Release Date: September 13th, 2013 (Limited)
Director: Sophie Huber
MPAA Rating: NR
Film Pulse Score: 8/10
Harry Dean Stanton. With nearly two hundred roles to his credit and an acting career spanning nearly sixty years and still going it’s surprising to think that very little is known about him. Certainly we’ve come to know him through his countless roles but what do we know about his life off screen. There’s what little information you can gather from imdb or Wikipedia and even then it is pretty much the standard biography tidbits. With a career so wide and life experiences so vast it is amazing that he hasn’t had a biography written or even an autobiography for that matter. Director Sophie Huber aims to change that with her engrossing, entertaining and musical documentary Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction.
Despite knowing each other for well over twenty years, right off the bat Harry Dean flats out tells Huber that he really doesn’t want to talk about his past on camera. There is much that he really doesn’t wish to discuss. This could have easily turned into a very short film but we soon discover the real focus of Huber’s documentary. Not only does she hope to show a side of Stanton seldom seen but she wanted to present to the world a talent that most people were unaware of, his singing. Huber takes us on a musical journey through the life of Harry Dean Stanton. Even though he may have not wanted to talk about his past his melodic singing speaks volumes.
The film follows his life chronologically and friends and colleagues provide most of the background to Stanton’s life. Here and there he will briefly discuss a time in his life like when he lost a girl to Tom Cruise, for example. How he was completely drunk for a scene in one of his earliest films. How he used his personal life to fuel his performance in Wim Wenders’ Paris Texas. In one scene David Lynch and Stanton are sitting on a couch talking about how many films they’ve done together and Lynch proceeds to ask him questions a la James Lipton. In another there is a touching on screen reunion between Stanton and Kris Kirstofferson. Further still we see Stanton at his favorite bar hanging and talking with the locals and how he behaves with them continues to peel away further layers that masks the enigma that is Stanton. Huber also speaks with director Wim Wenders, Sam Shepard and Deborah Harry and they provide interesting insight into the man.
This documentary will be best remembered for its music. I’m sure many people, including myself, were completely unaware of his musical talents. He could literally start touring the country now if he really wanted to. His melodic voice belts out standards that are at once haunting, mesmerizing and soulful. His version of “Blue Bayou” is a standout. The songs also provide insight into Stanton. As opposed to talking about his life he chooses songs to express what he’s thinking or feeling; whether that was his intention or not this is how it comes across.
Be sure to listen to our interview with the film’s director, Sophie Huber, here.