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Philip Seymour Hoffman

Dumbfounded. Not sure i should write anything at all. When so many others are much closer, much better placed to express the loss.
Still, silence was no good.

Two thoughts then.

One. Death of a Salesman seems to form a neat cycle in Hoffman’s on-stage life, as one of his first roles on high school and his last on Broadway was that of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s classic. It’s for you to decide on the meaning of this, and whether there is any.

Two. My own favourite is his shy, compassionate Everyman Phil Pharma, home nurse to Jason Robards’s dying patriarch. Phil does not question neither does he judge the questionable indeed characters surrounding him; instead he becomes the driving force that leads them to mutual understanding, and forgiveness.
Let us bear in mind for a moment that this most astute of actors’ directors,
Paul Thomas Anderson, created his Magnolia characters very much after the personalities and real-life trials of his actors.
Enter Robert Falls, who directed Hoffman in Long Day’s Journey into Night, Eugene O’Neill’s drama on addiction and disintegration. He talks of the ‘emotional cost’ it had on the actor, then adds: ‘He just brought every fiber of his being to the stage. He was there – with his depth of feeling, depth of humanity – and no other actor I’ve ever worked with ever brought it like that, not at that level.’
In the two directors’ insights, i see a common thread. Humanity, generosity, depth, compassion, call it as you will – could this, i wonder, be the essence of the man? His great, overwhelming, capacity for empathy – this seems to be the source of his exceptional talent; his gift and his, alas fatal, weakness. A painful honesty seems ultimately to be the legacy, the inspiration and responsibility he passes on to us.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, farewell.

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in place of prologue

Thinking aloud about cinema – this is what i do in these pages.
In no particular order – whatever comes to mind, and to heart.
This is not objective criticism; it is flawed, single-minded, selective, limited
by time and place and space, by memory and temperament; it is personal.

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Seems a good place to start. What i mean by small is those quiet, unassuming films that slip all-too-easily under our collective cultural radar; yet they often are the ones that stay with me the longest. Here are a few i find worth revisiting.

Clapperboard-1Stone Reader (2002). Like writing, reading is a solitary undertaking; it is always a thrill to be reminded that one is not alone. This is precisely the spell cast by this little known documentary about a long-forgotten book and a writer who has vanished into thin air. Reader/ filmmaker Mark Moskowitz goes on a search for a once promising and now disappeared novelist. His quest, a series of encounters with men of letters and fascinating discussions about books, reading, writing, and one-novel authors, leads to an outcome that is not only stranger than fiction, it is finer than anything one could have possibly invented. This is a film that makes a difference – it doesn’t just record life, it transforms it.

Clapperboard-1Nothing Personal (2009). Minimalist as can be. With the most basic of settings, and perhaps the sparsest dialog i’ve ever encountered, writer-director Urszula Antoniak probes the delicate line between emotional bonds and personal freedom. Brought together by chance, two wounded, solitary individuals make a deal not to speak of anything personal.
An unlikely romance set against the harsh, unforgiving landscape of the west Irish coast. Stunning cinematography, wit, ample space for what is not said, and two spellbinding performances by Stephen Rea and Lotte Verbeek – a truly gratifying cinematic experience.

Clapperboard-1Mourning Rock [Agelastos Petra] (2000). It once was a sacred site,
place of initiation to the mysteries of the cycle of life and death. Today it is a humble rundown town and major industrial zone outside Athens. The place is Eleusis. Filming over a ten-year period, Filippos Koutsaftis tells the story of Eleusis through the lives of its people, landmarks, environment. The visual diary is accompanied by a stream-of-consciousness log-monolog; a poetic narrative that finds the timeless in the everyday, where centuries, millennia, co-exist in the here-and-now – in names, habits, beliefs, in the language, in the ancient finds revealed with every demolition. This, in a way, is the tale of contemporary Greece itself, and had audiences at home spellbound on its release. The subtitled version could be hard work, but, if the translation does some justice to the original, it is absolutely worth it.

Clapperboard-1Dreamchild(1985). Not quite as small, but still slipping away, it seems, from common memory. With his unique wisdom, humanity and courage, the one-and-only Dennis Potter takes on a nigh impossible subject – the awkward affection of Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) for young Alice. The events are revisited by the elderly Alice, who is trying to come to peace with her ambivalent childhood memories, as she travels to New York as the guest of honour at a celebration of Carroll’s centenary. Potter’s sensitivity is matched by the subtle, poignant performances, and Ian Holm’s Dodgson truly reflects the master screenwriter’s impression of ‘that tied-in, repressed, strange, playful, tormented, yet joyously inventive man’. Alas, this fine gem is not available in Europe, but only in the US as a copied Region 1 DVD.

Clapperboard-1Savage Nights [Les Nuits Fauves] (1992). A courageous and devastating testimony from the early days of AIDS, when a shocked world was still struggling to come to terms with the new disease. And so is filmmaker and poet Cyril Collar who, while burning away of AIDS, adapts, directs and plays himself, as an HIV positive bisexual young man who maintains manipulative, risky sexual relationships with both a teenage girl and another man. Life and fiction are intertwined in a deadly embrace, in this descent to a no-man’s-land, where living life to the full and challenging death become more or less the same thing. With an uncompromising performance by Romane Bohringer.

Clapperboard-1Sita Sings the Blues (2008). The most charming, inventive animation i have come across in years. A personal take on the Indian epic Ramayana from Nina Paley, relating her own experience of a painful break-up to the story of goddess Sita who loses her beloved Rama.
A feast for the eye and for the heart, her Sita moves, sings, dances, lives, to Annette Hanshaw’s delightful jazz vocals, and her soothing rendering of bittersweet 1920’s classics.

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