USA – 2012 – 89 MIN – COLOUR - FEATURE - IN ENGLISH
A FILM BY TREVA WURMFELD
Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark met in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s and, despite leading very different lives, remained close friends ever since. Shepard became a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright (Buried Child) and an Academy Award-nominated actor (The Right Stuff), while Dark was a homebody with a penchant for letter writing, photography, and supporting himself with odd jobs from dog-catcher to deli worker. Through the decades, they stayed bonded by family ties. Dark married an older woman named Scarlett and Shepard married her daughter. For years, the two couples lived together, until Shepard broke away for a relationship with Jessica Lange in 1983 leaving Johnny to help father his first son. Nevertheless, he and Dark continued writing to each other, amassing hundreds of letters.
Director Treva Wurmfeld began filming the two friends in 2010 during a period of transition and reflection for Shepard. At the time, Shepard had quietly ended his relationship with Lange and accepted a proposal to publish his correspondence with Dark. The task required them to meet and sift through years of their shared history, stirring memories both good and bad. Wurmfeld observes the two men, separately and together, over a period of 18 months and captures an indelible portrait of a complex friendship. On the surface, they are like jovial siblings, having laughs at each other’s expense, but as they trace back four decades of experience, they tap into deeper subjects of love, duty, fatherhood, illness, grief, passion, money, art, freedom and isolation.
Shepard has an avowed aversion to writing a memoir and prefers letting his work speak for itself, however, with rare intimacy and access to a rich archive of photographs and old family movies, Wurmfeld manages to unveil the past in a way that both speaks to his work as well as his current state of mind. Shepard has always had an arresting screen presence from his first appearance in Days of Heaven to his latest work in Mud. He’s equally compelling in the role of himself and well-matched playing opposite the screen debut of Johnny Dark.
"a deeply engaging experience that feels like a living two man play"
- MONSTERS AND CRITICS
NNNN! "It’s a rare friendship that can survive something like that, but of course that’s why Wurmfeld is recording it, and why we’re watching. She’s also smart enough to give her subjects equal standing rather than frame them as a celebrity and his pal from the sticks."
- NOW MAGAZINE
"a fascinating journey, unfolding — just like real life — in ways that are honest and unexpected and not always pleasant. Shepard, for one, seems like a bit of an ass throughout, right up until the present."
- THE TORONTO STAR
"Wurmfeld’s quietly poignant film, which draws on Dark’s extensive photo and video archives, is fascinating on several levels. It provides a glimpse into a little-known part of Shepard’s life; it allows us to ponder the divergent paths of lifelong friends; and it also shines a deserving light on the engaging Dark, who in some ways has proved a better friend than Shepard deserved."
- THE GRID
"there’s a lot to be desired about the film."
- CRITICIZE THIS!
"Shepard & Dark can only be described as fascinating."
- TORONTO FILM SCENE
"Shepard would denote this as fate, whereas Dark would characterize Shepard's fatalistic perspective as a lazy justification of his flaws and past mistakes. Either way, the observation here is that everything ends."
"Treva Wurmfeld's doc-bio offers not just an intimate perspective on the playwright's biography but some touching reflections on the comforts and perils of long-term friendship."
- HOLLYWOOD REPORTER