On the Velvet Trail: Harry Dean Stanton Fest Five
by Atanas Golev
What makes Harry Dean Stanton so cool? According to Velveteria's Carl Baldwin, it's his realness. He's real. And he's cool. He's real cool.
"He is cool like my Clown painting with the cigar that is on our card," Baldwin says. "It is every man world weary slogging through life trying to survive the day somehow maintaining a little dignity in the cruel world, not unlike Harry Dean Stanton."
Velveteria will hang an exhibit of Harry Dean Stanton related work at the Kentucky Theatre beginning May 1 through the end of the month, when the fifth annual Harry Dean Stanton Fest begins. It will include tributes to a number of the Harry Dean Stanton and Monte Hellman films. Legendary director Hellman is a guest at this year’s Festival.
Stanton’s career has spanned over sixty years. He's been in everything. His credits include Cool Hand Luke, The Godfather Part II, Alien, Dillinger, Escape from New York, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Green Mile, and over 200 other films, even The Avengers and recent underground hit Seven Psychopaths. Harry Dean is nationally recognized and thoroughly acclaimed (Roger Ebert once said that "no movie featuring Harry Dean Stanton in a supporting role can be altogether bad.") Harry was even the Best Man at Jack Nicholson's wedding.
He's also a Kentucky native.
Harry Dean Stanton was born in Irvine, Kentucky. He attended Lafayette High School and then UK, where he studied journalism and performed at the Guignol Theatre under the direction of Wallace Briggs.
Stanton’'s first role on screen was in Tomahawk Trail (1957). He then appeared regularly in roles as a cowboy or soldier throughout the 60s and 70s (which was appropriate: he actually served in the US Navy during World War II.)
His popularity grew with roles showcasing his no nonsense cool demeanor in movies like Cool Hand Luke (1967), Dillinger (1973), and The Godfather: Part II (1974).
In 1984 he made another breakthrough in a career filled with breakthroughs when he was cast as the protagonist of Wim Wender's film Paris, Texas.
"Paris, Texas is not only my favorite HDS movie, it's one of my all-time favorites—period," says Harry Dean Stanton Fest producer Lucy Jones. "I don't think there's a more perfect film about love."
Lucy Jones was the driving force behind the first Harry Dean Stanton Fest.
"When I was a kid, I had an almost unhealthy obsession with James Dean. They hold an annual festival for him in his hometown of Fairmount, Indiana and I used various schemes to convince my parents to take me there. I finally succeeded at the age of 12 and was absolutely blown away by the experience. It was incredible to see so many people from so many places united in their love of film. When I discovered that Harry Dean Stanton was a native Kentuckian, I think the idea formed somewhat immediately that we could do something similar in his honor. I mean, if James Dean can have a festival then why not Harry Dean?"
The first year wasn't easy to plan.
"I figured that Step 1 was finding someone who knew Harry Dean Stanton. I wasn’t sure exactly how it was going to come together, but I thought everything would follow from there. My boyfriend at the time said 'Have you asked Tom Thurman? Tom Thurman knows everyone.' While I have since found that to be true, the one person in the world who Tom Thurman didn’t know at that time was me. So I cold called him. When I asked if he knew Harry Dean Stanton, I think he thought I was kidding. As it turned out, he had been interviewing Harry Dean for almost 20 years and had just completed a documentary on him."
Thurman's documentary, Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland, was about to air on KET at the time. Jones asked Thurman if he'd make the premiere part of the festival, and he graciously agreed. The wheels of fate had been set in motion.
From there, Jones needed to invite one of Stanton’s co-stars so that there would be a guest speaker at the event. Without money or connections, it was tricky. Jones needed someone who'd be willing to make the trip to Lexington, but who wouldn't charge an exorbitant fee.
"Suddenly it struck me: what was the young man who played Harry Dean’s son in Paris, Texas doing now? He must have the BEST stories! Not only was he in Harry Dean’s most important film, but he starred with Harry in two other projects at a very young age. He practically grew up with Harry Dean!"
So how did Jones find him? Lady luck had a hand in this as well.
"I decided to go where you go when you’re looking for anyone: Facebook. I entered the name ‘Hunter Carson’ and a seemingly endless parade of Hunter Carsons popped up. There was only one with whom I had mutual friends. I thought to myself, ‘what are the odds of me clicking on this Hunter Carson and it being THE Hunter Carson?’ And, sure enough, it was! My best friend from high school married his roommate from college."
The Harry Dean Stanton Fest has had some famous guest stars throughout its existence. In 2011, it was Hunter Carson. In May 2013, the festival included a storied appearance by Crispin Glover. This year, the fifth annual Harry Dean Stanton Fest features legendary director Monte Hellman, Boston Globe critic and Emerson College professor Michael Blowen, and an exhibition by renowned velvet art museum Velveteria.
Velveteria is a world famous velvet art museum that has been celebrating the medium for the last 10 years. They began their collection in Portland but have since moved to downtown Los Angeles.
Jones made her first Velveteria pilgrimage this past summer.
“It was the most delightful museum experience I have ever had. Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin are the proprietors and their love for velvet art is contagious."
When Jones complimented Anderson and Baldwin on their velvet Warren Oates, it set into motion a serious film geek-out that ultimately led to a discussion of the festival. They turned out to be just as excited about HDS Fest as Jones was about Velveteria.
"It was a definite meeting of kindred spirits."
Velveteria's Carl Baldwin agrees.
"One afternoon, two women walked into Velveteria, I asked where you from? One said I'm from LA and she's from Kentucky, the Bluegrass State, I said I bet you're a blueblood from the Bluegrass state. Little did I know."
When Jones told Baldwin about the festival, he realized that he was just looking at pictures of Stanton for a velvet painting the previous day, and that he had seen the HDS Fest poster when he was searching for images of Harry. Once again, Baldwin remembers, fate had struck.
"Now Lucy walks in serendipity kismet. Ain't no coincidence on the velvet trail."
The opportunity to produce art that would pay tribute to Stanton, Hellman, and Warren Oates at the same time was too much for Velveteria to resist. There was also another uncanny coincidence.
"I offered to get some velvet Masterpieces done for the festival. I thought it was God’s unseen hand guiding us along the velvet trail to new adventures. Irvine, Kentucky is the birthplace of Ralph Burke Tyree, one of the immortals in Velvet art. Born 1921 in KY. Is that coincidence or fate, better not mess with that me thinks. So I got these Velvet painters in TJ reviving the Black velvet to a New Renaissance in the 21st Century. We are all together the Medicis of New California bringing back the Greatest Art in the Cosmos."
Velveteria's goal is to make Kentucky the Blue Velvet state.
The art will include tributes to a number of the Harry Dean/Monte Hellman films, as well as solo paintings of Harry and Monte. Velveteria commissioned, framed, and shipped all of the paintings themselves.
"It is an incredible act of generosity," Jones says.
But back to Harry Dean.
"Repo Man stood out whenever he was on screen,” says Baldwin. “It's an aura of familiarity and danger, lots of sensitivity but not maudlin contrive. He is real."
Jones agrees, "Repo Man still appeals to the 15-year-old punk rocker in me who first saw it at a midnight screening at the Kentucky Theatre. I’ve probably watched that film more times than any other. When I see it with a crowd I have to make a conscious effort to not recite every line. I take no such pains when I watch it privately."
For Baldwin, Stanton is one of the few people left to stop the US from its slide into cultural deprivation and fakeness.
“I met a guy in Palm Springs who said my friend Julie runs the Tucson Museum of Art. She would love you guys. We sent her our book and our media/press stuff. She said I will run this by my curatorial committee to see if this has any cultural significance or value. OK... a week later Julie Sasse calls Caren: 'What would you like me to do with your book. Read It? Our Curatorial Committee has determined that there is no cultural value of significance to any of this.' This is the fight. The pompous art world that has its head up in the air."
“Soon we will all be homogenized into one long strip mall,” Baldwin laments.
"Another thing about Harry: He is real looks like a regular guy,” Baldwin says. “Now they all look the same. You could put a dress on Brad Pitt and you have Jennifer Aniston. They all go to the same plastic surgeons. The pinched nose blonds, the duck lipped, frozen botox deer in the headlights ‘help! my surgeon goosed me’ Nancy Pelosi look. I don't think Harry would benefit from any of that."
Making an Appearance
When Harry Dean was invited to the first Harry Dean Stanton Fest in 2011, he replied in perfect Harry Dean fashion.
"The first year I wrote him a letter and asked if he would like to join us," Jones says. "I included my phone number and was utterly delighted when he called me a week or so later. At that time he said 'honey, tell ‘em Harry Dean is 84 and he’s wore out.' ”
Jones sent him a photo book of that year's festival and a note letting him know how much everyone had enjoyed the films. The following year, Jones sent a letter telling him that, while he was always invited, they completely understood if he didn’t feel up for the trek. She asked if, instead, they could film him in Los Angeles and present the footage at the festival. He graciously agreed and that was the first time that she got to meet him.
After that, Jones let Stanton know that, while she would always love to have him at the festival, it was a long trip and there were no expectations.
"To be honest, I never thought he would come and, while it would have been incredible to have him here, I was ok with that. I saw it as something he could enjoy from afar. It wasn’t until Michelle Phillips accepted our invitation to be a guest at the fourth festival (in 2014) that everything changed. Michelle called him and said (in her delightfully forthright fashion) ‘Harry, get your ass on a plane.’ And that was that! It was the sort of request/command that could only be made after four decades of friendship."
Jones is discreet about any wild behind-the-scenes festival stories, though. "There’s one or two, but I don’t think I’m at liberty to share them. The mark of a good host is the ability to maintain discretion!"
A Community Event
The first HDS Fest was financed out of Jones's own pocket.
“I had a number in my head of what I was willing to lose and the ultimate cost wound up being exactly that.”
The second year the cost was half. The third year, expenses were incredibly low and the festival wound up breaking even, thanks to a wonderfully generous t-shirt sponsor. The fourth year, however, the festival’s expenses skyrocketed, largely because of the price of guest airfare. An Indiegogo campaign was launched to cover that and the organizers were heartened by the outpouring of community support, which included a fundraiser.
This year, the cost is high again, but the community is making it work, says Jones.
“This year we are dealing with high airfare in addition to new costs associated with our first ever drive-in event. We have reached out to some of the sponsors who assisted us last year and, again, have been so buoyed by their incredible support. We are fortunate to live in a town where local businesses care so much about community and the arts.”
The 5th Annual Harry Dean Stanton Fest is May 29-31. It’ll be the coolest one yet. Not as cool as Harry Dean Stanton himself, of course, but still pretty cool.This article appears on pages 6-7 of the May 2015 print issue of Ace.For more Lexington, Kentucky arts, food, culture, and entertainment news, click here to subscribe to the Ace digital e-dition, emailed to your inbox every Thursday morning.