Adrian Sibley’s documentary now gets a touring theatrical release in the UK and the Republic of Ireland: a revised and recut version differing from the original version shown at the Venice film festival, about which I had some reservations.
Revisiting this film is in fact no great hardship for me: it was a pleasure to be reminded of Harris’s great performances in movies such as This Sporting Life and The Field, and his extraordinary (and extraordinarily successful) detour into chanson-style pop singing in the late 60s. But it is interesting that this new cut of the film gives a much fuller account of Harris’s ferocious consumption of cocaine, which I thought the film originally glossed over in favour of a more sentimentally traditional booze narrative when it came to discussing that picturesque concept of “hellraising” – although in both versions I liked Harris’s contemptuous refusal to be cowed or psychoanalysed: he indulged because he loved it.
This documentary is better for this new emphasis and it gives a fuller context for the complex emotions now being expressed by his grownup sons, the boys for whom Richard had a passionate and poignant love, but from whom he was so often estranged by divorce and by his Hollywood career. Actor Stephen Rea gives a very interesting and alarming account of how dangerous and violent Harris’s acting could be (especially, perhaps, when he wanted to put a younger guy in his place) and director Jim Sheridan is frank and forthright about how difficult the great man could be.
Watching this documentary for a second time reminded me of my feelings when I saw him in 1990 playing the lead in Pirandello’s Henry IV on the London West End stage, experiencing at first-hand that charisma, that lion-in-winter defiance.