Personal Tribute: Harry Dean Stanton

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Harry Dean Stanton was an actor of such marvellous raw authenticity and warm presence that to see him in a film was to wrap oneself in a blanket of reassurance. This rare quality was especially evident in his continued collaboration with David Lynch.

In Lynch’s 1990 film Wild At Heart, Stanton plays the morally upstanding private detective- Johnnie Farragut, who is tasked with finding and eventually bringing back the central couple.

Despite having a minimal role, Stanton’s performance in the picture represents a shining paragon of reason and virtue in a tale of passionate and twisted youthful love. Through a combination of natural and minimal gestures, Stanton creates a compelling and empathetic point of view character whose run-in with the sordid and colourful elements of the narrative illustrate its all too dangerous and vicious nature to the audience.

Earlier this year, Stanton reprised his role as Carl Rodd in Twin Peaks: The Return: turning the prickly glimpsed character in Fire Walk With Me to a kindly, aging neighborhood leader whose persistent generosity aligned with the enduringly sweet spirit of the show.

Elsewhere, Stanton demonstrated his deft comic timing as Brett in Alien. The character’s repeated single utterance of “right.” made him seem like a human parrot on the surface. However, there are pivotal moments where he appears to grasp and articulate his payment woes. Stanton convincingly portrayed these two aspects with a commendable ease and embodied the working class spirit of the picture with sobering clarity.

Stanton’s compelling silent work was on full display in John Carpenter’s 1981 picture- Escape from New York, where he played the memorably named Harold “Brain” Hellman. Even in his cameo appearance in The Avengers (2012), the late actor brought wry dignity and weight.

In many ways, the small appearance encapsulated his appeal as an actor. No matter how sizable the part, Harry Dean Stanton was always impactful and indelible. He was a character actor with clout.

RIP Harry Dean Stanton

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About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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