Cameron Crowe on Philip Seymour Hoffman and the 'soul' of 'Almost Famous'
A day later and I'm realizing I still haven't fully absorbed the unfortunate, untimely passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman. A house full of people yesterday for a boring football game and the usual work-related stuff this morning has kept it a bit at bay ever since the news struck yesterday.
I will say I'm annoyed at the predictability of high-horse riding judgment from those who clearly have no idea what addiction entails. But that kind of finger-wagging, which we can always spot as little more than frustration on behalf of others — children, loved one, etc. — left in the wake of such a tragedy, is to be expected. It can be timed like the tides. And it's always another level of sadness over these things.
Anyway, the point is, I'm still processing. We lost a genius, and one in his prime. These were the years of amazing Phil Hoffman performances. We were in the middle of it, you see? We just left the movie an hour in, so to speak, right in the meat of the second act build. But I'm grateful for the perspective of filmmakers like Cameron Crowe, who wrote a brief, poignant remembrance of Hoffman's work on a key scene from his 2000 film "Almost Famous."
Here's the passage in full, courtesy of The Uncool:
"My original take on this scene was a loud, late night pronouncement from Lester Bangs. A call to arms. In Phil’s hands it became something different. A scene about quiet truths shared between two guys, both at the crossroads, both hurting, and both up too late. It became the soul of the movie. In between takes, Hoffman spoke to no one. He listened only to his headset, only to the words of Lester himself. (His Walkman was filled with rare Lester interviews.) When the scene was over, I realized that Hoffman had pulled off a magic trick. He’d leapt over the words and the script, and gone hunting for the soul and compassion of the private Lester, the one only a few of us had ever met. Suddenly the portrait was complete. The crew and I will always be grateful for that front row seat to his genius."
The Uncool is Crowe's official website and its moniker is meaningful in this instance. "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we're uncool," Bangs says in the scene referenced above.
I don't know what haunted Hoffman so much that he was driven to a relapse recently. I wouldn't begin to pass a judgment. That's one of the biggest problems with the ease of information on the internet, I've found. Everyone thinks they can be experts on anything, even the darkest reaches of souls they've never once met. People feel like an ugly family matter dragged out onto the op-ed pages of The New York Times is cause for dubious commentary, for instance, or the discovery of a father with a needle sticking out of his arm calls for stern dismissal and a harsh verdict. But they have no idea.
No one has to find sympathy in these situations, but an attempt at empathy would certainly be human. Whatever the case, my heart goes out to Hoffman's family, and I selfishly weep for all the stunning work we've been robbed of ever seeing.
You can read more industry reactions to Hoffman's death here.