Shepard & Dark

Shepard & Dark

2013, NR, 92 min. Directed by Treva Wurmfeld.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 25, 2013

There’s much to savor in Wurmfeld’s insightful and oft-melancholy film about two old friends who’ve maintained said friendship since 1963. That one-half of the pair is playwright-actor-director Sam Shepard while the other, Johnny Dark, is a “hermetic” (in Shepard’s words), New Mexico-based writer, canine enthusiast, and self-archivist currently holding down a job at a Mexican-food deli, merely makes this improbably charming friendship all the more revelatory. It’s a tone poem of a documentary, really, as rich, satisfying, and full of life and death as one of Shepard’s great plays.

Older now, and possibly wiser, Mr. Shepard and Mr. Dark reunite after the former offers to sell his voluminous correspondence to Texas State University, with an eye toward collaborating with his old friend on a book (to be published by UT Press) of reminiscences, photos, and, of course, the pair’s magnificent sprawling letters. (“The Writer’s Road” is an exhibition drawn from those papers that’s currently on display at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State.) Ream upon ream are eventually compiled, with both men reading selected passages and commenting on how unlikely and random it was that they came to be the best of friends in the first place. (Dark caught one of Shepard’s early efforts off-Broadway, spotted him at a deli the next day, and introduced himself. And that, as they say, was that.)

Cannily edited by Austinite Sandra Adair with a spare, lovely score by yet another film-and-music fixture, Graham Reynolds, Shepard & Dark balances near-perfectly on the fine line between familial good will and emotional pathos.

There’s so much good will between the peripatetic playwright and the homebody writer that you could almost think of Wurmfeld’s low-key documentary as a platonic love story. Troubles come and go – Shepard abandons his wife and son for Jessica Lange, then he and Lange split 23 years on, freeing him to begin work on the book with Dark. Dark, too, has more than his share of burdens when his beloved wife Scarlett suffers a brain aneurysm and the whole mixed clan unites to care for the ailing spouse. “I’ve always been an enemy of sentimentality,” Shepard says at one point, but this documentary belies that notion. Craggy but still gruff and chock-full of wry wit, Shepard at times seems to want to trade places with his amiable, pot-smoking pal. There’s tension as the two hole up in Santa Fe to work on the book, but the bottom-line feeling is of two old friends, now two old men, who have found their place in each other’s complicated lives.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Films
Aging action-hero supergroup franchise reconvenes for another outing

Sept. 22, 2023

Dumb Money
The GameStop short squeeze is a meme-splattered discount The Big Short

Alejandra Martinez, Sept. 22, 2023

More by Marc Savlov
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince

Aug. 7, 2022

Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone
Texas-made luchadores-meets-wire fu playful adventure

April 29, 2022


Shepard & Dark, Treva Wurmfeld

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle