"MISTAKES are part of the dues one pays for a full life," said the star actress Sophia Loren.
Well, it's not always "a full life" that one makes a mistake for and has to pay.
Take the case of our friend, Philip Seymour Hoffman who left us Super Bowl weekend by reportedly putting a heroin needle in his arm.
I was just with this superb actor at Le Cirque only two weeks ago. In a crush of people, he made his way over and gave me a big hug. He said, "Liz, my very, very first interviewer!"
I was so impressed during our talk. Nobody from the press had ever bothered about me before you." (I don't know if that was true or not but I never forgot sitting down in the El Rio Grande restaurant in my Murray Hill building as a favor -- I thought -- to my pal writer-director Joel Schumacher. He had said to me one day in 1999, "You know you should talk to this actor who is starring in my movie and believe me he is going to really be big one of these days."
The movie was titled "Flawless" and was based on some true happenings that occurred when our great mutual friend, Lee Bailey, had suffered a stroke and eventually learned to speak again after being given singing lessons. So Joel had written a screenplay for Robert De Niro where the latter was a homophobic New York cop who pushed people around. In his building lived a detested drag queen played by Hoffman and this unlikely looking gay man was elected to give the frustrated cop singing lessons. Meanwhile, Hoffman was also getting ready to enter a famed drag contest where he came off as a rather fat unlikely lady. The combo of Hoffman and De Niro was dynamite.
But though you may read about all of Philip Seymour Hoffman's fabled hit acting roles -- in "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia," "The Master," "Twister," "The Big Lebowski," "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "Almost Famous," "Mission Impossible III," the Oscar-winning "Capote," "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," "Charlie Wilson's War," "Doubt," "The Savages," "Moneyball," "Jack Goes Boating," "The Hunger Games," "Synecdoche, New York," "A Late Quartet," "Punch-Drunk Love," "Happiness," "Scent of a Woman," "Pirate Radio" and on and on. I never see his astounding performance in "Flawless" mentioned. Both he and De Niro were so good in it!
Philip also won kudos as one of the greatest actors of our time onstage. He has several movies still to come, the third of "The Hunger Games," "God's Pocket" and "A Most Wanted Man." Everybody loved this guy. I never heard a negative thing about him and was utterly surprised when he categorized himself recently as a recovering drug user.
He will be sorely missed on both coasts and in between. But if ever you have the chance to see him in "Flawless," don't miss that golden opportunity.
He was only 46 with three small children he worshipped. Such a shame.
I FELL in love over Super Bowl Weekend -- with the halftime's Bruno Mars, who of course, reminded me of James Brown and Michael Jackson. It was also great to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers show their chops and display their chests -- though they are in their 50s -- during this amazing 12-minute show. As for the fabled advertising throughout, some of it went right over my head and everybody else's. Sometimes one hasn't the foggiest idea what they are selling. But Ad Age offers the statistic that Budweiser's Puppy Love, starring a horse and a puppy, scored a viral hit with 17 million views and counting on YouTube.
"VANNESA ENTERS right into the mythical and archetypal, and I think that's what she's trying to do as an actress. You could almost say -- if you wanted to be grand about it -- that Vanessa is a Jungian actress, whereas most actors are Freudian. Above all, she is an intuitive actress, and she lets her imagination respond in ways other actors do not." That is director Simon Callow on Vanessa Redgrave, in Dan Callahan's fascinating new book, "Vanessa: A Life of Vanessa Redgrave."
This book, masterfully written, concentrates on the author's appreciation of Vanessa the actress. He has seen her onstage, he has tracked down the most obscure of her many films -- in itself a daunting task! Callahan records her personal life, but as a glamorous/ferocious/tragic backdrop to her passion for her art. And this is appropriate. Beyond anything else -- even her controversial politics, or mothering her children when they were young -- Vanessa Redgrave is an actress. She is one who risked her career to follow her political callings -- which seem childishly naive at times -- and risks her reputation taking major roles in minor films, minor roles in major films and roles that even her greatest admirers can't make heads or tails of in films or stage plays of the same ilk. She goes where her actor's heart leads her.
Callahan could not -- no surprise -- get Vanessa to talk. And there's little feeling that he tracked down her friends or enemies for new quotes. He worked with his own fascination for the legend, and compiled a vast array of remarks and reviews, giving his own intelligent interpretation to all.
This book is not for anyone who is looking for deep, or even shallow, dish. It is for a student of transcendent talent and how that talent grew and morphed and miraculously extended itself into her now elder years.
And there is no exaggeration in Callahan's appreciation. He is not some shallow, nonobjective fan-boy. Two of the greatest performances I have ever seen onstage came courtesy of Ms. Redgrave -- Tennessee Williams' "Orpheus Descending," which left the audience speechless before leaping to its feet in a screaming ovation, and in Eileen Atkins' "Vita and Virginia." In the latter, playing the great friend of Virginia Woolf -- Vita Sackville-West -- Redgrave was so physically commanding, electrifying, that one felt the need of a glucose injection after the curtain came down.
And Vanessa does not need a script to dazzle. She participated in a 2012 Paley Center tribute to the Emmy-winning TV film, "Playing for Time" (in which she played a woman in a Nazi concentration camp). Her explanation of her own character, of the monstrosities of the Nazis and the monsters in all of us, seemed to put the packed auditorium into a reverent trance. (At a private screening of the movie, two hours previously, Vanessa was weeping openly as the lights came up.)
Of her political life, Callahan casts a cocked, but not mockingly dismissive or combative eyebrow. Vanessa had been an activist of one sort or another since her teen years. Perhaps the simplest explanation of her work in that area comes not from her own lips, but from that of the dancer Isadora Duncan, whom Redgrave played so daringly onscreen: "So long as little children are allowed to suffer, there is no true love in the world."
Read "Vanessa" if you want a fully schooled lesson on the woman most of her peers think of as the greatest living actress. It's from Pegasus Books.
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
(c)2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
The great career of Philip Seymour Hoffman
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