Monday, February 3, 2014

The Italians have a word for it


I cut my reading teeth on Truman Capote. Not In Cold Blood, but earlier and more lyrical work -- A Christmas Memory, Other Voices Other Rooms, Breakfast at Tiffany's. And even though some of the more subtle points of plot and sexuality escaped me, I appreciated the clean prose of a natural storyteller. One perfect word after another. Reading early Capote was and is like listening to fine music; all rhythm and flow. Shielded from the heavy lifting of a thousand revisions.

Thanks partly to Capote, I learned to love reading, and believe in a particular narrative voice. One that doesn't pin you in a corner, shine a klieg light on the construction, illuminating nails and boards. Reading the greats, or my greats, you'll never hear hammers and drills, just the narrator as he or she holds your hand and whispers secrets in your ear.

It's a tightrope the artist walks, a balancing act between wonder and restraint.

But that takes a toll on the artist; people like me demand much of their artist. That we never witness all the hard falls they take on the way to perfection.

I think that's why so many artists, and not all, not by a long shot, but many have been drunks and drug addicts. Some artists enjoy the practice, the process. Eudora Welty belongs in this camp. She wrote and revised for the joy of it. But for others it's a fight and struggle, and they get terribly damaged along the way.

Maybe my appreciation of art is rather narrow, I require grace without effort. Natural, but a better natural than we find in natural life. Something unnaturally natural, I guess. Like, when I'm in a discussion or argument or moment of passion with someone quite real, often I'll think, maybe you could have stated that better, or, you really muffed that line.

Before this week, I had two favorite living actors, and now I have just one. I think it was the New Yorker's tribute that said Philip Seymour Hoffman was the actor you never purposefully went to see, but were always glad you did. They were wrong. I purposefully went to see all his movies. And he never disappointed; every word he said rang true.

Sprezzatura.

40 comments:

  1. You were the first person I thought of when I heard the news of Hoffman's death. How could you be a true lover of movies and not appreciate Philip Seymour Hoffman? James Lipton said today that Hoffman was the best of his generation. Another one gone too soon....

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  2. Make me cry salty tears. It will help melt our snow up here, anyway.

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  3. Don't watch the man behind the curtain while I correct my Italian.

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  4. I so agree...your words are so true...at least in my limited experience. And I so totally get your description of Philipp Seymour Hoffman...he was a superb actor...

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  5. A Christmas Memory was my introduction to Capote. I loved the money saved under the plank and the anticipation of fruitcake. The idea of gorgeous fumes of rum floating up my nose. The old lady in tennis shoes.

    All this immortal. PSH too, a nice chunk of work for the ages.

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  6. I always imagined they were high tops, black ones.

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  7. Great tribute to an amazing author and an amazing actor.

    I'll sum up my feelings about Philip Seymour Hoffman like this. He isn't just an actor, he's an artist. He is the reason why I do not like "actors" like Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise and others like him, pretty much always play the same character in their movies. They play themselves. They are movie stars and that is all they are.

    Actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep, lose themselves in their roles. They transform into something that they aren't. They are artists....

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  8. it was heroin and not rum

    whiskey for the bum

    they call him Haha because he never laughs

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  9. He constantly surprised me.. whatever role he played...I never read Capote- guess that will be next on my endless list... Hemingway did it for me.. Grapes of Wrath started the itch to read...

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  10. He was a brilliantly talented actor. He was still so young.

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  11. I will admit I never saw him in a single movie. Living under this rock has its limitations.

    This I do know. YOU are a gifted writer.
    V

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  12. I'm always saddened that so many talented people can't get along without drugs. This was a Sunday afternoon shock, to be sure.

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  13. .... but look how long lived are those who didn't succumb to drug and drink. Eudora Welty for one

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  14. So often I not only learn something on your blog, but learn something about which (or whom) I want to learn more. Not much of a movie watcher, but now . . .

    Right with you on artists who are at ease and therefore put you at ease. It's not just that Josh Bell was so extraordinary the first time I saw him. It's that from the first note, he played and presented himself as one who could have played the piece in his sleep, although he was far from asleep that evening. Soloists who show their effort -- well, I'd be equally as willing for a dentist to be drilling than to be in the concert hall.

    As far as substance abuse, perhaps the same anguish, memories and so forth that drive their creativity are at the root of that. Just my guess.

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  15. This is thoughtful and lovely.

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  16. Here are two clips from two different movies. In the first, PSH is Capote, as he tries to gain the confidence of a Kansas sheriff. In the second, he's an L Ron Hubbard-based character. And while neither character would seem to have anything in common, both are master manipulators.
    Clip one

    Clip two

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  17. Agreed. And I think he could do those two roles because he had the kind of physicality you can't get from working out in a gym. He morphed into someone instead of creating someone. It's the same reason why I'm going to watch TV like George Gently instead of something like Castle: one tells a story, the other is merely a display.

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  18. Yes, I think that's true -- he didn't create, he became.

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  19. I am so sorry for Philip Seymor Hoffman. How great actor he was.
    I hadn't heard the word "Sprezzatura" before, but it is perfect for him.

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  20. Philip Seymour Hoffman was that sparkle in the dark. I couldn't take my eyes off of him when he was on screen. Even in the worst movies, he was the best one. He made me believe everything about the character was true. So very sad.

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  21. I'm so sorry that it's not been a good start of the year for you. You keep losing people you love, and you even lost your identity for a while. My heart goes out to his young children. I'm glad the dealers have been arrested.

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  22. Oh, I don't take it personally, Bellis. My year is going fine so far.

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  23. You tied these two, Capote and Hoffman, together so neatly without once making reference to their obvious connection. Well done.

    It also occurs to me I've never read, have never even considered reading, "Breakfast at Tiffanys." Is this because I've seen bits and pieces of the movie? Of course it is.

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  24. Wait, is Breakfast at Tiffanys a book, too? I am so out of it.

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  25. I completely agree about PSH. This is a great loss and yet another bundle of questions about the nature of artistic creativity and performance.

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  26. I always hesitate to say Breakfast At Tiffany's is one of my favorite books, because most people only know the movie. But book and the movie have nothing in common other than the little black dress. The book (and it's short, a novella) explored the unbearable lightness of being, decades before Kundera got there. And it is not a romance.

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  27. Such a sad loss. Hoffman really was so talented. Did you see him as the nurse in magnolia? He is especially wonderful. And also so good in Moneyball. Such an entirely different character.

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  28. He WAS Truman Capote. Brought back from my memory Capote's speech, his tone of voice, even the way he smoked. And the look he gave the man about to get up and go.

    And the L. Ron Hubbard character, so different, so different, and yet so convincing.

    Yes, there are movie stars. And there are actors -- the ones who make me play a movie over and over. Maggie Smith, Sir Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, f'rinstance. And now, I expect, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

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  29. Brilliant.....I feel so sad about Philip Seymour Hoffman, bizarrley was talking about his genius in a random movie discussion that day at what would have been about 10am in NY.....only to come home and hear the tragic news......there was a very good show on BBC radio 4 recently about the use of heroin by the artist......there but for the grace of god......x

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  30. Such a great loss. I've been watching clips of his movies, starting with the two you just posted, each performance brilliant. "Doubt" might be my favorite.

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  31. 60 Minutes reran an interview with him tonight that was taped a few years ago when he was happy, healthy and sober. It was fascinating and yet so sad given the current context.

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  32. Ah Philip Seymour Hoffman. I saw him a few weeks ago walking with his kids. Like we see so many actors in the Village. But he was different he was magic. I had just watched him in the Talented Mr Ripley where only he knows the truth about Matt Damon's character, only Philip had the inside line. Like with all his characters, he always had the inside straight. Perfection is so hard to lose.

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  33. Almost Famous was too jejune for my taste. Except every so often there would be a scene with this rock critic, and the guy brought it on home. I didn't know the actor's name until The Savages.

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  34. You certainly do "require grace without effort." I can read it in your writings.
    And I think Truman probably would read you too, if he could!

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