Second Thoughts and Two Laments: Philip Seymour Hoffman and “Alone Yet Not Alone”

Philip Seymour Hoffman

I awoke Sunday morning happy to be a Rochesterian. Our own Renee Fleming was going to be singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, and we were all basking in that reflected glory. Then the news came: Philip Seymour Hoffman, another Rochesterian and our “other great artist,” was found dead.

This is a loss hard to put into words. I am in agreement with the New York Times’ A. O. Scott that PSH was our finest American actor. I know of no other better, and only Daniel Day-Lewis, in my opinion, is a better actor. (We’re talking the difference between genius and somewhere between brilliant and genius, so the distinction is thin.)

The first reactions were shock, sadness, anger—at him, at drugs, at the loss. All that could have been—all those great performances we’re going to be denied. Thoughts of River Phoenix and Heath Ledger fill my head. I easily could go on and on.

But my second thought is that at least we have some great performances to cherish. This semester, I’d already selected Capote as my film during the week focusing on acting—a happy coincidence. But there are many others as well. I could go into several of them, but I’ll just focus on one. As excellent as Joaquin Phoenix was in The Master, I think PSH’s performance was one for the ages. I will quote A. O. again: It may take the world a while to catch up with that journey into dark, uncharted zones of the American character, but once it does it will discover, in Lancaster Dodd, an archetype of corrupted idealism, entrepreneurial zeal and authentic spiritual insight.”

Hoffman had a way of digging into his characters that few other actors could approach. He went places other actors are not even aware of. His Lancaster Dodd will long be studied, when enough people take the time and the challenge to dig into the character and see what an original he was and how brilliantly brought to life by the actor. This was one of the great American performances in recent years, and with PSH’s work in Capote, may be his best. He was an American treasure, and now he’s gone.

“Alone, Yet Not Alone”

My first thoughts on the rescinding of this fine song from being Oscar nominated are that Hollywood is again showing its anti-Christian bias (which one would have to be blind or in a state of massive self-denial to not see). After its nomination, it was determined by the Academy that the song’s composer Bruce Broughton, a former governor and executive committee member of the music branch of AMPAAS at the time, had improperly contacted other branch members by e-mail solicitation for support. Since it is easy for my Christian brothers and sisters to quickly jump on a bandwagon—anti-Christian bias being so blatant among so many in Hollywood—that I had to think a while and get past any first reactions and do some digging.

I did. After taking some time, reading some more, and considering the Academy’s thinking and action, I have determined this: it is completely anti-Christian bias at work. This is the little engine of a song that apparently could. It’s a “nice” song, with a real musical structure, good words and a lovely melody line. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that it will win—it’s a foregone conclusion that Frozen’s “Let It Go” is going to win. So it’s not like this little sweet song from an independent faith-based film is going to pose any threat to the Disney machine here. “Let It Go” is a lock, and it’s a good song. No problem there.

But if you is going to fault Broughton for simply calling attention to the presence of his song on the accredited song list of possible nominees, then you are going to have to take Shakespeare in Love’s Best Picture Oscar and give it to Saving Private Ryan, and you’re going to have to take Juliet Binoche’s Supporting Actress Oscar back and give it to Lauren Bacall. That’s just for starters, and you’re only just beginning with Harvey Weinstein. Applying the same principle to HW would take the Academy a year to get things straight if they were consistent here.

As a Christian and a film person, I’m greatly disappointed by the Academy. It’s clear that they don’t really know how to handle faith issues in mainstream Hollywood. It’s a matter of great humor and consistent disappointment with this viewer. But to go out of the way to bump this film off the list (and not even add another one they might have deemed more worthy for some reason) when nearly every other player in Hollywood is guilty of far more than informing their friends and associates about the presence of a song on a list—this is hypocrisy of the highest order. To paraphrase Mr. Knightley rebuking Emma in the Gwyneth Paltrow film of the same name, “Badly done, Academy. Badly done.”

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About Mark DuPré

Full-time (associate) pastor at a Christian church. Part-time film professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Husband for 40 years to the lovely and talented Diane. Father to three children and father-in-law to three more amazing people. I preach, teach, counsel, write and plan in my real job. I teach a subject I love at RIT in my "other job," which is a lot of fun most of the time.... I play piano for our local college choir, and sing and play at church occasionally. I also have a film-related website at www.film-prof.com.
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