RIP Harry Dean Stanton: my interview with him in 2013.

Harry Dean Stanton died last week at the age of 91. This is an interview I had with him in 2013 and a review of a documentary on his life.

The following interview took place 8/23/13 at Dan Tana’s bar and restaurant in West Hollywood, California, Harry Dean Stanton’s hangout for over 40 years and a location for the film.  The interview was done with three other reporters;  this is an edited version of the recorded conversation we had with Harry and Sophie over drinks.

 

Patrick: You said at one point in the film you wish you had gone into music.

(Harry) Did I say that?  That’s stupid. I wouldn’t do that.

Patrick: How did you put together the commentary and bring in the people you did?

(Sophie) Well, first of all, it was quite hard to bring Harry in…it took about 8 years.  It started with the music.  I started recording his music years before.  And that was the basis of the opening – that was how I could finally persuade Harry to film, to focus on the songs that we recorded.  I hoped that would open Harry up a little more to be interviewed for a film.  I didn’t want Harry just to be a talking head, so I asked other people for interviews.  The other people, like Kris Kristofferson and David Lynch were important musical and film influences on Harry.

Patrick. You talk a lot in the film about Jack Nicolson, whom you lived with for a while.  Was he opposed to being in the film?

(Sophie) Actually, Harry asked him directly and he said “no”.

 (Harry) He just didn’t feel emotionally up to it.  We were very close.  We used to live together, so there are a lot of memories

 

Patrick. Harry, what did you enjoy most about being a part of this process and working with a documentary filmmaker?

(Harry) I love Sophie and I did it mainly for her.

Patrick.  Harry, do you like to travel?  You have traveled a lot, but never talk about it.

(Harry).  No. I hate flying.  I hate taking your clothes off and going through security.  I never really liked flying. I am not afraid of flying, I am afraid of falling.  I am always just happy I made it.  No favorite places …they are all pretty much the same.

Patrick. You have been recording your singing for some time now.  Do either of you have a collection of  your songs?

(Harry) Yes, but I don’t listen to them.

Patrick. Is there way people can hear them?

(Sophie) Yes, there will be a soundtrack album.  I don’t know when yet. We hope to release a collection of all those recordings at some point.  They are all covers so it means licensing (fees).

Patrick. You are still acting.  What do you love about acting?

(Harry) It is all the same on and off camera. Life and acting are all the same.

 

Patrick. Is there an iconic role , one that is your favorite?

(Harry) My favorite was Paris, Texas and Repo Man. I loved the writing…they are my favorites mostly because of the writing.

 

Patrick. How is working with Wim Wenders?

(Harry) He is a good director.  He is an introvert.

 

(Earlier in the conversation, Harry had said that his relationships with women were always short-lived, that he was a loner and that he had “ one or two kids, somewhere” , one for sure, but he has not had contacted them for a long time.)

 

Patrick. Sophie, there is only one woman in the film, Deborah Harry.  Was that by design, or did it just work out that way?

(Sophie) Deborah was the only one who would comment.

 

Patrick. Deborah said you essentially played yourself.  Is that true?

(Harry) Yes I played myself. 

 

Patrick. This documentary has pretty much been everywhere in film festivals and it has taken several years to release.  Sophie, how are you feeling about it?

(Sophie) It is great.  I always hoped it would be released theatrically and for a while, that did not seem possible because of the rights we had to obtain.  But I think it is right because Harry should be on the big screen.

 

Patrick. Which of his films is your favorite?

(Sophie) First, Paris, Texas.  I saw it growing up in Switzerland. It was the whole vision of America,– that whole Americana, extremely interesting for  Europeans.  And it was in the desert, which we don’t have.  It was a great story and it had a great impact.   I like all of his films, but Paris, Texas is the one that is dominant with me.

 

Patrick. Can you tell me how the photographer Seamus McGarvey got involved?  His photography of Harry is so beautiful. Especially the black and white

(Sophie) I met him through a friend while I was recording songs with Harry and I thought I should film him (Harry) too.  And I wanted someone who was really good and whom I knew Harry would get along with.  He said yes.  He agreed to shoot it and I wanted him to shoot it so that it would look cinematic – instead of just video, I shot myself.

Patrick.  Harry, you just did a small part in a show called Getting On.  You had oral sex in a hospital in one scene.  How was that – to get a blow job at 87?

(Harry) It is surprising to get a blowjob at 87.  That was with the Big Love People Mark Olson and Will Sheffer. They are good writers, very good writers. That was a dark comedy. 

Patrick. Sophie, the film is not linear – it moves back and forth and it really works.  Do you plan that or did it evolve?

(Sophie) Harry is not a linear person. ( Harry asks: What do you mean by that?  Sophie replies: Your life is not a straight line.  Harry: Yes, that is true.). He also does not express that much verbally, If you want to be true to your subject, to tell the story the way he is, that was the way.  Also, he doesn’t express things verbally, so  I wanted to create that quiet, nonverbal atmosphere that I feel when I am around him.  So I looked for things would create that atmosphere, which is that he is relaxed and he is present in the moment.  It would not make sense to produce a normal linear biography about him, so I tried to achieve that being in the present that way.

 

Parick. A theme that I saw throughout the film is leaving home.  The final song in the film, his lead role in Paris, Texas is about someone who leaves his family.  Was that part of your creative process in making this film?

(Sophie) Yes.  It was.  It was also about looking for home. For Harry, in way,  it the music  that which keeps him close to home

(Harry) . Yes, looking for home, looking for enlightenment somewhere.

 

Patrick. In Hollywood!

(Harry)  It is all the same.

Patrick. There is a scene in the film where you are talking to the bartender here, maybe this is home.

(Harry). Could be. 

 

Patrick. What do you want people to remember the most about you and your career?

(Harry). It is not important. Nothing is important.  Red Buttons told me that.  He was a very enlightened man.  I asked him once if he was afraid of dying and he said ‘Harry, I am a comedian, I have died thousands of times’.  Nothing is important.

  

Review:  Beautiful, absorbing, important.  Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction is a film for everyone.

I have to disagree with Harry.  This film is important.  Harry Dean Stanton is one of Hollywood’s most prolific and legendary actors and a fine  musician.  He has appeared in over 250 films and 50 television shows and is still acting at the age of 87, performing with Daniel Stern and Laurie Metcalf in the HBO series Getting On, to be released in 2014.  He was the lead in Paris, Texas and had important roles in Alien, The Godfather: Part II, Repo Man, The Avengers, Pretty in Pink, and The Green Mile among many, many others.

Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction is director Sophie Huber’s first film.  Her previous experience of live performances, music composition, writing and co-directing with the film collective, hangover ltd., stood her well in assembling this film. .A stroke of genius was the selection of the very talented and professional Seamus McGarvey as the Director of Photography who produced stunning black and white scenes with Harry, taking full advantage of the actors unique, character-filled.

Another stroke of genius was Huber’s decision to make the film non-linear and to use Harry’s singing and harmonica to roll out his story, instead of the usual documentary practice of starting at the beginning and going to the culmination or the end. By moving back and forth between interviews with Kris Kristofferson, David Lunch (at one point Lynch is interviewing Harry) Wim Wenders, Sam Sheppard and Deborah Harry, Sophie weaves together a coherent story of a somewhat incoherent life.  There is no through-line, but there is a through theme – the search for home, which Harry tells us about in his enigmatic philosophy, his music, and his characters.

Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (the title comes from a line by Kris Kristofferson) is full of unguarded moments, subtle and not so subtle wry humor, and tales of Harry’s friends Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Kris Kristofferson and others.  Never quite in the center of Hollywood, Harry unintentionally illuminates the secondary rings of the industry, the brilliant people who pursue their art and their stories instead of fortunes based on CGI and toy licenses.

Sometimes dark, often impressionistic, occasionally a bit slow for an American audience, but always absorbing, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction goes far beyond a documentary on an iconic actor, it is a revealing look into the corners of the entertainment industry.  Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction is a must-see for movie buffs, for HD Stanton fans and for anyone who loves Hollywood and the movies.  I guess that makes it a film for all of us.

Patrick O’Heffernan

Host, Music Friday

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