In 2004, I started a part time job in a DVD shop, whilst at University, and it was there I bonded with fellow employee Ian over our mutual love of movies. To while away the time at work, Ian and I would make a list of our favourite actors/actresses which became known as the imaginatively titled ‘the list’. It started with the legend Harrison Ford, but took in people from films around that time that were becoming prominent in our eyes, mostly the players of PT Anderson films which scattered the shelves of the shop, but which were not always the most rented of our predominantly mainstream catalogue but were some of the best titles we had in. There were the H Macys, the C Reillys and then of course there was the Seymour Hoffman.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who I may, apologies, have come across a little later than my more learned film friends) was a fixture on our list and became the benchmark in our conversations that signified if a film was worth watching. He was dependable but not in the sense that he was safe and comfortable but because whatever performance he gave, whether intense or fragile, commanding or meek, he did so with complete conviction that made him eternally arresting. He could become an intriguing complex writer in an Oscar winning role, he could steal a scene simply by uttering the lines ‘I’ve sharted’, he could inhabit the world of a gay sound recordist working in the porn business and he could make you never forget the sight of him being ‘relieved’ by his wife in a sink. His CV reads like every actors dream working with the best and being the best, his peers were in admiration of his talents and he rose to the challenge of any intricate performance that the industries best directors threw at him.
Being a lover of the golden age of Hollywood, most of my movie idols have sadly already departed the earth so to lose one of the best of my generation of film is a deep loss. He is so integral in my mind of a time and place where my film love and knowledge was burgeoning every day, he is part of a memory where I had the (uni) time to discover and watch films all day with exceptional actors such as Hoffman.
There are those that may be slightly cynical of Hoffman’s death, that he ‘brought it on himself’ by submitting to drug use, however for those who have never been an addict, it is all too easy to assume that it is something that all of us can conquer. With resigned inevitability, many artists go to dark places, the classic combination of art and suffering go hand in hand, they are able to delve into their fragile psyche and use a form of method that comes from experience. Sadly this time the ‘Master’ was beaten, the demons he portrayed on-screen followed him long after the director called cut.
I continue to stay in touch with Ian, it is a friendship built on the strongest of bonds- movie geekery, and a few Christmases ago, he sent me a present, he has immortalised ‘the list’ in a DIY, personal version of Top Trump cards, laminated with in jokes.
Of course Hoffman was part of the Top Trumps and he will always have a place in our cinematic deck of cards.
Scene from The Master (2012 Paul Thomas Anderson)