SHEPARD & DARK (Treva Wurmfeld). 89 minutes. Opens Friday (March 8) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNNN
You probably know Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and actor who wrote Buried Child and played Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff. You're far less likely to have heard of his dear friend Johnny Dark, who works at a deli counter in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Shepard and Dark have known each other for half a century; they met as young men in Greenwich Village in 1963, became fast friends and maintained their connection through some very complicated times.
That connection is the subject of Shepard & Dark, a documentary by Treva Wurmfeld that follows the two over a year or so as they prepare to deliver decades of their correspondence to the archivists at Texas State University.
There are hundreds of letters and plenty of history to be sorted, not all of it pleasant: Shepard's first wife was Dark's step-daughter, and that marriage did not end well, leaving Dark picking up pieces on both sides.
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.
You'd want to hang around with them, too.