One of the enduring icons of the theater is the image of two masks named Sock and Buskin. These date back to the era of the Greeks where staged plays originated. Sock is the mask representing comedy and Buskin is the mask that stands for tragedy. Most films fall into these two categories, but what is more impressive is when an actor can equally play both roles. Some actors excel at comedy and don’t venture out into the realm of serious drama. In the same fashion, some actors are so serious that they don’t transfer over into comedy well. However, there are a few actors who do equally well in comedy and tragedy. Dustin Hoffman is one of these actors. This week’s two films look at one comedy and one tragedy from the diverse works of actor Dustin Hoffman.
Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours
Although comedy rarely wins awards, it is still occasionally recognized. While Dustin Hoffman has won two Best Actor Oscars, he has also been nominated five other times, including the 1982 comedy, Tootsie. In a role like this, Dustin Hoffman has proven that he really doesn’t take himself seriously at times. Of course, other films show his lighter side, including Hook (1991), and (to an extent) Stranger Than Fiction (2006). He also provides the voice for Master Shifu in the Kung Fu Panda series. And yet, Tootsie remains Dustin Hoffman’s defining comedic role. I think it’s this level of versatility Hoffman exhibits that really draws me to him as one of my most favorite actors. Still, this is merely a personal bias, and others may have differing opinions.
Logic and perfection might get you far in some artistic fields like sculpture or painting, but in acting, it can create a lot of headaches for those who work around you. Until you’ve made a name for yourself, you can’t argue with the director about the minutiae of the script, especially since you’re only doing bit parts for commercials. However, if an actor were to use his perfectionism to create a female persona who could get a solid acting gig, he’d be set for quite a while. Of course, the challenge here is making sure the ruse is never figured out, otherwise your career would be immediately dead in the water. Add to this the temptation of getting closer to people in an assumed identity than you ever would as yourself and things aren’t going to end well at all.
Kramer vs. Kramer
Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours
One of Dustin Hoffman’s Best Actor Oscars was for the Best Picture winner, Rain Man (1988). Much like how he could act like a woman in Tootsie, he showed the world that he could also easily portray the autistic savant, Raymond Babbitt. And yet, this performance was his second Best Actor win. About ten years before Rain Man, Hoffman starred in another Best Picture, this time by the name of Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). Granted, he was already nominated for the award two times before this for The Graduate (1967) and Midnight Cowboy (1969). It just wasn’t until he starred in this family courtroom drama that he was formally recognized for his talents. If anything, Kramer vs. Kramer shows Dustin Hoffman can take on characters who really have heart.
Merely one Oscar win away from being another “Big Five” winner, Kramer vs. Kramer delves into the lives of divorced parents Ted (Dustin Hoffman) and Joanna (Meryl Streep) and the effects of the divorce on their lives and the life of their son, Billy (Justin Henry). Since Ted was left with Billy, he has to adjust his world to accommodate for the child. This means becoming less of a workaholic and more of a loving father. Despite having left the family, Joanna is fighting for custody of Billy because she eventually comes around to the realization that a child needs a mother’s influence above all else. And yet, when it comes right down to it, Billy is old enough to be able to determine who he wants to stay with. The courts decide to let him choose in a heartwarming conclusion.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Dustin Hoffman dramatis personae
Bacon #: 1 (Sleepers / Kevin Bacon)