“When you’re nothing, there’s no problem,” says the subject of the haunting documentary “Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction.”
One of the most familiar character actors around — with more than 100 film and 50 television credits spanning some 60 years — the 87-year-old Stanton isn’t referring to feelings of insignificance in the above quote. He’s speaking, rather, of a yearning — late in life — for non-attachment to a world that saw him rise from obscurity to cherished movie icon of brooding intensity in such features as “Repo Man,” “Alien,” “Cool Hand Luke” and “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.”
Laconic, lost in memory but focused, Stanton slowly opens up to filmmaker-interviewer Sophie Huber. He allows glimpses of a life he admits to sabotaging at times with booze and womanizing. But most of what Stanton reveals comes — as has always been the case — just from being himself in front of a camera.
Stanton seems content with his film legacy yet remains interested in a good acting challenge. Huber follows him to his favorite bar and studies the many revealing things found in his home. She bathes Stanton in city lights that bleed more than glow — an artistic tribute to the actor’s dark, lost characters.
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Stanton sings a lot but reminisces only a bit about his career. Reflections about his impact on movies is left to key collaborators such as filmmaker Wim Wenders (who directed Stanton’s brilliant performance in “Paris, Texas”); Sam Shepard, who says of his friend’s screen presence, “his face is the story”; and David Lynch, whose attention to Stanton during an interview is this film’s most moving scene.
Tom Keogh: email@example.com