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Portrait of Harry Dean Stanton more a mood than a movie

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By Robert Horton
Herald Movie Critic
@citizenhorton
Published:
  • Harry Dean Stanton, photographed in June.

    Invision

    Harry Dean Stanton, photographed in June.

Harry Dean Stanton does not want to talk about himself.
This fact might stop many potential documentary filmmakers from attempting a profile of the weathered, now-87-year-old actor. But director Sophie Huber made "Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction" anyway -- and if the movie fails to give us much factual information about its subject, it certainly captures the aura that surrounds him.
We do learn that Stanton was born in Kentucky, did military service, roomed with Jack Nicholson for a while and has never been married.
He lets a few things slip, including the phrase, "She left me for Tom Cruise." This tidbit about an ex-girlfriend is somehow one of those sentences you never expected to hear coming out of the mouth of a character actor this unglamorous. (The woman in question was Rebecca De Mornay, who lived with Stanton before she met Cruise on "Risky Business.")
One thing Harry Dean does like to do is sing, and the movie is strung together with craftily crooned numbers from the country-folk songbook. Harry Dean's baritone has frayed a little with age (you might remember him serenading the jailhouse in "Cool Hand Luke"), but he really understands singing.
His old buddy Kris Kristofferson might be on to something when he suggests that music is Stanton's true passion.
Kristofferson rolls by for an interview and a song, and we also hear from Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard (whose collaboration "Paris, Texas" gave Harry Dean an unprecedented lead role), Deborah Harry and David Lynch. The latter sits with Stanton on a couch, asking him questions and elaborately smoking.
The interviews and the music are mixed in with film clips and smudgy shots of driving around. We also tag along as Harry Dean gets half-looped on cranberry juice and tequila at his favorite L.A. watering hole.
This barely adds up to a movie, but it is a mood: a sad song playing on the jukebox, the bartender making his last call. For an accomplished and much-admired actor, Stanton is insecure, and this -- rather than privacy -- seems to be the reason for his reluctance to talk about himself.
One wishes for something like the "Repo Man" code, as so memorably spoken by Stanton in that movie, but no such luck.
The most he's got is a Buddhist-ish idea about "nothing" as the center of himself. His elusive manner, his apparent wish to vanish before our eyes, suggests he might be right.
"Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction" HH½
A slim documentary portrait of the great, now-87-year-old character actor, who announces early on that he doesn't want to talk about himself. Luckily, he likes to sing (the movie's full of Harry Dean crooning selections from the country-folk songbook) and there are friends around to talk about him: David Lynch, Kris Kristofferson, Debbie Harry. We don't get to know the man, but we do get in a mood.
Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for subject matter.
Showing: Northwest Film Forum.
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