Chances are good that Harry Dean Stanton, the prolific character actor with the face of a backwoods prophet, will be the subject of a straightforward career-retrospective documentary someday. For now we have something that's more in tune with the man: Sophie Huber's lyrical and enigmatic portrait, "Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction."
At the film's heart is a fitful conversation that unfolds like a string of koans, epigrams, jokes and silences. And songs. A reluctant interviewee with no interest in biographical facts, Stanton would rather sing than yak.
The unrepentant loner says he's "not psychologically wired for institutions"; nonetheless, within the moviemaking system he's amassed 200-plus film credits and counting. There are appreciative insights from Sam Shepard and Wim Wenders, who together gave Stanton his first starring role, in "Paris, Texas," and Huber punctuates the impressionistic proceedings with film clips. But anyone seeking an artistic appraisal of the six-decade body of work will have to look elsewhere.
"Partly Fiction" is more about hanging with Stanton, now 87, whether he's throwing back a few at Dan Tana's or sharing a tune with Kris Kristofferson. A few juicy tidbits are dropped along the way, including one from Deborah Harry. At one point David Lynch, who has cast Stanton in half a dozen films, stops by for coffee and cigarettes, and draws out a few words about his childhood.
More potent than any narrated reminiscence are Stanton's soulful living-room renditions of traditional numbers and standards, among them "Blue Bayou" and "Danny Boy." The accomplished cinematographer Seamus McGarvey moves in close, and in that face, that voice, memory speaks with conviction.
"Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction"
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 17 minutes
Playing: Landmark's Nuart Theatre, West Los AngelesCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times