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The Boston Globe

Movies

Movie Review

‘Harry Dean Stanton’ is an actor with staying power

Pity the poor filmmaker who decides to make a documentary about Harry Dean Stanton, the laconic-iconic character actor who, now in his mid-80s, has achieved a kind of ornery Zen grace. Some subjects resist knowing and Stanton is a particularly passive-aggressive example. Director Sophie Huber, an earnest Swede making her feature debut with “Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction,” will ask how the actor’s Kentucky family responded to his fame, and he’ll say, “Oh, yeah, they was all impressed . . .” and then let the matter lie. “How would you describe yourself?” Huber asks. Stanton stares the camera down and mutters, “There’s nothing. There is no self.”

Potted Buddhism from a burnt-out ’60s survivor living up in the Hollywood Hills? Or the artful dodge of a wayward talent — one of the most strikingly minimalist actors in movies — who learned long ago that questions are more interesting than answers? Faced with a subject who’s not so much resistant as beyond her reach, Huber does the sensible thing: She goes to the clips, talks to Stanton’s creative accomplices, and just lets the man sing. It feels like a good third of “Partly Fiction” is taken up with black-and-white close-ups of the weathered Stanton working his way through chestnuts like “Blue Bayou,” “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” the latter intercut with his performance of the song in the 1967 Paul Newman classic, “Cool Hand Luke.”

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