Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction

This moody, soulful, music-drenched documentary on the great character actor uses movie clips, his singing, and shards of conversation to create its dark-hued portrait of zen survival. A real treat for those in the know.

Sept 9, 2013

-By Chris Barsanti


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1384648-Harry_Dean_Stanton_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

When Sophie Huber’s downbeat and jazzy Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction works, it’s almost by happenstance, like catching a glimpse of something beautiful out of the corner of your eye. Of course, as with most works of art that seem to be beautiful accidents, it’s artfully crafted down to the smallest detail. Stanton himself, a half-irascible and half-gentle soul, strums this contradiction throughout. In the few instances where Huber gets him to talk acting, he shrugs like it were nothing and he just played himself. He’s telling the truth in part; there’s a core essence of him in every one of his 170-odd roles, most of them small or supporting. But the actor is also full of it; his assistant Logan Sparks quips to the camera that for all Stanton’s zen koan statements like “Do nothing,” he is a highly ambitious and dedicated performer. If he wasn’t, Sparks points out, he’d still be back in Kentucky.

Huber skips over a straight biography, but for a few asides. Stanton went into acting after serving in the Navy during World War II. He started off onstage but moved on to TV and the movies, explaining pragmatically that he didn’t like how much work theatre acting was and how little it paid. Early roles as cowpokes and the like played on his scrawny, Dust Bowl appearance and melancholic drawl. He worked his way up and around, befriending and working with everyone from Jack Nicholson to Kris Kristofferson. Later on, filmmakers from Wim Wenders to David Lynch, both of whom are here to sing Stanton’s praises, cast him in signature roles in The Straight Story and Paris, Texas. Huber craftily uses extensive sequences from both films, in which Stanton is able to draw deep wells of emotion and story out of little more than a look, to help explain the Stanton mystique.

Wenders and Lynch try to describe the magic that Stanton creates on camera for them. But it’s Paris, Texas writer Sam Shepard who puts it best. He points out that Stanton knows that his ragged face, with the sunken cheeks and those burning eyes, tells a story all on its own. Just by showing up onscreen and without saying a word, audiences are interested. It’s a trick that works for Huber’s film, which spends a lot of time just hanging around and waiting for him to open up. When he finally does, it’s usually worth it: particularly the asides from an unexpected womanizer about his relationships with Rebecca De Mornay (who he lost to Tom Cruise) and Debbie Harry (who wrote a song about him).

In between showing clips or following him to his local watering hole, all of it shot in smoky deep colors by the great Seamus McGarvey, Huber interjects numerous black-and-white sequences of Stanton singing. They’re all outstanding selections, and included in their entirety, ranging from a dusty Mexican corrido to a heart-meltingly gorgeous “Blue Bayou.” Each tells a story and by themselves they are worth the price of admission.

Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction is by definition a limited-audience documentary. But with the breadth of talent and expansiveness of thought on display here, the last thing it is, in design or execution, is limited.


Film Review: Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction

This moody, soulful, music-drenched documentary on the great character actor uses movie clips, his singing, and shards of conversation to create its dark-hued portrait of zen survival. A real treat for those in the know.

Sept 9, 2013

-By Chris Barsanti


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1384648-Harry_Dean_Stanton_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

When Sophie Huber’s downbeat and jazzy Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction works, it’s almost by happenstance, like catching a glimpse of something beautiful out of the corner of your eye. Of course, as with most works of art that seem to be beautiful accidents, it’s artfully crafted down to the smallest detail. Stanton himself, a half-irascible and half-gentle soul, strums this contradiction throughout. In the few instances where Huber gets him to talk acting, he shrugs like it were nothing and he just played himself. He’s telling the truth in part; there’s a core essence of him in every one of his 170-odd roles, most of them small or supporting. But the actor is also full of it; his assistant Logan Sparks quips to the camera that for all Stanton’s zen koan statements like “Do nothing,” he is a highly ambitious and dedicated performer. If he wasn’t, Sparks points out, he’d still be back in Kentucky.

Huber skips over a straight biography, but for a few asides. Stanton went into acting after serving in the Navy during World War II. He started off onstage but moved on to TV and the movies, explaining pragmatically that he didn’t like how much work theatre acting was and how little it paid. Early roles as cowpokes and the like played on his scrawny, Dust Bowl appearance and melancholic drawl. He worked his way up and around, befriending and working with everyone from Jack Nicholson to Kris Kristofferson. Later on, filmmakers from Wim Wenders to David Lynch, both of whom are here to sing Stanton’s praises, cast him in signature roles in The Straight Story and Paris, Texas. Huber craftily uses extensive sequences from both films, in which Stanton is able to draw deep wells of emotion and story out of little more than a look, to help explain the Stanton mystique.

Wenders and Lynch try to describe the magic that Stanton creates on camera for them. But it’s Paris, Texas writer Sam Shepard who puts it best. He points out that Stanton knows that his ragged face, with the sunken cheeks and those burning eyes, tells a story all on its own. Just by showing up onscreen and without saying a word, audiences are interested. It’s a trick that works for Huber’s film, which spends a lot of time just hanging around and waiting for him to open up. When he finally does, it’s usually worth it: particularly the asides from an unexpected womanizer about his relationships with Rebecca De Mornay (who he lost to Tom Cruise) and Debbie Harry (who wrote a song about him).

In between showing clips or following him to his local watering hole, all of it shot in smoky deep colors by the great Seamus McGarvey, Huber interjects numerous black-and-white sequences of Stanton singing. They’re all outstanding selections, and included in their entirety, ranging from a dusty Mexican corrido to a heart-meltingly gorgeous “Blue Bayou.” Each tells a story and by themselves they are worth the price of admission.

Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction is by definition a limited-audience documentary. But with the breadth of talent and expansiveness of thought on display here, the last thing it is, in design or execution, is limited.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

The Congress
Film Review: The Congress

Part live-action, part cornea-searing animation, this cinematic overload is ambitious but ultimately fatigues as it plays with the intriguing notion of a fading Hollywood star selling rights so her cyberspace avatar can rise to superstardom and stay forever young in virtual reality. Flashy animation and cynical stabs at celebrity culture and movie-studio finagling keep things lively for a while. More »

The Last of Robin Hood
Film Review: The Last of Robin Hood

Serviceable vehicle for a salacious story. More »

Last Weekend
Film Review: Last Weekend

A sort of modern Chekhovian study of family tensions over a country weekend, this indie drama is very pretty to look at and at times disarming, but needed more punch. More »

The Notebook
Film Review: The Notebook

An aloof adaptation of Agota Kristof's best-seller that's technically impressive but precludes audience identification. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Film Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Neither significantly better nor worse than its predecessor, the belated Sin City sequel is more of a repeat, rather than a continuation, of the original. More »

If I Stay
Film Review: If I Stay

Delivers as promised. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here