Monday, March 31, 2014

The Death of Dusty from Twister and Other Sad Tales

TWISTER is a seminal addition to the cinematic landscape of the 1990s.  Not because it was a particularly great flick.  It was pretty standard, contrived summer blockbuster fare, with precisely timed action beats to which the narrative was completely enslaved, a treasure trove of stock characters, a semi-ludicrous premise, and the typical will-they-or-will-they troubled romantic relationship that gets the focus at the most inappropriate times (like in the middle of a goddamned tornado) and that everybody in the audience knows will be resolved by the end of the (ahem) story.  It was also the movie that introduced a great many in its audience - myself included - to Philip Seymour Hoffman, though I wouldn't become aware of it until much later.  And oddly enough, it was the first role of his that I thought of when I heard of his death on February 2, 2014.

In TWISTER, Hoffman played a character named Dusty: a lovably loud and outgoing pseudo-stoner archetype with a beat up baseball cap and clothes that had rarely seen the inside of a washing machine who was almost innocently devoted to his friends and would vehemently denounce those he perceived to have compromised their integrity.  The character was essentially an exposition machine, educating the audience on such scientific concepts such as the "suck zone" and the past nude exploits of Bill Paxton.  Dusty wasn't a starring role, but it was a memorable one.  And the main reason it was memorable was because of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Looking at Hoffman's later filmography, it's hard to believe that the same dude who played Dusty in TWISTER went on to star in movies like CAPOTE, SYNECDOCHE NEW YORK, and THE MASTER and provide memorable turns in countless others like THE BIG LEBOWSKI, ALMOST FAMOUS, and MONEYBALL.  He played Ben Stiller's friend in ALONG CAME POLLY, the bad guy in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III, and even showed up in the HUNGER GAMES movies as a character whose name I never bothered to remember.

The thing is, though, that whether he was playing Dusty the gravy-obsessed stoner or a cultural icon like Truman Capote, the dude was fucking present in a way that most of us never are.  It seemed that, at least in a professional capacity, he could never not go all in.  He seemed able to invest in what he was doing, or, perhaps more accurately, unable not to invest.  A lot of Hoffman's smaller roles might just have easily have been phoned in (to use the parlance of our times) and not really affected the quality of the final product in any meaningful way, but even when he wasn't in the spotlight, he fucking gave it everything he had.

There was a certain refreshing quality in the way Hoffman seemed to approach his life's work, and it wasn't in some self-sacrificing way, though passion and dedication in any context has a way of inspiring others and encouraging them to better themselves.  No, in Hoffman's case it seemed to be something far more personal.  He was refreshing because he seemed not to really give a shit about what anybody else thought.  He was never in the running to win any awards or accolades by playing Dusty (or any other character for that matter) in TWISTER.  Hell, he probably wasn't even making that much, at least not in comparison to bigger names at the time.  But he owned that shit like nobody else could (or even would).

Forty-six years on this spinning, blue orb seems like far too short a time for anybody let alone somebody like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who embodied the adaptability and commitment that seem to elude so many of us so much of the time.  For me, there are few greater things that can be said of a man than he gave it everything he had, even when it seemed unnecessary.  Because the thing is, at the end of the day, when you're lying in bed alone with your own thoughts on the precipice of twilight, sometimes the only redemption comes from the knowledge that despite all of the shit and all of the things that were beyond your control, you still made the choice to give 100 percent.  Not for any external recognition, but because it was the only thing you can accomplish with any degree of certainty on any given day.  And that's why, in moments of silent contemplation at the end of the day, my thoughts will now sometimes turn towards the man who played Dusty in TWISTER.  See you on down the trail.        


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