Yesterday, I watched the documentary about Harry Dean Stanton, Partly Fiction. It’s an incredible portrait of an incredible man, taciturn yet loquacious, breaking silence only when it needed to be broken and speaking only what needed to be said.
Since the first time I saw Harry Dean’s harangued, put-upon soul in Wild At Heart – through multiple viewings of Repo Man, Alien, Escape From New York, Cool Hand Luke, Pretty In Pink and Paris, Texas amongst many many other parts – I’ve been enthralled by his performance. Apart from Paris, Texas, he’s always been in the margins, a supporting actor who brings the gravitas and depth that all other actors on the screen can only try to. He seems to be living the roles, which are etched on his Death Valley-terrain of a face; all Tennessee-whiskey and Marlboro stained.
Throughout Sophie Huber’s film, Harry Dean sings. The songs he sings, and the way he sings them, tell us plenty about his life, experience and feelings. Outsider country songs, Mexican standards, a duet with Kris Kristofferson and even Danny Boy (passed down from his Irish mother). Harry Dean’s delivery pulls together all of these different folk traditions into a single world-view.
His Kentucky-farmboy / Hollywood-barfly philosophy is drawn out of him, offering up easy existential Absurdism — “how about nothing? How about silence?“, “I’m nothing. There is no ‘self’,” along with a discomfort that we’re travelling through space at 17,000 miles an hour and can’t do anything about it — which neatly place him within the Beckett/Pinter realm: bleak but reassuring.
I think that’s what has always attracted me to him, he seems to effortlessly carry both the freedom and the burden of the void.