BluRay/DVD Reviews

HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION (Kino Lorber/Adopt Films)

By • Dec 9th, 2014 •

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I interviewed Harry Dean Stanton, if you can call it that, one afternoon while he was in town promoting (if you can call it that) PARIS, TEXAS, the best film of the year (1984), a profound piece of work by director Wim Wenders who was at the pinnacle of his skills. (Three years later Wenders would direct another masterpiece – WINGS OF DESIRE, making him, to my mind, the best director of the 80s.)

As we walked into Stanton’s hotel room, two women, reporters for a Washington newspaper, were walking out, speaking loudly and angrily about the interview they’d just concluded, and lambasting Stanton in no uncertain terms. They were furious about how their subject had treated them. And as I entered the living room and shook hands with him, he asked in a bewildered tone, “What’s wrong with them?” I told him I had no idea, pulled out my tape recorder, set it on the coffee table, and sat down on a chair facing him. He positioned himself on a couch opposite me, settled back and waited, smiling, for my questions.

As the interview began
Photo credit: Jim Muro

I’d prepared well. These were the early days before internet access made it simple to research an actor’s resume. The celebs tended to appreciate my preparedness, as did the studios. They sometimes asked me to interview someone almost as a favor, after previous interviews had gone poorly. But Stanton had done so many wonderful films that this could be nothing but a treat. I imagined the stories he had to tell, about ALIEN and REPO MAN, RENALDO AND CLARA and THE MISSOURI BREAKS, COCKFIGHTER and PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID… The list went on and on.

But it didn’t go the way I expected. Every single question I asked was answered with a simple “Yes” or “No”, and if I paused in the hopes of more, he would add one additional word – an emphatic “Period!” This went on for almost an hour, me persisting, baffled and masochistic, in an effort to pull something out of my list of questions that he would latch onto, and he sinking lower and lower into that couch until finally he was completely horizontal, with just his head sticking up against the pillow. In several years of conducting interviews for my radio show, it was by far the worst experience I’d ever had. But I couldn’t end it like the ladies did, so when it was over, I thanked him for letting us interview him, and he got up, smiling, and shook my hand as if it had all gone well.

Fifteen minutes in
Photo credit: Jim Muro

When we left the hotel room and made for the elevator, Jimmy Muro, who’d been shooting stills of the non-event, asked “Was it me? Did I do something wrong?” I assured him it wasn’t. I don’t know if the actor was stoned, or medicated, or just recalcitrant, or overly tired, or what? And why in the world had he consented to promote the film, if one-word answers were all he could muster. Looking back at it, exactly thirty years later, I realize there’s an odd chance that maybe he thought it would be clever to play to his interviewers as if he were still the mute character in the Wenders’ film. It was the most senseless thing I’d ever participated in, and it remains so today.

Thirty minutes in…
Photo credit: Jim Muro

Therefore my hat’s off, and I’m bowing to Sophie Huber who, after a worrisome first act, actually gets Stanton talking. And singing. And he’s as rough-hewn and heartfelt a singer as he is an actor, and the several songs he sings throughout the film are reason enough to own the DVD.

Former acting and directing mates are on board to coax comments and stories out of him. David Lynch goes first, and Stanton is tentative with him, but eventually forthcoming. Wim Wenders praises his PARIS, TEXAS lead actor (which had been a bold casting move on the director’s part – starring him in a long, contemplative narrative in a role that is predominantly silent). And throughout this tapestry, clips from Stanton’s films are interspersed. He comes off, now in his late 80s, as self-deprecating and nonplussed, but he also intimates that back in the day he might have been something less manageable. It’s a good character study, nicely balanced between B&W and color footage, and is never boring: the director and editor knew how to get us in and out before any of that set in.

I noticed on the back cover that the soundtrack is available from Omnivore Recordings. I went to the site, and found a few left on Vinyl, and a few left on CD. That could be a rewarding investment.

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