Any life is one made up of moments. Whether they are sad, funny, poignant, scary or serious. It makes sense then that any good documentary film about a human contains these same elements. They are all there in Sophie Huber’s tribute to actor/musician Henry Dean Stanton. While the name might not be completely familiar to many other than cinephiles this American character actor has appeared in over 200 films over the course of his lengthy 60 year career. He has also demonstrated his love for storytelling by recording his own renditions of classic American folk songs.
They also say that the sum of a person’s life can also be added up by those they influenced, loved or affected in some way. Interviews with Debbie Harry, Wim Wenders, Kris Kristofferson, David Lynch, and Sam Shepard really shed light on the life this man has lived. Filmed in black and white the 87-year-old Stanton reflects back on his life and really allows the viewer to know who he is as a man and an artist. Admitting to the fact that he hasn’t done everything he could have due to womanizing and drinking, Stanton seems like a man who doesn’t regret much. Laying in front of you all his faults and foibles he allows himself to become rather vulnerable.
Even though he has spent most of his life in front of a camera Stanton does not talk about his film career at length. That is left to directors like Wenders and Lynch and fellow actor Shepard. All describe him as a superb character actor who allows his face to do most of the work. The same can be said when first-time director Sophie Huber tries to interview him. His answers are short and sometimes terse. She realizes very quickly that she is going to have to go elsewhere to get some inside information about the man. Though sometimes the onscreen silence that regularly happens ends up revealing just as much as the spoken word does.
Huber fills the gaps and silences by allowing Stanton to express himself in song. She follows him to his favourite bar where the loner throws back a couple of drinks then on to his friend Kris Kristofferson’s where they sit together and sing songs. It is in these moments where he reveals himself. The conviction in his voice and emotion in that recognizable face is something to behold.
The fact that this iconic actor is in the twilight of his life makes every song he sings quite poignant and I was taken by surprise at how moving the portrait of Henry Dean Stanton is. I do know more about the man (and the myth?), but I’m sure there is a whole bunch more underneath it all. Part of me is glad, however, that some of the nuggets of the man remained unmined because his air of mystery is part of what makes him such an interesting onscreen performer.