence.
Guilty or not, in either case, there is a victim – Dylan, now a grown-up woman. So many commentors seem to forget that in both cases, the damage that has been done to this person is probably unfixable.