Shepard & Dark – Movie Review
By Anne Brodie Mar 14, 2013, 14:52 GMT
Sam Shepard wrote 30 produced plays by the time he was 30 and was a high profile member of New York’s thriving alternative arts scene. He dated Patti Smith and knew well the “in” personalities, Beat poets, Bob Dylan and the Warhol crowd. In 1963, he met Johnny Dark, a wisecracking New Jersey extrovert who was his polar opposite in personality and tastes. But somehow they “fit” and became fast friends.
When their lives took them in different directions, they corresponded, as it turned out, for more than 40 years. They found despite their differences they found support, companionship and shared history. At one point they were both in California. Dark had moved in with a woman with two daughters.
Shepard wound up marrying one of them, actress O-Lan Jones (waitress in Seinfeld’s Bubble Boy episode). They had a boy named Jesse and the comfortable mixed full house period went on for about fifteen years. And then while Dark was tending to his wife’s battle with brain cancer, Shepard up and left them all for Jessica Lange.
The men corresponded regularly helping each other through their problems, inspirations and life changes. They rarely saw each other but maintained an intimate relationship through boxes and boxes of letters and photographs. But Shepard’s acting work was drying up and he needed money so he decided to sell their personal archive, with Dark’s permission. They would write a book of their correspondence, and then sell the collection.
They gathered up their papers and met at a think tank where Shepard works, and began the arduous task of organizing the letters and putting them into publishable form. It was during one long night that things started to fall apart between them.
Wurmfeld’s thoughtful and provocative documentary illustrates the problems of their friendship and personalities, as affected by time and age. We see the wunderkind in new ways which not only explain why he is apparently an unhappy man, but how he nurtures his art. Dark explains his side of things and his growing discomfort being the “sidekick to a famous person” in a vivid and clear eyed manner.
The way the mood changes over the course of two hours is just breathtaking. Shepard & Dark is a deeply engaging experience that feels like a living two man play. And it illustrates that our idols have feet of clay and worse than that, have no money! From love to loneliness, it reminds us that the ideal life we imagine takes work and the willingness to bend.
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Opens March 8
Directed by Treva Wurmfeld
Starring Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark