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Harry Dean Stanton: Wild at Heart

The late, incredibly great Harry Dean Stanton had a diverse career spanning 60-plus years during which he established himself as one of the most laconic and unique of American actors. This season celebrates his work.

Born in 1926 in Kentucky, he began in TV after leaving the U.S. Navy and an early stint at the Pasadena Playhouse. Initial roles included small parts in Gunsmoke and Rawhide. A steady career as a character actor of note, initially in Westerns such as Monte Hellman’s Ride the Whirlwind (with former housemate Jack Nicholson), soon followed. Cool Hand Luke bought him to wider attention – and showcased
his mellifluous singing voice – and there was a great run of 1970s classics including Two-Lane Blacktop, the notorious The Cockfighter, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, The Missouri Breaks and Alien.

At the turn of the 80s, Dean Stanton flickeringly combined leading man status with an ability to sniff out cult items. Key films from this period include Wim Wenders’ Sam Shepard scripted road movie Paris Texas (screened in Jan as part of our Wenders celebration); Escape From New York; Christine (again working with John Carpenter); the seminal Repo Man; John Huston’s late period masterpiece Wise Blood; and, somewhat against type, John Hughes’s Pretty in Pink.

After working with Martin Scorsese on The Last Temptation of Christ, Dean Stanton established an enduring relationship with David Lynch that has continued with the recent resurrection of Twin Peaks. Credit came to Dean Stanton relatively late in life (January 2017) but he rolled with the punches and continued to turn in varied and interesting work ranging from voice work, independent films and small but significant cameos in blockbuster features including The Avengers. Celebrated by Sophie Huber in the 2012 documentary Partly Fiction, Harry Dean Stanton is truly one of a kind. His passing on 15 Sep 2017 leaves a void that will be impossible to fill.