by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent
Harry Dean Stanton, who died Friday, Sept. 15 at age 91, was in the first movie I ever covered as a film reviewer. On Monday, Feb. 2, 1985, the New Mexico Daily Lobo in Albuquerque published a halting, lukewarm review of Wim Wenders’ PARIS, TEXAS. It was a college try at doing this sort of thing, but years later, what strikes me about Harry Dean Stanton is that a lot of us lived the quirky way he did on screen.
Cult of Harry
We were all Paris, Texans, in the Wenders sense. Believing in that crazy desert lost-horizon magic of America, but also in the art-for-non-commercial-art sense. Outsider art, the Stanton way.
Harry was our withered icon of indifference to big paychecks and brand names. We were just being our creative selves in whatever rendition of freelance “cool” he represented, to hell with healthcare.
Harry Dean Stanton went from regular Joe in TV series “Gunsmoke” to sobbing hitchhiker in the rain in seminal film TWO-LANE BLACKTOP.
Who makes that leap?
Then to ALIEN’s hesitating Everyman, or for many that guy in REPO MAN. To each audience member, he laid down private memories in whatever movies defined him for them.
No matter how long his resume, Stanton was still that off-beat, unbroken, mysterious wise guy, in the wisdom sense, smirking under there somewhere, but also sincere. He invited you to break free with him, maybe.
Tough to define Harry, he was almost a celluloid mood swing.
Harry Dean Stanton’s last movie is called LUCKY, to be released by Magnolia Pictures two weeks after his death, on Sept. 29.
He didn’t plan it this way, but what a great title, and way to go out, in the opening light and starring credits of a new film.
My own personal way to say goodbye to him, in some kind of circular celebration from first review to last review of his work, is to quote Giacomo Puccini’s entire “Vissi d’arte” translated from the Italian aria in “Tosca.”
Harry Dean Stanton would have dug that.
Hold that operatic thought though, as it’s a style in almost all his film work.
The MISSOURI BREAKS actor wasn’t just a dramatic actor or a comedic actor, he was his own American cinematic opera icon for the ages.
He was in movies as diverse as COOL HAND LUKE, PRETTY IN PINK, GODFATHER II, ALPHA DOG, LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, GREEN MILE, just look at all his credits.
Even in new movie, LUCKY, he plays a nonagenarian Atheist full of aphorisms worthy of a Buddhist or a retired Rodeo clown.
Listen to the official description: “LUCKY follows the spiritual journey of a 90-year-old atheist and the quirky characters that inhabit his off the map desert town. Having out lived and out smoked all of his contemporaries, the fiercely independent Lucky finds himself at the precipice of life, thrust into a journey of self exploration, leading towards that which is so often unattainable: enlightenment. Acclaimed character actor John Carroll Lynch’s directorial debut, “Lucky”, is at once a love letter to the life and career of Harry Dean Stanton as well as a meditation on mortality, loneliness, spirituality, and human connection.”
Kind of over-the-top, but not topping this 91-year-old’s brilliant career and deft hand at leading us into self-reflection as we stared into the world of Harry Dean Stanton for years on screen.
So, it’s only fitting to give him the last round-up, picking the Top Three Obits so far… Why not?
Top Three Obits
Not one writer is enough to really sum up the wild, wide-ranging hot-foot career through film of this actor, who, although born in 1926, gave a Harry Dean Stanton stamp to my generation of writers and film critics, not just what we wrote, but how we lived. So say an aria for Stanton…
Ad Astra, Harry Dean Stanton, But First Look at His New Movie…
Magnolia Pictures will release LUCKY on Sept. 29, just two weeks after star Harry Dean Stanton went to The Big Adios, signing off the silver screen at ninety-one.
Directed by John Carroll Lynch. Written by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, and stars Harry Dean Stanton, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr, Tom Skerritt, Barry Shabaka Henley, James Darren, Beth Grant, Yvonne Huff Lee, Hugo Armstrong and David Lynch.
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