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

Rich Hill
Film Review: Rich Hill

This study of teens trying to make it in a very depressed and depressing heartland would have benefited from more hard info and less pictorial meandering. More »

Child of God
Film Review: Child of God

Depravity abounds in this James Franco-directed adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, which despite a committed performance by Scott Haze proves a one-note endurance test. More »

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero
Film Review: Cabin Fever: Patient Zero

A return to the stripped–down ferocity of Eli Roth's no-frills 2002 shocker, Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (which the title suggests is a prequel, though it doesn't really feel like one) lacks originality but delivers the body-horror goods far better than genre minimalist Ti West's Cabin Fever 2: Spring Break (2009), a broadly campy spin on ’70s high-school horror clichés. More »

Behaving Badly
Film Review: Behaving Badly

Tasteless teenage sex romp. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Get On Up
Film Review: Get On Up

Chadwick Boseman is sensational in this multi-faceted portrait of troubled, pioneering soul-music giant James Brown. More »

Guardians of the Galaxy review
Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

With Marvel’s backing, cult filmmaker James Gunn blasts off for the stars and takes audiences along for a wild, funny ride. 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