The title of Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, Sophie Huber's documentary which has its second Philadelphia Film Festival screening at noon on Sunday at the Ritz at the Bourse, is drawn from a song called "He's a Pilgrim."
Kris Kristofferson, who sings it in the movie, wrote it partly about Stanton. "He's a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he's stoned," the song goes. "He's a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction / Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home."
Huber's movie has plenty of music in it, with the now 87 year old charactor actor, whose long list of credits includes Paris, Texas, Alien, Repo Man, Wild at Heart, Cool Hand Luke, The Straight Story and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, singing several Mexican folk and blue mood country songs, plus "Danny Boy," as he sits in his Los Angeles living room.
That's a good thing, because Stanton is both a talented song interpreter who immerses himself in the music, and a singularly unrevealing interview subject. When director David Lynch, whose used him in six movies, asks 'How would you describe yourself?' and "How would you like to be remembered?," Stanton answers "As nothing, there is no self," and "It doesn't matter."
Nonetheless, Huber manages to expertly capture the Kentucky-born actor and good buddy of Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando, by letting Stanton muse about the impermanence of all things and having friends like Sam Shepard, Wim Wenders and Debbie Harry (and his perceptive assistant Logan Sparks) talk about him. Even better, the director simply lets ace cinematographer Seamus McGarvey's camera linger on its subject's deeply creviced but well preserved face. "He's one of those actors who knows his face is the story," Shepard says, and there it is, up on the screen in glorious black and white.
PFF screening info for Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction is here.