• Shepard and Dark (2012) - Treva Wurmfeld

    Johnny Dark met Sam Shepard in Greenwich Village in the early ‘60s, after one of Shepard’s plays (in which, according to Dark, he filled the small theater with smoke—something that current safety codes would never, ever allow, even for art). Dark was drawn in by the play’s content and found a welcoming friendship with Shepard, who was years away from becoming the angry darling of the theatrical world (much less the Academy Award-nominated star of Terrence Mallick’s DAYS OF HEAVEN). The two began a friendship primarily based on letter-writing; this epistolary relationship lasted, by their own estimation, for “nearly 50 years.” (Drew Taylor, Indiewire, September 28, 2013)

    In Deming, N.M., a silver-haired man touch-types at the keyboard of a far-from-new desktop, chuckling to himself between bong hits, flanked by bookshelves bearing volumes by Tolstoy and Gurdjieff. Meanwhile, on a ranch somewhere around Los Angeles, another fellow pecks at a portable typewriter, transcribing densely lettered blocks of prose from a worn Moleskine notebook. That second guy, weathered and handsome, will look familiar. He is Sam Shepard, one of the best-known living playwrights and also a movie actor of longstanding renown. Johnny Dark, his friend and correspondent of about 50 years and his on-screen conversation partner, is a different story. It would be wrong to say that Mr. Dark never achieved fame, because he makes it very clear that he never sought it. (A.O. Scott, The New York Times, September 24, 2013)

    Evidently prompted by a book project compiling letters the two wrote each other through the years, the film benefits greatly from Dark’s near-obsessive archival tendencies … Since the two lived communally for years — Dark’s wife was Shepard’s first wife’s mother, and the two couples lived together with Shepard’s son — the photographic record is especially rich … The home material affords a sideways view of Shepard’s career on stage and screen, but more attention is paid to the personal demons that informed his writing — the alcoholic, critical father; the broken relationships with women; the tendency toward what Shepard describes as “the blues” … Their letters … are full of thoughtful reflections on life and how to live it; both men express astonishment that a seemingly unlikely friendship could be so nourishing … (John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter, November 20, 2012)

    Watching the interplay, the men seem like two curmudgeonly sides of the same coin. Shepard keeps an ancient typewriter close. Dark works on an ’80s-era computer that looks like a museum piece … There are sticking points on what to include and what time to eat dinner … For all the similarities in their thinking — which created the initial bond — they have different charms, though both work well on screen … The film takes us inside Dark’s quiet, orderly life, with his dogs and his kindness equally well known around town. A steady supply of weed takes the edge off any difficulties … Shepard is all edges, talking of the mistakes he’s repeated, the rootlessness he often feels, plucking on his guitar late into the night. (Betsy Sharkey, The LA Times, October 10, 2013)

     

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