Jim Healy's Posts

Jim Healy was the Assistant Curator, Exhibitions in the Moving Image Department at George Eastman House from 2001-2010. He is currently the Director of Programming for the University of Wisconsin - Madison Cinematheque.

Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman

Posted by on Feb 06 2014 | Guest Blog, Motion Pictures, Other

Magnolia (1999)

Magnolia (1999)

I remember discovering Philip Seymour Hoffman for the first time at the movies. It was in Scent of a Woman. He looked like no one else you’d ever seen on screen before, and yet he was someone you immediately recognized as real. He played a bully in Scent and was more or less the villain of the movie, but something in his performance suggested an inner torment and that made him all the more recognizably human. His work in this movie was hard to forget. Maybe it was because we had never seen him before. Maybe it was because, as they’ve been saying, he was on his way to being the greatest actor of our generation.

He was a familiar face in Hollywood movies over the next couple of years. Because he was so indelible in Scent, it was hard not to feel that tingle of excitement every time he appeared on screen, even in forgettable movies. I really liked him as another bully, the cop who gets punched out by Paul Newman in Nobody’s Fool. Then came the unforgettable sequence where he played a degenerate gambler taunting Philip Baker Hall in Hard Eight (aka Sidney). That started a series of films with Paul Thomas Anderson. It was in their next collaboration, Boogie Nights, where, in one scene, the camera uncomfortably gazes on his character, the hapless boom operator Scotty, after he’s been rebuffed by Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler. Barely choking back the tears, Scotty performs a unique brand of self-flagellation, repeating, mantra-like, “I’m a fuggin’ idiot!” Was this the first time we shared a “private” moment with one of Hoffman’s characters on screen? I think it was the first of many times that he broke my heart.

This ability to play self-loathing characters who put up a false front while falling apart inside would turn out to be his specialty: Happiness, Almost Famous, Love Liza, Owning Mahowny, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Synecdoche, New York, and The Master. The Oscars like to reward actors for historical impersonations, but his Truman Capote was so much more than just mimicry in a standard biopic. It was a vivid and moving portrait of an artist who was ultimately crippled by his own self-doubts.

I lived in Rochester for a little more than nine years while I worked at George Eastman House, and I became very close with Phil’s mother, Marilyn O’Connor. Through her influence, and the influence of Phil’s brother Gordy, we were able to bring Phil in for a screening of Love Liza at the Dryden. After the screening, I hosted a Q&A with Phil and Gordy (who wrote the film), but I don’t remember what we talked about. I do remember, just after the movie began, talking excitedly just outside the theater doors with Gordy and my brother Pat (he had become friendly with Phil after they both appeared in Magnolia). We must have been loud, because Phil, who was inside watching the opening of the movie, came out and shushed and scowled at us. He was right, of course.

About a year later, Phil and Gordy were home for the holidays and Gordy invited me to join his family in seeing the third Lord of the Rings movie. We went to a multiplex in Henrietta and Phil was very relaxed. I only noticed him being recognized once or twice and he was very sweet with anyone who approached him. Phil sat one row behind me and Gordy. The ubiquitous pre-feature trailers seemed to go on forever. One of the trailers seemed determined to overwhelm us with bombast and swagger: “Now,” read the on-screen text accompanied by thundering music, “the epic action-adventure the world has been waiting for…” Phil leaned forward between me and his brother and, before we could find out what this “must-see” entertainment was titled, he whispered, “The Gin Game!” Before we stopped laughing, he leaned forward again and murmured, “Mornings at Seven!”

The next month, Phil came back to Eastman House to present a documentary he appeared in called The Party’s Over. We talked afterward and he answered audience questions. I don’t remember much else about the evening, but my pal Bruce Bennett was there, and he reminded me that a teenage kid stood up and tried to explain how much Phil’s performances meant to him. He struggled in finding the right words and he finally just asked Phil if he could have a hug. Bruce remembers Phil as being “totally moved and disarmed and surprised by all the emotion clumsily and honestly pouring out of this young guy who clearly didn’t get to express his feelings too often” Phil quickly replied and said “yeah, sure, of course” and the two embraced. Bruce says, “People forget how much personal impact actors can have. I don’t think anyone’s ever asked to hug [Paul Thomas Anderson] because of a camera move he blocked or a line of dialogue he typed.”

I saw Phil a few more times over the years; once at his mother’s birthday celebration, another time at a party after the Toronto premiere of Capote. I last saw him introduce a movie he directed and appeared in, Jack Goes Boating, at Sundance in 2010. It was a nice little movie, based on a play in which he had also appeared. I regret never being able to see him perform live on stage.

These few, brief personal encounters were pleasant and memorable for me. They gave me little insight into what drove him as an artist. I only know that he consistently surprised me and moved me with his honesty and his understanding of human beings.

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Idiocracy Mike Judge’s Futuristic Vision of Uhhh-merica

Posted by on Sep 04 2008 | Motion Pictures

Office Space (1999), writer-director Mike Judge’s trenchantly funny look at the contemporary white-collar world, was overlooked by most audiences on its theatrical release, but nevertheless became a bona-fide cult comedy classic after a DVD release and screenings on cable television.

Judge, provided with a larger budget for his live action follow-up (he had also previously brought his animated MTV creations to the big screen in 1996′s Beavis and Butt-Head Do America), began production on a satire with a science-fiction spin that remained officially untitled during its filming and for several months after shooting wrapped in 2004. Idiocracy, as it was eventually called, was finally released in September 2006, but only in a handful of cities (not Rochester, or even New York City!), and without any advertising at all, save for a movie poster that said absolutely nothing about the movie.

IDIOCRACY

 

The story revolves around an underachieving military careerist (Luke Wilson) and a prostitute (Maya Rudolph) who are cryogenically frozen in the present day and meant to be awoken in a year’s time. Things naturally go awry, and when our heroes are unfrozen 500 years later, they find they are the smartest people in the United States of Uhhh-merica, a nation overpopulated with illiterate, slack-jawed citizens who make the Three Stooges look like downright geniuses. Judge envisions the future of our country as an ugly, garbage-strewn, and corporate-controlled hell on earth where the president is a former wrestler and porn star, and the most popular television show is called Ow! My Balls!

Idiocracy is, like Office Space, another clever blend of knee-slapping jokes and social satire that recalls Woody Allen’s Sleeper and bears more than a few resemblances to this summer’s Pixar smash Wall-E, particularly its depiction of a laid-to-waste-by-consumerism future Earth. The film’s token theatrical release remains a mystery. Some have suggested that Judge’s hilarious but angry vision of a dumbed-down world was unappealing to test audiences and prompted the distributors, 20th Century Fox, to shelve the movie for so long that only a contractual obligation brought the film, however haphazardly, into cinemas. The Dryden’s screening of Idiocracy on September 7 will be the first 35mm theatrical showing of the film in New York state. Don’t miss your chance to see it on the big screen.

Click here to watch the Idiocracy trailer!

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Cinema at Sunset

Posted by on Aug 20 2008 | Motion Pictures

Hello Movie Lovers,

Nearly 20 years ago, during July, 1989, I had a seminal moviegoing experience in Chicago’s Lincoln Park: a screening of Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven projected on a giant screen with six-channel Dolby Stereo sound. The screening was part of a weekend called “Cinema Borealis,” three nights of free movies shown outdoors near Chicago’s lakefront that also included 2001: A Space Odyssey and Kurosawa’s Ran. The whole project was the brainchild of a Chicago projectionist/movie guru named (no kidding) James Bond, and it was Bond’s innovation to show these movies on film, as opposed to video, which allowed for a brightness and clarity and massiveness of image that was positively hypnotic for me and the thousands that gathered to watch Malick’s masterpiece when the sun went down.

While there have been huge advancements in video and digital projection in the decades since the days of Cinema Borealis, there still is nothing to match the purity and beauty of 35mm film. Inspired by Bond’s gift to Chicago and with the initiative of Chris Jones and the Business Association of the South Wedge Area, George Eastman House will present five nights of free screenings under the stars on a 45 foot screen in the Highland Park Bowl, with state-of-the-art 35mm projection and stereo sound provided by the talented folks at Boston Light & Sound.

cinema at sunset

 

The films selected for screening are all acknowledged classics of American cinema and they were chosen primarily for their ability to transfix and entertain an audience, but also for their visual splendor, qualities which will be enhanced by the enormity of this cinema-under-the-stars. There are no other films that have captured the awe-inspiring element of space travel like Kubrick’s 2001 (screening Tuesday, Aug. 26), and are there images of New York City more iconic than the ones captured in black-and-white widescreen by cinematographer Gordon Willis in Woody Allen’s Manhattan (Wednesday, Aug. 27)? Even if you’ve seen the films before, you won’t want to miss the spectacle of Cary Grant clinging to Mount Rushmore in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest (Thursday, Aug. 28) or the glistening cars cruising Modesto, California in American Graffiti (Friday, Aug. 29) when they’re projected like this. The double dose of Boris Karloff horror (Saturday, Aug. 30) that closes the series will reveal that Karloff truly was a talent to be reckoned with and the set designers of the 30s at Universal Pictures were no slouches either!

The tradition of the open-air screening is a common one outside of North America, unless we consider the legacy of the Drive-in, and it’s a special experience that I think you will treasure.

See you in the Highland Park Bowl!

Click here to visit the Dryden Theatre website for more information.

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