A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Thursday, October 30, 2003 :::
Nothing comes to mind much today, except this thought: A Mind That Suits finally saw The Scent of a Woman, the 1992 film that propelled Chris O'Donnell to his brief run as boy star. He took a year long break to get married, good Catholic boy that he is, and came back to considerably less sizzle, partly because the last movie before his ill-times hiatus was Batman and Robin.

What struck me about Scent of A Woman was Al Pacino's performance.

As Anthony Hopkins. For almost the entire movie, he does a superlative impression of Anthony Hopkins. Why? No one was rude enough to point it out at the time, so no one asked him. He does drop the act in the final, unsatisfactory "trial" scene at a boys' school, where his young protege (O'Donnell) is facing possible expulsion for hiding the names of the perpetrators of some infraction. (There is a whole class warfare motif which is best forgotten.) With no explanation whatsoever, Pacino's character, a retired Army colonel from New England, suddenly becomes a Baptist preacher, apparently from the South, and apparently African-American.

Mr. Pacino is a fine actor, but one suspects the director found it hard to say "no" to him.

Speaking of movie starts, a rather inane reading in class today stated, accurately, that Mickey Mous is probably the most famous movie star of all time. But the thought intrudes that that is true even though he has appeared in virtually no successful movies. (If memory serves, Fantasia was something a flop when it came out, and still has something close to cult status, although A Mind That Suits himself loves it.) Walt Disney himself is largely responsible for pushing him into the background, for the simple reason that Donald Duck was immensely more popular. And the re simple reason for that is made clear if you think about Disney's main rival in animation during his lifetime, the Loony Tunes shop at Warner Brothers, run by Fritz Freling and Chuck Jones.

According to Jones, they deliberately created two sets of characters. Some were aspiration characters, characters whose lives the audience would love to have. These include Tweetie Bird, the Road Runner, Pepe le Peu, and, pre-eminently, Bugs Bunny himself. The others were identification characters, whose lives were all too similar to those of the people sitting out there in the dark. Now, come on, 'fess up, whom do you most feel like, Sylvester, Elmer Fudd, the Tasmanian Devil, or Wile E. Coyote?

Donald Duck may be the pre-eminent identification character, the true counterpart to Bugsy. Angry, luckless, impossible to live with...no wonder audiences ate him up.

But where, in this scheme, does Mickey fit? Nowhere. He is inane and a little annoying, and his life is perfect without being very challenging or attractive. He lives now primarily as a corporate symbol, although a very good one. Perhaps it is best to say that he is the biggest celebrity of all time, and hand the movie star title off to someone who actually spent most of their career in movies.

Scent of a Woman also brought reflections on perhaps the most overhyped "indie" actor of the day, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The Scent of a Woman one supposes, marks the real start of his career, as he has a memorable but very small role in that film. As it happens, A Mind That Suits also saw another of his films a few days after. "Owning Mahowny" is a very good, but very depressing, movie about a colorless bank officer with a serious gamgling problem which he feeds by embezzlement. It is well worth seeing, and the title role was indeed tailor made for the talents of Mr. Hoffman.

A Mind That Suits happens to think Mr. Hoffman is a man of talent. It is just rarely on display. A Mind That Suits has seen five of his movies, and in four of them, he is exactly the same. In every detail. From the hapless rat in Scent of a Woman to the frustrated gay production assistant in Burt Reynold's porn operation in Boogie Nights, from Mahowny who was owned to the obscene phone caller in the horrifying Happiness, Mr. Hoffman has always been the same--telegraphing his characters' purported emotional intensity by mumbling and dragging out his sentences, standing there with messed up hair during interminable pauses before he starts in with the mumbling. It all seems very obvious and not very hard to pull off. It would be much harder to play a ticking timebomb of a loser if he dressed properly and spoke clearly. What a stunning revelation it was, therefore, to see Mr. Hoffman in the disturbing The Talented Mr. Ripley. There he plays a character who is superlatively dressed and thinks himself everyone's superior. He was magnificent. He should do it more often. He is in danger of becoming a very strange kind of star. Stars are a particular kind of actor whose movies are built around their personality. It's not that they don't act, as character actors such as Mel Gibson do, but they are always the same. Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and Katherine Hepburn are all exemplars of the style. Mr. Hoffman is now having movies built around his mumbling character, and he should stop it before it is too late and people forget he can do anything else.

That's the advice of A Mind That Suits, and with that he wishes you all a good day...

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 10:43 AM



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What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

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