visit my New Yorker recent issue at the culture desk:PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN’S GENIUS posted by Richard Brody

by Venetia Kapernekas

February 2nd, 2014 at the New Yorker

here is the best  I have read  for Philip Seymour Hoffman  loss written by Richard Brody.


“Philip Seymour Hoffman gave one of the greatest onscreen performances that anyone ever gave, in “The Master”; he won an Oscar for “Capote”; from 1991 until now, he acted in what IMDb reckons as sixty-three filmed productions; in recent years, he gathered accolades virtually every time his feet hit the boards of a stage or his face caught the light in a camera; and he began a career as a director. Today, he died, at the age of forty-six, reportedly from a drug overdose. The intimate agony—his partner lost a partner, his children lost a father, his friends lost a friend—is unspeakable except by those who knew and loved him. For those who didn’t know him personally (I never met him), the horror is inseparable from art—the love of his performances, the acknowledgment that there’s nothing more of them beside what’s in the can, and the sense that the torment and the talent are inseparable.

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.

The controversy over “The Wolf of Wall Street” also involves the allure of drugs; though the movie makes it pretty clear that the character Jordan Belfort acts monstrously under their influence, it also leaves little doubt regarding the pleasures and powers that they provide him and his cohorts. It also suggests the poison pill of imagination, the diabolical—even self-destructive—power of theatrical rhetoric, its eruption from the depths of a soul that hardly dares to consider itself. Hoffman, with his seemingly infinite range of possibilities and self-transformations, was at the diametrically opposite end of the spectrum: he couldn’t help but look at himself, from angles he had never anticipated and in aspects he might not otherwise have fathomed. Genius, whether at its most constructive or destructive, its most sublime or its most repugnant, is unnatural; Hoffman lived for great art, and it’s impossible to escape the idea that he died for it. The complete price of his nearly superhuman ability has yet to be reckoned.”