THE ATLANTIC: Famous deaths invite hyperbole. The news that Philip Seymour Hoffman was discovered dead today in an apartment bathroom, with a syringe sticking out of his arm, seems like an occasion to overreact with some exaggerated summary of his career—something like “most talented and kaleidoscopic actor of his time.” Except, in this case, the compliment isn’t hyperbolic at all. It’s just an accurate description, as true yesterday as it is today. And the competition isn’t even that close. MORE
THE NEW YORKER: Philip Seymour Hoffman gave one of the greatest onscreen performances that anyone ever gave, in “The Master” […] Work that’s only good is limited to its technique; when it’s great, a work is virtually inseparable from the artist’s life because it gives the sense of being the product of a whole life and being the absolute and total focus of that life at the time of its creation. The most depressing thing about “The Master”—in which the art of the director and the actors converged with a rare, white-hot fury from beginning to end—is, now, its basis in substance abuse. The movie begins with the traumatized, transient veteran, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), fleeing the scene of a likely crime (his homemade alcoholic concoction killed a co-worker on a farm) to stow away on a yacht. The vessel’s owner, Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), seems, at first, merely a bombastic grandee but turns out to be the charismatic leader of a cult. What seals their bond—what transforms Freddie from a mere intruder to a suddenly necessary member of Dodd’s entourage—is the incendiary drink. Dodd’s visionary fires and rage for power are fuelled by the poisonous cocktail that Freddie provides. And Dodd’s intense, tormented, and tormenting self-control is tested all the more by the universal solvent of inhibition. His liberation and his constraint, his attempt to create dependents and his own dependency, are inseparable. In the tension between flamboyance and rigor, between the flagrant imperatives of power and the intense self-discipline that concentrates it, Hoffman made his own prodigious, sometimes overly conspicuous theatrical prowess the very subject of the film. With terrifying speculations regarding the supreme performer’s motives, he thrust his art and his life, his public face and his sense of identity, into the balance. Plenty of great artists plumb the soul’s depths without recourse to drugs or alcohol, but it’s naïve to discount the connection between artistic ecstasies, self-surpassing exertions, uncommonly powerful desires, and altered states of consciousness. MORE
THE GUARDIAN: To anyone who has heard the terrible news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death in New York from a suspected overdose at the age of 46, I think one image recurs above all the others. It is his magnificent performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, playing the charismatic cult chief loosely derived from L Ron Hubbard — lordly and charismatic, convivial and yet sinister, insidious, insouciant. And the most extraordinary moment was when he did his capering little dance, like a Shakespearian fool, in a wealthy drawing room, to “We’ll Go No More A-Roving” and the scene took a hallucinatory turn, with all the onlookers appearing to be naked, submitting in that moment to his occult leadership. It was a scene only Hoffman could have carried off. For such a big man, he was elegant and sinuous.
In that movie he often resembled Joel Grey in Cabaret — but older, and pumped up to quarterback size. Anderson’s direction brought out, in spades, all the qualities which made Hoffman such a formidable and at times even threatening presence: he looked like someone who would debate, seduce, or get in a physical fight at the drop of a hat. Maybe with the same person. And he often gave the impression of suppressing some deep well of anger, damming it and re-directing it into sexiness and charm.
A new generation of young moviegoers may associate Hoffman with the Hunger Games films, in which he plays the unsettling Plutarch Heavensbee, but he has been a vigorous and fiercely intelligent figure in the movies for nearly twenty years. His sheer physical might made him seem like the incredible Hulk compressed into the cerebral form of Dr Bruce Banner. He got his Oscar, perhaps a little oddly, for playing the writer Truman Capote in 2005, a character who was on the verge of greatness with his reportage bestseller In Cold Blood. Capote was a very small man, and through sheer actorly suggestion, Hoffman appeared miraculously to lose 60% of his body mass to play the role: he looked tiny, like a little boy or a little old man, but dandyishly dressed, and with a vampirish knack of extracting the story he wanted out of anyone who made his acquaintance. MORE
MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: His greatest role might have been as the playwright hero of Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York.” The film is about how art lets you confront and escape from reality. I]t’s about the decay of the body and the illusory nature of time, and it’s about the impossibility of finding complete satisfaction and the imperative to get beyond needing it, and what isn’t it it about, really? And what doesn’t Hoffman give you, really?
“I think everyone struggles with self-love,” Hoffman told The Guardian. “That’s pretty much the human condition, you know, waking up and trying to live your day in a way that you can go to sleep and feel okay about yourself.”
It’s all there in Hoffman’s “Synecdoche” performance: his career, his life, maybe our lives, too. The architect, the playwright, the master makes the rest of humanity his crew, his cast, his theater, why, to make sense of life, to fix it, to shape it, why, to slow time, to stop time, to spit in death’s face: why? It’s all a melancholy comedy, a fantasy, a joke. Hoffman plays it like a dreamer wandering the corridors of his dream. The fogginess of Hoffman’s voice, that wearied honeyed croak, never seemed so poignant, so much like an old man’s voice coming out of a still-young man, or the voice of an old man who mistakenly thinks he’s still young, sitting there watching flesh fall, houses burn, women sing, children grow, all the while telling others: go there, stand there, say this, no, wait. MORE
SLATE: The most famous of Hoffman’s scenes in Boogie Nights—and one of the most famous scenes of the film, period—comes when he makes a clumsy pass at Wahlberg’s character, Dirk Diggler, at a New Year’s Eve party in 1979. The party is the turning point of the film, the moment the good times start drying up, and beneath their surface lies dread. Hoffman’s scene is our first glimpse of failure, the gathering nightmare of dreams not coming true. It’s one sustained cringe, from the reveal of the Corvette to the rebuffed kiss to the lingering shot of Scotty in the car, alone, sobbing “I’m a fucking idiot” as Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band’s “Do Your Thing” rises in the background.The scene has endured, for both its greatness and its strange campiness: the fevered homoeroticism, Wahlberg’s inimitable Dorchester earnestness (“Scawtty!”), the nearly unwatchable discomfort of its closing frames (the sly jump-cut to Scotty in the car is the scene’s only edit). MORE
RELATED: Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed, “Few films have been more matter-of-fact, even disenchanted, about sexuality. Adult films are a business here, not a dalliance or a pastime, and one of the charms of Boogie Nights is the way it shows the everyday backstage humdrum life of porno filmmaking … The sweep and variety of the characters have brought the movie comparisons to Robert Altman‘s Nashville and The Player. There is also some of the same appeal as Pulp Fiction in scenes that balance precariously between comedy and violence … Through all the characters and all the action, Anderson’s screenplay centers on the human qualities of the players … Boogie Nights has the quality of many great films, in that it always seems alive.”
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle stated, “Boogie Nights is the first great film about the 1970s to come out since the ’70s … It gets all the details right, nailing down the styles and the music. More impressive, it captures the decade’s distinct, decadent glamour … [It] also succeeds at something very difficult: re-creating the ethos and mentality of an era … Paul Thomas Anderson … has pulled off a wonderful, sprawling, sophisticated film … With Boogie Nights, we know we’re not just watching episodes from disparate lives but a panorama of recent social history, rendered in bold, exuberant colors.”MORE
CINEPHILIA AND BEYOND: “The interview also touches upon Anderson’s fondness for shooting long takes, why he thinks film school is a waste of time, and, my favorite part, the origins of Rollergirl. Turns out Rollergirl is based on a character Anderson watched in a real porn movie that was hidden inside Robert Redford’s private stash. Wait, Redford has a porn stash? How Anderson wound up watching Redford’s porn movies is a funny story, and you can watch the filmmaker tell it above.” MORE
THE ATLANTIC: I saw Hoffman in several films in the mid-to-late 1990s—memorably in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, less so in Scent of a Woman and Nobody’s Fool—but it wasn’t until Anderson’s next film, the flawed masterpiece Magnolia, that I truly took notice of him as an actor. The movie is almost literally overflowing with great performances, but Hoffman’s is perhaps the greatest of all: artless, intimate, wonderfully human. The moment in the film that introduces Hoffman’s character, hospice nurse Phil Parma, has always stuck with me to an extraordinary degree: He opens the door to the house in Encino where he’s caring for a dying Jason Robards, and with a deft flick, raises the lenses of his flip-up sunglasses. I have no idea why this simple gesture has for years been the first image I associate with Hoffman, but it seems somehow apt: a tiny detail that he managed to get sublimely, unforgettably right. As he takes his leave, it’s that entrance that remains on my mind. MORE
PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON: I wrote [the part of Phil Parma in Magnolias] for Phil [Philip Seymour Hoffman], and it is Phil. When Phil played Scotty in Boogie Nights, that’s an actor playing a part. But Phil’s been called upon to play so many weird parts by now, I wanted to see what would happen if I just wrote Phil: the way he talks, the way he is. And I hadn’t even seen him in Happiness when I wrote this part for him, but I’m really glad, in retrospect, that I decided to write Phil’s part kinda against the roles he’s been getting recently. And the emotions Phil Parma goes into – this nurse who cries way too much – that’s just the way I could see Phil Hoffman reacting to those moments in real life. MORE
SHEILA O’MALLEY: When I think of him today, on this sad day, I think of the sincere warmth and kindness and compassion that he brought to the role of Phil Parma, the hospice nurse caring for Jason Robards’ Earl Partridge in “Magnolia”. Phil might have been the most challenging role of all for Hoffman, because it required simplicity, openness, and warmth, and that’s it. When Phil tries to get Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise) on the phone, his persistence, his desperation, his shyness in the face of the web of bureaucracy, brought us even deeper into who this man really was. Phil understands what is important in life, and Phil understands that family, however shattered, is important. There is no backstory for Phil, no opportunity for scenery chewing or explosive anger, things that actors, of course, love. What Hoffman had to bring to the table in “Magnolia”, the only thing, was his caring heart. He did so without wanting to be congratulated or praised for it. It is a deeply selfless performance. He was a member of a chaotic ensemble, filled with characters much louder and more flamboyant than his, and he had to sit there, in scene after scene, still, listening, caring, healing. It’s a mini-miracle, that performance, and it is a reminder that the best acting is often not the showiest, the loudest, the quirkiest, the darkest. MORE
FRESH AIR: It’s easy to lose yourself in Philip Seymour Hoffman masterful portrayals, but those performances were anything but effortless. “Like any job,” he told Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross in 2008, it could be exhausting. In our day to day lives, “we’re not too introspective,” he said. “We don’t walk around our lives just constantly trying to delve into the understanding of ourselves unless you’re in therapy or something. But that’s what actors do, you know? We really explore ourselves and other people. His range as an actor is exemplified by his performances in two films directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. In Anderson’s 1997 film Boogie Nights, set in the world of the low budget porn film industry, Hoffman played a member of the film crew who was insecure, uncomfortable in his body and closeted. In Anderson’s 2012 film The Master, Hoffman played the narcissistic founder and leader of a cult group who had a gift for manipulating his followers into believing his far-fetched claims. “There is just nothing he can’t do,” Anderson told Gross in 2012, “… Growing up, all I wanted to do was make films. … Never in my fantasy did I see anybody that looked like Phil Hoffman being a part of that picture. But here we are, and somewhere along the way I found this actor who I just think can do anything. He’s capable of so much that you can throw anything at him.” Fresh Air remembers Hoffman with two interviews from 1999 and 2008. MORE
PHAWKER: To mark the shocking and criminally-premature passing of a man who was arguably the greatest actor of his generation we bring you this 20-minute HD reel of outtakes from Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece The Master, hands down Philip Seymour Hoffman’s (and, for that matter, Joaquin Phoenix’s) greatest performance. Fans of the film will find this footage fascinating in much the same way the lost footage in Apocaplypse Now Redux is fascinating, not so much for what it does represent but for what it doesn’t — in a word, necessity. What separates great films from merely good ones is the filmmakers’ ability to separate the wheat from the chaff with extreme prejudice. And oh what chaff this is. We prefer to remember Mr. Hoffman not as they found him, a lapsed junkie who accidentally killed himself while self-medicating, but as he is in the final minutes of this clip, smoking cigarettes with Joaquin Phoenix and trying unsuccessfully, take after take, not to break up laughing as he utters the words from the script “I like Kools — the minty flavor.” Watching two masters of the artform at the complete and utter mercy of such a harmless and seemingly insignificant word — “minty” — you see their humanity shine through. Because watching someone laugh — not on a director’s cue or the behest of a script but genuinely, and like the rest of us, helplessly — is the closest you will ever get to glimpsing their soul. Goodnight Mr. Hoffman, wherever you are.