Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction Suits Its Subject to a ‘T’


Roger Ebert once famously wrote that no film featuring Harry Dean Stanton could be bad. While 1996’s Down Periscope might prove that statement technically incorrect, Sophie Huber’s Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction makes a stirring case for the greatness of the now-87-year-old actor, whose particular blend of weary sorrow, no-nonsense feistiness, and philosophical cool has enhanced classics like Cool Hand Luke, Two-Lane Blacktop, Repo Man, and Paris, Texas, the last of which gave the legendary character actor his first leading role. Huber’s documentary takes an expressionistic approach to portraiture, interweaving commentary from admiring friends and collaborators (Sam Shepard, Wim Wenders, Kris Kristofferson, David Lynch) with both smeary shots of nocturnal L.A. from Stanton’s car window and black-and-white close-ups of the chain-smoking, music-loving actor singing his favorite songs. The result is a film that’s in perfect sync with its subject. Between clips of Stanton acting, as Lynch says, “in between the lines,” and interviews in which Stanton exudes a simultaneously sad and accepting resignation about the powerlessness he feels over his life, the actor comes across as a lifelong loner whose performances were infused with rich, raggedy soul because, as he admits, he was ultimately just playing variations of himself.

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