Starring: Sam Shepard, Johnny Dark
Directed by: Treva Wurmfeld
Synopsis: Shepard & Dark is the remarkable story of a friendship in letters.
I have to admit that a film about two people writing letters to each other doesn’t sound like the most interesting premise. But there is something about Sam Shepard that intrigues me so I thought I might find out more about him by watching this documentary. I’m not sure I learned too much about the man himself, but his pal Johnny Dark was a likeable screen presence.
The two friends first met back in the sixties and instantly formed a friendship. They began writing letters to each other, and Johnny being an avid archiver started collecting them in files. Despite Shepard’s successes as a playwright and later as an actor, they continued to stay in touch and because of this vast collection of correspondence, they are getting together to make a book.
The bulk of the story centres on a strange familial set up. Dark invited Shepard round to his girlfriends place one night. The girlfriend was older and had two daughters. As Dark puts it “I ended up marrying my girlfriend and Sam ended up marrying one of her daughters”! They all live together in the same house with Shepard’s son Jesse. There is lots of archive home movies, which are interwoven with modern day footage of Shepard and Dark trying to sort through the thousands of letters whilst reminiscing about the past.
It’s really quite sweet to see the two’s clear affection for each other, never more so than when Johnny’s wife suffers a brain tumour rendering her childlike. Shepard and the rest of the family tend to her every need in trying to nurse her back to health.
Then things take a turn as we find out that Shepard then leaves everything behind to go off with Jessica Lange. This juxtaposes with the modern day relationship between the two, which hits a crossroads at a certain point and Shepard quits the project. He seems to be a very solitary guy and gives no real reason to his old friend why he left.
It was quite sad that the film didn’t really resolve with their friendship in tact, because to see them laughing about the old days, and trying to get their heads around memory sticks and flat screen TV’s was quite touching. By the end Shepard comes across as a complex enigma and a loner who ca be a bit of a grouch, whereas Dark comes across as a sweet and entertaining guy who seems totally confused by modern life.
I hope they’ve made friends again…