As if it wasn’t bad enough that Philip Seymour Hoffman unexpectedly and tragically died from a heroin drug overdose, this week also saw the resurrection of the Woody Allen molestation stories. Add the sad story about Kristin Scott Thomas announcing her retirement due to the dearth of roles for mature women, and you’ve got one horrible week for Hollywood. Can the Oscars get here fast enough to provide some positive vibes?
The Oscars don’t air until March 2nd this year, and I suspect between now and then there will be more coverage of these three stories that paint a tragic portrait of Hollywood. We’re all waiting to find out more about Hoffman’s autopsy but obviously he was a man struggling with addiction. There are no easy answers to the how and the why of his demons but suffice it to say we have lost one of our greatest actors, not just of this generation, but of any one.
Hoffman was only 46, but he leaves behind a legacy of great film work that would be the envy of any actor receiving the AFI’s Life Achievement Award in their seventies or eighties. His sterling resume includes THE BIG LEBOWSKI, BOOGIE NIGHTS, HAPPINESS, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, COLD MOUNTAIN, ALMOST FAMOUS, MAGNOLIA, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD, MONEYBALL and THE IDES OF MARCH.
He was great whether playing a lead or a supporting player, and his work elevated even pulp like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III and THE HUNGER GAMES series. He received dozens and dozens of awards, and snagged Oscar nominations for his supporting work in DOUBT, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR and THE MASTER. And he won Best Actor for his nuanced portrayal of Truman Capote in the screen biopic CAPOTE.
You’d think he would have found enough solace in such things, but his battles with drugs would suggest that it wasn’t enough. As for movie fans, we will now have to find solace in his short but brilliant career. At least we can revisit his triumphs over and over again on DVD or streaming video.
Then, just as Cate Blanchett was polishing her Oscar speech for Best Actress in BLUE JASMINE, the issue of whether or not Woody Allen molested his adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow at age seven resurfaced. And now the family feud is even more intense and public due to social media and the blogosphere. Dylan, her stepbrother Ronan and mom Mia Farrow are on the one side, while Woody has the support of Dylan’s brother Moses. It’s an exceedingly ugly story and hasn’t ever really gone away since seeing the light of day in 1992. And somehow Allen's Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement at December’s Golden Globe presentation stirred it all up again.
Will we ever find out the truth of exactly what happened in the family? Likely not. The case has been investigated before and the most conclusive thing that came out of seemed to be the conclusion by the head doctor of the police-appointed medical team that Dylan's story of molestation may have been planted in her head by furious mom Mia. She was rightfully livid, you'll recall, when Woody started a secret sexual relationship with her adoptive daughter Soon-Yi. (Allen and Soon-Yi married in 1997, five years after the scandal broke, and they've been together for over 20 years now.)
The case is horrendous, no matter whom you believe. There may very well be a lot of fire there because God knows there’s been enough smoke around Allen’s pursuit of what his heart wants. Still, does that make him someone whose films should now be vilified? Should Cate Blanchett pay for whatever his sins may or may not be?
Personally, I think it would be wrong to hold Allen’s personal life against Blanchett or BLUE JASMINE, or any of his artistic achievements. I’m on record here thinking Allen is the world’s greatest living filmmaker as he writes and directs a movie almost annually (http://bit.ly/1kX5rKA). Acts in them too. And his work is stellar. And many artists are troubled and their peccadilloes shouldn't or don't disqualify their creative achievements. And since the absolute truth of the Allen/Farrow home life cannot be known to any other than those intimately involved, it’s all the more unfair to hold such matters against the work.
Still, as we head into the Oscar season’s final weeks, this ugly and vicious fight has now started to taint his filmmaking reputation once again. And now it’s coloring the Academy Award hopes of BLUE JASMINE. His dramedy is also up for Best Supporting Actress Sally Hawkins, as well as Best Original Screenplay by Woody Allen, but is not favored to win either of those categories. Blanchett is, however. Will it be enough to impede her inevitability? We shall see.
The odd thing to me is how the whole molestation question didn’t come up in 2011 when Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS was even more heralded. That comedy was a nominee for the top prize of Best Picture, as well as Best Director, Best Art Direction and Best Screenplay. Allen went on to win his fourth Oscar for penning that script, proving that the Academy doesn’t necessarily hold questionable private lives against professional lives. Nonetheless, here we are two years later, and the renewed scandal is rocking the movie world again. The ironic thing is that the Golden Globe award that started it all this time was one that Allen didn’t bother to show up to collect. He's always shied away from such honors.
And then there is the final leg of the ugly Hollywood stool this week as accomplished British actress Kristin Scott Thomas (THE ENGLISH PATIENT, FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL) has decided to hang it all up because she’s tired of battling for the few movie roles for actresses of her age. She told the Guardian newspaper, “I just suddenly thought, I cannot cope with another film. I realized I’ve done the thing I know how to do so many times in different languages, and I just suddenly thought I can’t do it any more. I’m bored by it. So I’m stopping.”
She moved to France over a decade ago and was finding work there, but now at 53, there are few roles for women her age. Even in Europe. Sure, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock find work, but few others of similar stature can truly say the same. Interestingly, the studios wanted writer/director Alfonso Cuaron to change the lead role in GRAVITY to a male character. Thankfully, he won his argument that it must be a female character, and Sandra Bullock of course, aced the part and is now up for Best Actress against Blanchett.
The movie industry obviously should be much more inclusive of women, of any age, but in a year when the Academy only found room for one African-American story amongst its nine Oscar-nominated Best Pictures, old school thinking still rules. (12 YEARS A SLAVE made the list, but alas, the much-heralded FRUITVALE STATION and THE BUTLER did not.)
Hollywood is an extremely tough town, one known for chewing 'em up and spitting 'em out. Still, these three tragic stories made for an exceptionally depressing week, even by dark Tinsel Town story standards. Geez, I sure hope the new Lego movie provides a few laughs. I hear it's delightful.