Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Shepard & Dark (2013) ***½

NR, 92 min.
Director: Treva Wurmfeld
Featuring: Johnny Dark, Sam Shepard

As a freshman theater major entering college, I really didn’t have a very broad knowledge of theater. Acting was the only thing I’d ever found any real passion for that I actually had any talent to do. Upon entering my first real theater environment, I was told by many that I reminded them of Sam Shepard.

I knew who Sam Shepard was because he played one of my father’s heroes, Chuck Yeager, in the film “The Right Stuff”, for which he was also nominated for an Academy Award. I didn’t know his plays, however, which is where he really excelled as an artist. I quickly consumed many of his plays, which tend toward dark and dysfunctional. I also looked up pictures of the man when he was also 19 years of age, and sure enough I looked very much like him. I don’t believe I’ve aged as well as he did.

The really interesting thing about this connection I seem to have with Shepard is that I discovered while watching the documentary “Shepard & Dark” that my personality was much closer to Shepard’s lifetime friend and fellow writer Johnny Dark. His laidback nature is much more suited to me. He doesn’t enjoy the spotlight as Shepard seems to. Of course, compared to most Hollywood actors I doubt Shepard is seen as one who actually enjoys the spotlight. Everything is relative.

This intimate documentary explores the strange relationship held between these two men throughout their adult lives. They met when Shepard was just a kid making a name for himself in the underground New York City theater scene. Dark introduced Shepard to his first wife, O-lan Jones, who happened to be the daughter of the woman who would become Dark’s wife. The family lived a strange mini-communal existence for 13 years, until Shepard met Jessica Lange. He had just ended a 25+ years relationship with Lange before the filming of this documentary began. I’m not convinced that Shepard was quite over it at the time.

The event that brings these men together for this doc is a proposed book presenting a collection of their letters to each other throughout the years. Dark is quite a recluse, while Shepard seems to be driving this publishing project. This is where the film’s tension comes in. The two are polar opposites of each other, but they have the familiarity of brothers. They can rub each other in that same abrasive way as brothers as well.

The tension leads to a rather inconclusive ending to the film, but its that exploration of their obvious loving relationship that is fascinating. I also very much enjoyed their insights into writing, what works for them each, what drives them and their two unique processes. As a writer, this is a highly engaging study of two very different artists. I would very much love to read that book of letters they were planning. Alas, they way they leave it; I doubt it will ever come to fruition.

No comments: