Polished Performances

Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Character: Scotty J.
Film: Boogie Nights

When looking at the breadth of talent from the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman it’s actually very difficult to single out a particular role. His body of work is so strong that I constantly change my mind on what I think is his best performance. For that reason, I’ll take the easy option and highlight the first time he really stood out to me. I had witnessed his short roles in 1992’s Scent of a Woman and 1996’s Twister beforehand but it’s fair to say that his breakthrough came with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights in 1997.

Chronicling the lives of Porn stars in the California adult entertainment industry, Hoffman plays Scotty J. – a boom-mic operator for Burt Reynolds’ porn director Jack Horner. It’s not a massive role and it takes Hoffman a good 45mins to even make an appearance but it’s a pivotal example of characterisation and a lesson on how no role is too small when an actor gives it his full commitment.

Hoffman has never been a performer that has (seemingly) had any form of self-consciousness yet can can play flawed characters with social anxieties better than anyone. He knows full well that he’s not the handsome, leading man but has no problem exposing his flawed characters either through mannerisms or physical appearance. His role in Boogie Nights exemplifies this. Despite being heavily overweight, he wears clothes that are tight-fitting and less than complimentary and his awkward mannerisms and lack of charisma are excruciating to watch. Behind these flaws, however, is a very human character. Hoffman brings a genuine sensitivity and vulnerability to the role. In lesser hands, it’s a role that wouldn’t have much of an impact but Hoffman’s commitment and natural ability turns a lesser supporting role into a strong three-dimensional one.

Scotty J. is a closeted homosexual who has an unrequited love for Mark Wahlberg’s protaganist Dirk Diggler. Throughout his time onscreen, Scotty’s emotional unease and intensity is palpable but Hoffman doesn’t approach the role to steals scenes. He’s happy to linger in the background and on the outskirts but he’s given a moment where he can’t resist his sexual urges towards Dirk anymore and when his advances are subsequently rejected, it’s at once hilarious, embarrassing and emotionally devestating. Hoffman takes these few minutes of centre stage screen time and practically steals the film from under the noses of a very powerful cast – where many are delivering career best performances. This scene is also a symbolic turning point for the film. It’s the beginning of the end for many of the characters as their high-flying, care-free approach to life begins to plummet and Hoffman’s loss of innocence captures this downfall masterfully. It rightly gained the actor extensive praise from critics and heralded the arrival of the most talented actor of his generation.

Oscars? – No Oscar nod for Hoffman this time. Those nominated honours would go to cast mates Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds. As mentioned, though, Hoffman was a relative unknown at this time and this film would catapult his career where Oscar glory was still awaiting him. There came a point in his career when he was, rightly, a regular contender at the Academy Awards.

(For more Polished Performances cast your wayward glances over here)

27 Responses to “Polished Performances”

  1. A finely written post, Mark. Hoffman was an outstanding actor who is deeply missed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. well-stated. I remember what a standout he was in Boogie Nights.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was an outstanding early role for him. I loved the way you mention how he exists mostly on the periphery and functions just fine in that way. He doesn’t need a chunky lead role to be effective. Great, great movie. You’ve made me want to watch it again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a fabulous flick, man. A real favourite of mine and still PT Anderson’s most vibrant film. Hoffman does so well to lurk in the background but when he’s given his moment, he absolutely nails it. He rightfully became more sought after after this role.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It really is quite a great performance by Hoffman; his collaborations with Paul Thomas Anderson always yielded great performances. Nice write-up Mark.

    Side note: what did you think of the Twin Peaks finale?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely, man. His collaborations with Anderson brought the best out in Hoffman. I still love his cameo in Hard Eight. In just a few minutes of screen time, Hoffman steals the film.

      Side note: Twin Peaks was outstanding stuff. I have some issues with unresolved plot lines but they could arguably be explained through a dream state and how dreams don’t always resolve themselves. As for the finale, I thought it ended superbly and leaves quite a few possible explanations.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I thought Lynch ended the series perfectly (I doubt we’ll be getting any more episodes after this). I never expected Lynch and Frost to end the series on a conclusive note, but the finale was even more ambiguous than the original closer.

        I’ve been reading up on a bunch of online theories about the last two episodes and the significance of Judy. One of the best I found really well dissects the finale, though a lot of it is up in the air still. Check it out here: https://www.waggish.org/2017/twin-peaks-finale/.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Shit, man. That’s a great theory. I had been reading a lot myself but this one is very detailed and very plausible. I had it down as a time loop and all Cooper did was remind Carrie of her past and led her straight back to Judy for the terror to begin again. I also felt that it was unresolved and we could get more episodes. Lots of good arguments were that episode 17 was the actual ending and episode 18 was either and epilogue or the first episode of a possible season 4.

        I hadnt even considered that Cooper’s mission was a success and that Carrie was a bomb to bring it all to an end. God damn, my head hurts. I need to revisit it all again and I’m looking forward to it.

        By the way, are you familiar with the podcast “Chopping wood inside”? It’s great for Twin Peaks discussions. The guys are good.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I definitely would like to revisit the season in its entirety again. A friend of mine was waiting for the entire season to go out before binging all the new episodes, which would make the experience all the more surreal (and it would likely be easier to connect all the dots).

        I haven’t listened to that podcast but I’ll be sure to check it out. Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Definitely worth a binge watch. Lynch really is a master craftsman. The whole experience was something else. He reinvented television back in the 90’s and he’s only gone and done it again.

        Other podcasts worth checking out are “Diane” and “The Gifted and the damned” but “Chopping Wood inside” is the best Peaks one I’ve found so far.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not aware of any television programming (at least in the mainstream) as experimental and surreal as the new season of Twin Peaks, which goes far beyond the ambiguity of the original series. I know David Lynch has stated that he’s unsure he’ll return to making original features, but I hope he puts out another film.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry for such a late, very late response my friend. Been very busy of late. I do hope Lynch keeps going as well. He has recently hinted at a possible season 4 but reckons it would take years to do. I’m not ready for Lynch to retire, man. He’s one of a kind!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Honestly, I’m not sure if Twin Peaks really needs a season 4. Lynch’s best work never have concrete endings, and I’m not sure how much more of Coop’s story needs to be told.

        But I really hope Lynch doesn’t retire. I think he has enough energy to do one or more films. I am looking forward to seeing him in Lucky though…

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree, man. Twin Peaks can rest happily with that ending. It’s just the greedy side in me that wants more. That said, I’d be just as happy with Lynch doing another couple of films.

        Lucky looks good too. It’ll be a pleasure to see Lynch and the late Harry Dean.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. such an impact in that role. i remember it well. so many memorable performances from him over the years. The master was probably my favorite.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hear you Danny. Such a great actor that it’s hard to pick a favourite performance. The Master is definitely among his best work but I was admittedly mesmerised by Joaquin Phoenix’s transformation that my attention was taken away from Hoffman. It’s only through repeated viewings that I began to appreciate Hoffman more. Definitely one of the best actors there’s ever been. I was (and still am) a huge fan.
      Thanks for dropping by Danny.


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