When I heard the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman's death on Sunday afternoon it hit me harder than I would have expected. The melancholy has lingered and I couldn't have said exactly why until reading Ross Douthat's tribute, where he captures why Hoffman meant so much to those of us of roughly the same generation of film buffs.
So his greatness was not the kind of greatness that we’re used to from our actors, and its full measure seems fully apparent only in hindsight, now that he’s been taken from us. Or at least that’s how it seems to me, and maybe this is mostly just a highly personal reaction … because Hoffman began to deliver great performances around the time I began to really appreciate the movies — during my late teenage years, so that “The Big Lebowski” and “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (“Tommy — how’s the peeping?”) are all clustered together in my memory, and he stands out as one of the first contemporary actors whose work I really, truly noticed. But in noticing it, I also came to take it for granted, as something that would always be there, something to be counted on, something as essential to the moviegoing experience as previews and popcorn, blockbusters in the summer and Oscar bait in the fall.
That's it. The last few days I've been recalling memorable Hoffman performances and it's funny how many of them came in films that were revelatory experiences during the time when I was morphing from casual moviegoer to devoted lover of motion pictures. The first Hoffman role I thought of when I saw the Breaking News headline on CNN was the hospice nurse Phil Parma in P.T. Anderson's Magnolia (I can remember exactly where I was sitting, stunned, in the movie theater as the closing credits rolled on that one). Happily someone has uploaded one of Phil/Philip's scenes to YouTube. I post it here as tribute.