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    01/12/2006 - (By Jamie Portman, Beverly Hills , California (U.S.A.), "The Windsor Star")

    A few years ago, Dustin Hoffman was ready to quit acting. The reason: he was increasingly unhappy with most of his work onscreen. "I stopped working because I didn't like the scripts that were being offered to me," he says. As he grew older and found himself adjusting to the changing face of Hollywood, he was looking back fondly to the start of his career and his breakthrough movie, "The Graduate."
    "Mike Nichols was the best director around and it was a first-rate screenplay and a first-rate movie ... and we rehearsed for a month." He's starting to look wistful as he recalls that the Hollywood of 40 years ago actually tolerated rehearsal periods for many major films. It happened again with "Midnight Cowboy" when director John Schlesinger spent weeks in the rehearsal room with Hoffman and co-star Jon Voight. Now, it's a rare filmmaker who can get rehearsal time for his actors, and this is one of the things about modern Hollywood that bugs the 69-year-old Oscar winner. "No one today gives a director permission to rehearse because the crew is hired and the studios think: 'You aren't doing anything and we're paying you?'" Hoffman prefers the era when hotshot directors like Nichols could get their way. Although he claims he's not mad at Hollywood, he's certainly disenchanted. After all, he was sufficiently fed up to stay off the screen for three years, starting in 1999, because he was no longer able to exercise his standard criteria - director, cast, script - in finding good parts. Rarely did a project meet his needs. "I didn't like anything," he complains. But then his wife suggested he throw out those old guidelines and concentrate on one goal. "You're only happy when you're working with people who are really creative," she told him, "and that should be your only criteria." Hoffman figured she was making sense which is why he's happier now. None of his current acting jobs fit easily into the Hollywood mainstream, but they certainly win points for creativity and risk-taking. For example, there's "Stranger Than Fiction," which opens Friday. Hoffman plays an eccentric, caffeine-addicted academic who comes to the aid of a troubled tax auditor (Will Ferrell), a guy whose future looks bleak because his real life has inexplicably come under the creepy control of a novelist (Emma Thompson) who has made him the central figure in her new book and plans to kill him off at the end. It's he who suggests to Ferrell that ha may be able to change his destiny by turning his story from a tragedy into a comedy. Although "Stranger Than Fiction" comes from Columbia, a major Hollywood studio, director Marc Forster and screenwriter Zach Helm are definitely not mainstream figures. That's why Hoffman wanted to work with them. He sees the film as a surrealist comedy. In fact, it reminds him of the theatre of the absurd. "I think it's close to Beckett and 'Waiting For Godot.'" "Stranger Than Fiction" introduced him to writer Zach Helm, who had written another script, "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium," which he would be directing himself. He needed an actor to play the title character of Mr. Magorium, a toy-shop owner who is 243 years old. Was this creative and original enough to meet Hoffman’s requirements? Absolutely. "I think he's really a first-rate talent- Mr. Helm." Thirdly, there's the controversial "Perfume," which opens in December. Based on the Patrick Suskind novel, it stars Hoffman as an 18th-century Parisian perfume maker whose gifted young apprentice turns murderer as he pursues an obsessive quest to capture and bottle the scent of a beautiful young virgin. Again, Hoffman had found a genuinely creative filmmaker in German director Tom Tykwer, who made waves a few years ago with "Run Lola Run." He hopes all three movies will do well, but he's keeping his fingers crossed. That's because of the current dollar-obsessed climate prevailing in Hollywood. Back in the old days, "you didn't have studios that were only interested in hitting home runs." By "home runs" he means grosses of $100 million or more. He paints a scenario where a movie opens in 2,200 theatres with the number crunchers and computer analysts going to work following the first performances on Friday afternoon. "Before Friday night is over, they know pretty close what it's going to make that weekend; They know what it's going to drop the second weekend - 40 to 50 per cant or whatever- so they have a sense of what it's going to do domestically before Saturday comes." By Sunday, the studios have usually decided whether the film deserves continued marketing support. If they decide it doesn't, the axe falls swiftly on advertising and promotion. Hoffman calls these tactics "legal euthanasia" on Hollywood's part. These realities perhaps explain why Hoffman, a committed artist, ultimately opts for life rather than art. "The Louvre is on fire, and you only have time to save the Mona Lisa or this scraggly alley cat. Which do you pick? ... I would like to think that I would pick life. That's because I intellectually believe that art is just all of us guys imitating God. So pick the real thing."

    (A cura di MARTA SBRANA, Canada)


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