Meanings brought to film by Dustin Hoffman
Audio: Leaving Wallbrook/On the Road – Hans Zimmer
Projector: Title of “Meanings brought to film by Dustin Hoffman” coupled with a current image off Hoffman, followed by the promotional poster/DVD cover of each of the 3 case films.
Presenter: In this presentation I will be discussing various ways Dustin Hoffman manages to create meaning in such abundance throughout his portrayals in film, including possible background links to these characteristics, such as:
- Early work, life and education
- Key similarities and differences between his many roles, focusing on the three films being discussed.
- Hoffman’s working practice and relationships with certain co-stars
- Star quality & unmistakable scene presence
- How his films have aged and his legacy in film
Born on 8th August 1937 in Los Angeles to Lillian and Harry Hoffman, he originally dreamed of becoming a jazz pianist, studying at the LACM after being expelled from school numerous times, but eventually gave it up in his late teens due to frustration with what he felt was his limited talent. (Item 10 & 12) This of course led to his pursuit of a career in acting after college, when he chose to undertake acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse, which is incidentally where he first met fellow actor and future lifelong friend, Gene Hackman. He ended up following Hackman to New York which was the paramount decision to ensue his future success. Joining the Actors Studio, where he would further mould and refine his technique as an actor and hone his ‘method’ approach into what would become his trademark. (Item 12)
Projector: Run clip of The Graduate original trailer from 1960s.
His so called ‘Big Break’ came with the lead male role in The Graduate which has been described as a picture that begins with everything coming up new and strange in movie terms but later morphs into an impossibly dreamy, frustrated romance story. (Item 6) These comments could be construed as relating to Hoffman as equally as the film itself as the original role of Benjamin Braddock might as well have been outlined ‘the anti-Hoffman’, being such an obvious physical contrast though this appeared to work wonders for Dustin as audiences will have been taken in more by his often blatant satirical off-the-cuff mannerisms instead of the concentration on the male lead’s appearance, which even by then had become both a narrative and cinematic cliché. It is noteworthy that due to the context of the film’s storyline of a young man’s seduction by an older woman may have rubbed off on Hoffman outside of the mind and body of Benjamin Braddock, both who gain a wealth of maturity from experiences in the film.
Projector: Run clip from Rain Man of Hoffman’s introduction to the film.
He has become traditionally known for his often ‘reticent but stubborn’ portrayal of characters in the majority of his films, most notably Rain Man, a review of which this quote was taken from. (Item 4) The most recent of the three focus films, Hoffman’s performance as Raymond Babbitt, the name from which the film’s title originates from, earned him a second Best Actor Academy Award, and his sixth nomination. This exponential level of recognition similar to the likes of Brando, is well justified based on the sheer audience and critic response to his revolutionary portrayal. According to some, if the original production schedule had gone to plan ’it would have been a Marty Brest picture starring Bill Murray as the loveable, retarded brother of uptight businessman Dustin Hoffman.’(Item 5) This shuffling of typical roles did both the film and its stars a great deal of good with it being stated that Rain Man was ‘exactly what Hollywood wanted from itself in the early eighties.’ (Item 7)
The character of Raymond is introduced to the audience in the stereotypical location for a serial killer/villain like Hannibal Lecter to be first seen, at a mental hospital, Wallbrook. However, Hoffman’s quirky (Item 5) demeanour throughout his first scene creates a sort of oxymoronic situation wherein Raymond seems to both belong and stand out from his surroundings. His initial mannerisms being a culmination of extensive research into the typical behavioural attitude by someone with a condition like autism towards strangers that are often so ambiguous they cannot have been written into the script beforehand. This is a testament to Hoffman’s dedication to each character frame he is given. The raw emotional energy spread throughout this performance from both Hoffman is what may be considered the film that endeared him to the wider audience (Item 7) and established his extensive range in acting to a new level.
Projector: Run clip from the original trailer for Papillon.
Whereas in the 1973 prison film, Papillon, (Item 3) Hoffman is once again more than worthy of the praise he received while portraying a seemingly completely different character to both The Graduate (Item 2) and Rain Man. (Item 1) Having said that, his performance as a French counterfeiter is not especially convincing which may be attributed to the way the character was written, but appears more to be due to a lack of cultural understanding on Hoffman’s part. This of course is not helped by the added forceful behaviour from his co-star, Steven McQueen, who was constantly in fear of being upstaged by a peer who he considered to be inferior, which ends up giving the whole film a far less traditional feel.
Projector: Run clip from Rain Man – End scene at the train station
This range of roles that Hoffman has been gifted with throughout his career has henceforth allowed him to work with various acclaimed actors as well as future Hollywood superstars like Tom Cruise in Rain Man. (Item 1) Both Hoffman and Cruise spend a large portion of their months of preparation for their roles, befriending real-life counterparts (Item 12) Raymond and Charlie in order to bring as much truth and realism to both the pair’s restrained relationship as well as Hoffman’s on screen behaviour. This involve Hoffman meeting Kim Peek, the actual Rain Man, who naturally, with his vastly more perceptive mind, was ‘extremely disappointed’ (Item 12) with his performance and the film on a whole. The clip shown from the film is from a stage in the film where the two brothers have become relatively familiar with each other after being estranged from the majority of their lives, yet the emotion pumped into the scene by Cruise in response to Hoffman’s still faintly reluctant yet mindful behaviour as Raymond acts to establish a strangely orthodox unspoken brotherly bond, prompting the statement that ‘Hoffman is a veteran car, cranky, quirky, eccentric; while Cruise is about the most streamlined and efficient wheels on the market.’ (Item 4) This is presumably one of the main causes of the film’s huge universal popularity, as the more mature of audiences can connect with Hoffman’s veteran style and quirky, eccentric performance while both the youthful audience of the 1980s as well as today’s youth can fully identify with what has become a typical Tom Cruise role but in parts, a noticeably different style to the ‘streamlined efficiency of characters like Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible. This lead pairing reflects that of two pieces of a puzzle fitting perfectly together, whereas the aforementioned original production schedule for Rain Man, which would’ve typecast Bill Murray, who possesses a very similar on-screen presence to that of Hoffman as Charlie while Hoffman would take Cruise’s role, which therefore would’ve defeated the purpose of a stylistic divide and may have considerably weakened the apparent pathological emotional connection between the two estranged brothers. But as stated by Empire, ‘Just be thankful that studio bosses don’t always get their way’ (Item 7) otherwise we may not have such a timeless classic, more an overhyped, light-hearted representation of something that is such a deeply meaningful subject.
Projector: Run clip from Papillon – Cliffside escape
However, his co-star in Papillon, Steve McQueen was never going to be such an easy customer as Tom Cruise and Anne Bancroft. Even before either had been cast in the prison thriller, McQueen had stated after seeing Hoffman’s big break picture, The Graduate; what’s going to happen to pretty boys like Newman and me? That Hoffman is one ugly cat, real homely. (Item 12) It was no surprise that for both stars establishing the brotherly love between Hoffman’s character, Louis Dega and McQueen’s character, Henri Charriere, when the latter considered his co-star to be unworthy of any shared screen time with him. Due to this, the two leads always seemed slightly restrained in scenes that required any emotional connection to be made apparent, unlike the expected strain from Hoffman in Rain Man.
Based on evidence of both Hoffman’s performance and overall presence in three different texts, it is clear that he has established a very identifiable external locus in the manner in which he portrays each of his roles. This in itself helps create meaning in the film, but his extensive approach and perfectionist dedication to convey as much realism as possible, while not always successful as in Papillon, which could be considered a reflection of his co-star’s attitude, exhibits his unfathomable ability to connect with the audience not matter who they are or what character he is playing.