New KET documentary honors a legend and kicks off a film festival
By Lucy Jones
Showing people a picture of Harry Dean Stanton is like presenting them with a cinematic Rorschach test. If you ask them who he is, the answer says as much about them as it does about him. “That’s the dad from Pretty in Pink.” “That’s the dude from Repo Man!” “That’s Brett from Alien.” Or, “that’s the guy from Red Dawn—‘Avveeeenge Meeeee!’” Based on the reply, you can gauge everything from how old a person is to which side of the cafeteria he/she probably sat on in high school.
In his new documentary for KET, Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland, Lexington based filmmaker Tom Thurman wants to add another credit to Stanton’s long list: musician. While many of us know Harry Dean Stanton’s face from the 175 film and television credits that he boasts on IMDB, not as many are aware of his musical career. We’ve seen glimpses of him singing and playing guitar in films such as Cool Hand Luke and the music documentary Dig! (side note: how badass is then septuagenarian Stanton that he’s randomly hanging out at the Brian Jonestown Massacre house party as the camera casually strolls from room to room?), but no film has explored his musical career in depth. Not until now.
As it turns out, music was actually 84-year-old Kentucky native Stanton’s first love. As Thurman explains, “he’s been playing music longer than he’s been acting, and he’s been acting a long time.” Perhaps not surprisingly, Stanton’s voice sounds about the way his face looks—soulful, earnest, and just a little bit sad. Crossing Mulholland Associate Producer Sara O’Keefe had the opportunity to sit in on a musical session during the course of filming, and states “when you see Harry sing, you can tell it is coming from a very special place in his heart. His voice is honest and full of emotion.”
Indeed, some of the most touching moments of the documentary involve Thurman taking his cameras into Stanton’s home and filming a series of songs performed by Stanton alongside actress/singer Michelle Phillips. “Anyone with a Netflix account can see a Harry Dean Stanton movie,” says Thurman. “But how many people get invited to a private concert within his living room?” This is the access that Crossing Mulholland provides, and the experience is not to be missed.
An equally emotional moment of the film comes in the form of a 2003 duet of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” between Stanton and longtime friend and co-star (and the narrator of Crossing Mulholland) Kris Kristofferson. Thurman had filmed the two men as part of a 2004 documentary on Sam Peckinpah. In fact, all of the early interviews of Stanton that appear in Crossing Mulholland were originally filmed in support of other projects. Thurman began interviewing Stanton in 1992 for his documentary on Warren Oates. Over the years, he accumulated a good amount of footage as Stanton weighed in on everyone from Ben Johnson to Hunter S. Thompson. It wasn’t until early summer of last year that Thurman, with the support of KET, decided to embark on a project centered on Stanton himself.
Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland is the latest installment in KET’s Kentucky Muse programming series. Kentucky Muse was begun in 2008 as a means to, as KET Producer Teresa Day explains, “reflect the diversity of creativity of Kentucky and Kentuckians in a non-formulaic way.” This is the fourth season of the series which has profiled a wide range of Kentucky artists, musicians, and writers.
Thurman’s idea to do a documentary on Stanton was a perfect fit for the series. As Day explains, “Harry Dean is an amazing actor with an incredible body of work–anyone who’s been paying any attention to American film and TV since the ’60s knows his face, but many may not know that he was born in West Irvine and went to UK. So even though he’s been away from Kentucky for a long time, his story and his work have Kentucky roots.” Thurman concurs, “when you look at that face you know you are looking at someone from the area. He wears it and he wears it well.”
A significant portion of Crossing Mulholland is devoted to exploring Stanton as a specifically Southern actor. Thurman was able to procure a number of photos from Stanton’s West Irvine childhood, as well as images from his years at Lafayette and the University of Kentucky. Via a series of interviews, cousins tell tales of hijinks with names that any Lexington viewer would recognize.
It is because of this local connection that the Lexington Film League has decided to launch a film festival in Stanton’s honor. Entitled (simply enough) Harry Dean Stanton Fest, the festival will run from Wednesday, February 2 until Friday, February 4, 2011. The festival will kick off with the world premiere of Thurman’s documentary. The Lexington Film League and KET are cohosting the event with the generous sponsorship of the Kentucky Theatre. The evening will begin with a reception at 6:30, and the screening of Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland will begin at 7. Following the film, Tom Thurman will conduct a Q&A session that will be opened to the audience. This is a free event, and concessions will be provided.
The second day of the festival will feature a rare screening of the Wim Wenders classic Paris, Texas. Mr. Stanton’s co-star in the film, Hunter Carson, will be on hand to answer questions following the film. The screening starts at 7 P.M. and, like the other festival screenings, will be held at the Kentucky Theatre. The event costs $10, and all proceeds will benefit the Lexington Film League in order to support future screenings.
The closing day of the festival will feature a 1:30 P.M. matinee of Cool Hand Luke and a midnight screening of the 1984 punk classic Repo Man. Both screenings are $5.
For more information on Harry Dean Stanton Fest, please visit: http://www.lexingtonfilmleague.org/ For more information on the Kentucky Muse Series, including ultimate KET air dates for Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland, please visit http://www.ket.org/muse/.