CINEMA: Being Harry Dean Stanton


FILM WORKS: This beautiful and meditative Swiss documentary by Sophie Huber is an arty, non-chronological look at the work and philosophy of one of Hollywood’s greatest living actors (and enigmas) Harry Dean Stanton. Don’t expect to hear much else in the way of concrete biographical facts, as the star in question is pointedly vague about his background. When asked questions about what he believes or who he is, he responds humbly: “Nothing”. But as his personal assistant points out, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Having starred in over 250 films, Harry Dean is one of the hardest working men in Hollywood.

What we get is a look at the life of a lone wolf. Whether drinking coffee and chain-smoking with David Lynch, or getting pissed in his favourite Los Angeles bar, Harry Dean is quiet and contemplative, and the film lets songs, films and people do the talking. Choice excerpts of some of his films (namely Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas (1984), Bill L. Norton’s Cisco Pike (1972) and Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979)) are interspersed with talking head interviews with high-profile friends like Jack Nicholson and Kris Kristofferson.

The cinematographer Seamus McGarvey has done a beautiful job here, combining a variety of styles for different facets of the actor’s day. Colour is reserved for outings to Harry’s special bar, the gorgeously lit L.A. joint the Dan Tana (where he’s been pissing it up with his favourite barman for the last forty years); muted colour and elements of soft focus are brought in for Harry’s night-time drives around the city, and sharp focus black-and-white for sing-a-longs in his house. MORE