The first time I photographed Harry Dean Stanton, I was hanging out of a helicopter, Nikons around my neck, as he emerged from the beautiful, forbidding rock formations known as The Devil’s Graveyard, near Terlingua, TX.
It was September 1983, and the great cinematographer, Robby Müller, was hanging out of the heliocopter’s other side, shooting what would become the opening images of Wim Wenders’ “Paris, Texas.” I had never worked on a movie before but while photographing Wim in Salzburg in July 1982, I had somehow (miraculously) talked my way into the job of stills/specials photographer. So when I was told I could (must?) shoot from the helicopter with Robbie, I didn’t think it was the appropriate time to discuss my fear of flying and heights. And after my thrilling baptism by air, doing my new job for the rest of the 11-week shoot rarely seemed fearsome.
I photographed Harry Dean again yesterday (thank you, Julia, for making it happen and offering such a gorgeous location). It was a wonderful shoot and I was so happy to see Harry again. He was just the way I remembered him–amazing face, unique voice, friendly and yet, more than a bit enigmatic. And he wore a red shirt, with two pockets, not dissimilar to the one he wore in many important scenes in “Paris, Texas.”
Sophie Huber, director of the new documentary, “Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction,” understood that she’d only be able to penetrate her subject’s mystery just so far and in conversations with the unparalleled character actor–about his life, women he might have married and his work, filmed at his house, his favorite bar and driving around Los Angels at night–much is revealed but more is tantalizingly way off-screen. Interviews with friends and colleagues (Wim, David Lynch, Sam Shepard, Kris Kristofferson and Debbie Harry) and clips from many of his more than 250 film add significantly to the portrait. But it was Huber’s great instincts to shoot and use a lot of footage of Harry singing folk songs, accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica (his talent as a musician is not well-known) and it’s those segments that bring the viewer closest to Harry Dean.
“Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction” opens today in New York at Village East Cinema and will open in Los Angeles at the Landmark Nuart on Friday, September 13. Harry Dean will be in attendance for a Q&A after the 7:30 screening and will introduce at 9:30 pm. The film will expand to select cities in October and November.