I was really looking forward to catching this documentary about one of my favourite actors when I first saw that it was scheduled in the EIFF 2013 program. And, as everyone warned me when I went on and on about how smoothly this year was going, I came across a bit of a hurdle.
Unfortunately, the scheduled press screening suffered from problems with one of the audio tracks. Of course, I didn’t know this as the documentary started. There was some ambient, background noise and then footage of Harry Dean Stanton speaking. Well, he appeared to be speaking but no sounds were coming from his mouth. People began to look around, wondering if this was a fault or a daring opening before moving into more traditional documentary territory. I admit that I thought it was some cute stylistic trick, designed to show a man who rarely talks about himself finally talking about himself without us being able to hear it. Oh, what fun. How interesting to keep the man completely enigmatic for a few more minutes.
It wasn’t a trick. It wasn’t the choice of the director. It was all down to faulty audio. Sometimes sound would come back in during moments featuring the man talking about himself, sometimes it would disappear again completely while viewers watched a clip from some classic movies. I tolerated this for about 15 minutes while many others left, I held out hope that the problem would be solved. It wasn’t (not while I was there anyway) so I left. It has to be said that I left while about half the audience remained. Whether or not they end up writing a review for the thing I may never know, but I hope not. Because, as I found out, the audio that was missed was crucial from the very beginning.
Thankfully, for my viewing pleasure and the sake of getting this review written, I remembered that I’d seen this title listed among the many films available to view at the videotheque (an invaluable festival resource that holds many of the films being screened in digital form on a selection of viewing computers). Was the documentary worth the minor inconvenience I went through? Sadly, not really.
Harry Dean Stanton remains one of my favourite actors, and he also remains quite an enigma. Director Sophie Huber coaxes some decent words from him, but it’s clear that the man is only sharing what he really wants to share: his love of music (he sings a number of songs throughout the feature), his unassuming view of his lengthy career and people he has shared good times with. Other people – David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Sam Shepard, Deborah Harry, Kris Kristofferson – appear onscreen to praise the man and that’s about all there is to the whole thing.
With a lesser presence onscreen, this would have been a complete waste of time. It doesn’t reveal anything that people won’t already know about the featured man and it doesn’t catch the man during a particularly interesting time of his life (he’s just an old loner who likes to drink a little and reminisce sometimes). Thankfully, that lined face tells a thousand stories, that voice speaks with much more than just words and those eyes dance around a range of emotions with every glance.
You may not learn anything revelatory about Harry Dean Stanton with this documentary, but it’s hard to deny the fact that he’s a good man to spend some time with. This allows viewers to do that, even if it doesn’t do much else. And it’s also good to be able to revisit clips from movies as great and diverse as Alien, The Straight Story, Repo Man, The Missouri Breaks and Paris, Texas.
DIRECTOR: SOPHIE HUBER
STARS: HARRY DEAN STANTON, DAVID LYNCH, WIM WENDERS, SAM SHEPARD, DEBORAH HARRY, KRIS KRISTOFFERSON
RUNTIME: 77 MINS APPROX