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mor·tal

Portrait of Philip Seymour Hoffman by Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin

Portrait of Philip Seymour Hoffman by Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin

 

mor·tal  (ˈmôrtl) adjective  1. (of a living human being, often in contrast to a divine being) subject to death: “all men are mortal” synonyms: perishable, physical, bodily, corporeal, fleshly, earthly, this-worldly, human, impermanent, transient, ephemeral; of or relating to humanity as subject to death: “the coffin held the mortal remains of her uncle”; informal  conceivable or imaginable: “punishment out of all mortal proportion to the offense”  2. causing or liable to cause death; fatal: “a mortal disease”  synonyms: deadly, fatal, lethal, death-dealing, murderous, terminal: “a mortal blow”; (of a battle) fought to the death: “from the outbuildings came the screams of men in mortal combat” synonyms: irreconcilable, deadly, sworn, bitter, out-and-out, implacable: “mortal enemies”; (of an enemy or a state of hostility) admitting or allowing no reconciliation until death synonyms: unpardonable, unforgivable “a mortal sin”; Christian Theology, denoting a grave sin that is regarded as depriving the soul of divine grace; (of a feeling, esp. fear) very intense:”parents live in mortal fear of children’s diseases” synonyms: extreme, (very) great, terrible, awful, dreadful intense, severe, grave, dire, unbearable: “living in mortal fear”; informal very great; informal dated long and tedious. noun  1. a human being subject to death, often contrasted with a divine being synonyms: human being, human, person, man/woman, earthling: “we are mere mortals”; humorous a persona contracted with others regarded as being of higher status or ability: “an ambassador had to live in a style that was not expected of lesser mortals.”

 

Like many, I was struck and deeply saddened by actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death earlier this week. As so many gifted artists do, he opened himself up to this world in order to make the work he did and he couldn’t, at this particular moment, contain it all. Being so permeable in a world so full can be hard to bear. Today, the dictionary project hosts an essay by Mike Miley in tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman.

 

 

Tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman

 

I can still remember the sense of wonder I felt the first time I noticed Philip Seymour Hoffman in Scent of a Woman. His performance in that film usually doesn’t get mentioned because the film is so clearly Oscar bait for Al Pacino, but in it Hoffman plays the nasty ringleader of Chris O’Donnell’s school chums, a real bastard whose sense of entitlement is surpassed only by his lack of remorse over it. While everyone else in that film was sheepishly letting Al Pacino chew up the movie, Hoffman was busy dominating the film with an unapologetic youthful bravado that demanded your attention and respect. I normally looked away from bullies in the movies, but I couldn’t take my eyes off him; he was just so real, so unlike anything I’d ever seen. In a perfect world, it would have been a star-making turn for Hoffman, but that wouldn’t come until later. Much later.

Plenty of acting and writing textbooks stress the importance of creating three-dimensional characters, but that all just sounds like empty platitudes after you’ve seen Philip Seymour Hoffman do it. Hoffman acted in 3-D long before such a thing was cool, and he did it selflessly, without calling attention to the fact that he was doing it and demanding your accolades. Even though that’s what all actors are supposed to do, he did it with such commitment, honesty, and passion that he revealed how much other actors had been holding back on us, slipping us illusion and evasion when they were supposed to be delivering truth and contact.

Hoffman gave each of his characters the fullest depth of emotion and transformed words on a page into living, breathing human beings who stumbled their way through life with dignity. Whether Hoffman was front-and-center in a film (the widely lauded Capote, the criminally underseen Owning Mahowny) or barely noticeable in the background (Magnolia, Moneyball, Almost Famous) he commanded the screen, making both the film and everyone around him better. Paradoxically, his smaller parts are where Hoffman made his largest impact in a film. In the hands of lesser actors, these would be considered thankless supporting roles, but in the hands of Hoffman, these roles are those ones that stuck with you because rather than settling for making these characters into cheap jokes, Hoffman made them human beings, warts and all. In fact, Hoffman made you love his characters because of their warts, because they were unguarded and caring enough to let you get close enough to see their flaws. Hoffman gave truth to such human shortcomings and made you feel less ashamed about the flaws you had.

Like most people feel about their favorite actors, I liked Hoffman best because I identified with him: overweight, pasty, equal parts ribald, joyous, compassionate, and pathetic—this guy was exactly how I saw myself. But now that I think about it, that’s just how we all are. That’s the kind of truth you can only learn from a great artist, and while we may have just lost a lot of great work from such a giving human being, he’s already showed us more about ourselves than we could ever hope to know.

 

 

photoMike Miley teaches Film Studies and Literature at Metairie Park Country Day School in Metairie, LA. His writing has appeared in Bright Lights Film Journal, Film International, The Huffington Post, Moving Image Source, The New Orleans Review, and now here. He just #killed his Twitter for New Year’s and is toying with the idea of coming out of retirement and making films again.

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mad·cap

1-bonnie-and-clyde-faye-dunaway-1967-everett

 

Day 28 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge:

 

mad·cap  (mad cap)  adj.  1.  wildly impulsive; reckless; rash; a madcap scheme  —n.  2.  a madcap person, esp. a girl [MAD + CAP1]

 

 

Character Sketch of Madcap Gal:

 

 

1. Character Functions:

The Madcap Gal is audacious. She is not afraid of women or men. She is manipulative but without others recognizing her manipulation. Her charm makes those around her want to be part of her crazy adventures, even against their better judgment. She is a (sometimes antagonistic) protagonist, love interest, a best friend (the one with more control in the relationship), a catalyst but never comic relief.

 

2. Character Emotions

Sometimes, the audience sympathizes with Madcap Gal (in the way that cops sometimes let crying women off for violating traffic laws). At best, the audience empathizes with Madcap Gal, because they see parts of themselves—the more wounded, hidden parts—in her. At worst (especially true for fuddy duddies), they view her as reckless, irresponsible, and they rejoice in her fall.

 

3. Character Components

a)     Interior – Madcap Gal was raised in home environment where she didn’t get much attention. With aloof parents, she did everything possible to command attention: acting up, acting out. When that didn’t work, she decided to take her efforts elsewhere, moving out at sixteen and traveling the country. She never stays in a place for too long. She gives the illusion of being completely open and transparent without ever actually being open and transparent. When we are introduced to her in the opening scene, she has already been in Town A for six months, as long as she’s stayed anywhere. And she is torn because for the first time in her life, she feels compelled to stay.

b)   Exterior – She dresses flashily. In loud plaids, in menswear, in tight pencil skirts. Her hair is styled in a tight bob, but she often wears wigs. Most times when we see her, she is wearing a hat. Her favorite is a beret, situated to appear tossed on when it has really been arranged just so. She imagines herself a modern day Bonnie without the Clyde. She walks rapidly, as if she is always late to the next thing (which is often true). Her small apartment is decorated with art she finds on the street. Her rooms are painted bright colors: turquoise, mustard seed, tomato. There is a sort of clutter about the shelves of knick-knacks—old skeleton keys, figurines, glasses—on the living room walls and the pans hanging in the kitchen. But every time she moves, she drags most of these possessions on the curb, taking only her white Samsonite suitcase. Over the course of the first thirty minutes, we see her working three different jobs: at a thrift store, at a coffeeshop, at a fortune cookie factory. We find out she has also worked at a rollerrink, at a record store, at a grocery store, among others. In a flashback, we see her arriving at Town A by riding the rails.

 

4. Character Background

a) Where is the character from (background)?

The audience doesn’t know precisely where Madcap Girl is from, because she has a different story for each person she encounters. She is from a nondescript town in the middle of the country. She invents new places to be from because the reality of her hometown is too boring for the image she creates for herself.

 

b)     What was she doing just before this scene?

Just before the opening scene, she was sleeping.

 

c)      What does the writer say about this character?

Writer says she is running from herself. That her antics are a kind of disguise she wears for having no sense of who she really is or what she really wants.

 

d)     What do others say about this character?

Madcap Girl is either the source of admiration or of scorn. It is impossible to feel neutral about her.

 

e)      What does the character say about herself?

She doesn’t say much about herself. She is a woman of action.

 

5. Character Objectives

These are the main needs and wants of a character (what people want out of life)

 

a)  SUPER OBJECTIVE: “To Be Perceived as Madcap Gal”
What is the primal motivation of the character?  To be perceived by others as spontaneous, adventurous, the life of the party.
What are the main needs of the character? To keep moving, to distract herself, to keep her truer needs ands desires invisible to everyone, especially herself.

 

b) OBJECTIVES
What does the character want (motives)? Attention, excitement, constant movement. And, though she wouldn’t admit it, love.
What are the active choices to achieve the Super Objective? Constantly switching in and out of identities and jobs and relationships, avoiding like the plague anything that could be perceived as practical.

 

c) MAIN ACTIONS

What the character DOES…initiates schemes, stays up all night, recruits followers to be a part of adventures
to get what she WANTS…attention (feeling of worthiness)
to fulfill her NEEDS…to be hidden (to be seen)

 

6. Character Dialogue: excerpts

“A man with a record!”

“You think you’re free? I’m free! You don’t know what freedom is! I’m free. I can breathe. And you… will choke on your average fuckin’ mediocre life!”

“Forget regret.”

“I may have made a mistake but that is no reason to patronize me. It is dismaying that your expectations are based on the performance of a lesser primate, and also revelatory of a managerial style which is sadly lacking. Is it any wonder then that I’ve chosen not to learn the intricacies of an antiquated and idiotic system?”

“Hate is a very exciting emotion. Haven’t you noticed? Very exciting.”

“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”

“I have many skills.”

“He’s dull as powder”

“You’re never gonna jump, are you?”

“Do you think I may one day escape?”

“I’ve been living my life, okay? I’ve been in good relationships and I’ve been in shitty ones… and I’ve moved alot… and I’ve been happy, and I’ve been sad… and I’ve been lonely… and that is what I’ve been doing. Which is a lot more then I can say for some freak, who thinks he’s gonna get the Ebola virus from a bowl of mixed nuts.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

*sketch format based off of formula suggested by Peter D. Marshall

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