Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas
is a film of countless pleasures. Every moment generates a sense
that anything is possible - that feeling we all hope for from the
movies, but is so rarely delivered. From the wide open spaces
of the American Southwest to the Los Angeles suburbs at the foot of
the San Gabriel Mountains, the film tracks the physical and emotional
journey of a damaged man who struggles to put the pieces of his life
back in their proper place. In the lead role, Harry Dean Stanton
delivers a performance of unmitigated perfection - a weathered image
of a man who self-destructed but lived to tell about it. As Wenders
takes us through deserts, mountains, and cities, he shows us some of
the subtle ways in which the American landscape defines the character
and fate of American people.
A lone figure wanders across
a beautiful but desolate wasteland in South Texas. Out of water,
he stumbles into a tiny settlement not big enough to be a town -
and collapses. The doctor who revives him calls a number in the
man's pocket, belonging to Walter Henderson (Dean Stockwell).
Walt rushes from his home in LA to collect the man - his long-lost
brother Travis (Stanton). Travis doesn't talk to Walt until
they are well into their drive back to LA, and even then doesn't explain
his whereabouts for the four years he's been missing. All that time, he was presumed
dead by Walt, his wife Anne (Aurore Clement), and Travis's son Hunter
(Hunter Carson), who has lived with Walt and Anne since Travis's disappearance.
Back in LA, Travis struggles to make sense of his situation, and to
get to know his son, now nearly eight years old. Finally Travis
decides to track down Hunter's mother, Jane (Nastassja Kinski), and
takes his son on a road trip back to Texas to find her.
The screenplay, a delicate
work by L.M. Kit Carson and Sam Shepherd, provides a probing framework
for powerful performances and the striking photography by frequent Wenders
collaborator, Robby Müller. I think it's fair to say that Müller's
work on Paris, Texas not only influenced a generation of photographers,
but has trickled down to every facet of photographic media, including
music videos and fashion magazines. This is the look of the "modern"
American West, where rusted automobiles, dilapidated buildings, and
human beings themselves are dominated and reclaimed by the forces of
nature. The landscape, despite the best efforts of people to stake
their claim to it, always wins.
Travis Henderson, however,
is an exception. He has gone through hell. He surrendered
himself to the land, wandering through it for four years - but he
survived. And at the end of his journey, when Walt finds him in
South Texas, he has been given an opportunity. Travis is determined
to undo the mess he left behind. Somehow, his experience in the
desert has made him stronger, better, or wiser.
Paris, Texas has a clear
three-act narrative structure, yet Wenders takes his time with the story,
allowing images to sink in and actors to remain silent and still.
Stanton's hollow face and sad staring eyes carry most of the movie,
despite outstanding support from Stockwell, Clement, Carson, and Kinski.
The film's final pair of scenes between Kinski and Stanton consists
of extended monologues, and is a tour
de force for these two actors. As unlikely a couple as they
are, the relationship evoked in these scenes is as powerful and memorable
as any screen romance ever depicted. Familiar as we may be with
children as symbols of their parents' love, Wenders expresses this
at a deep, cliché-free level that is refreshing and affecting.
No part of Paris, Texas
feels underdeveloped or lacking - the script, performances, photography
by Müller, music by Ry Cooder, production design by Kate Altman, and
sound mixing is all of a piece and part of a coherent vision.
Paris, Texas is a mood piece, a character-driven narrative, a meditation,
and a true romance. It's unforgettable.
The Criterion Collection presents Paris, Texas in an enhanced
1.78:1 transfer that looks very film-like. Müller's camerawork
is slightly grainy, which fits with the dusty Western settings.
This transfer, supervised by Wenders, does not overcorrect the film's
look, merely restoring the image to the way it looked in 1984.
Colors are bold: blue skies, red rock, green neon lights, and Travis's
red cap pop from the earth-toned backgrounds.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track is effective and fairly expansive,
especially for a 25-year-old film. The music by Ry Cooder is minimal
but dominant when present in the mix. Surround effects are spatially
appropriate even though their dynamic range is not as great as more
recent films. Still, this is a very solid soundtrack that is fluid
and immersive; you won't hear anything flawed or unpleasant.
Criterion gives us a very engaging group of bonus features, as is
often the case. Disc 1, containing the feature, includes a
Commentary by Wim Wenders. His discussion of the film is slow,
but interesting and methodically delivered. Somehow he seems to
pace his comments to the way the film is cut. On the first disc,
you'll also find the Trailer (2:15).
Disc 2 contains the bulk of
the bonus content. First, under the menu heading Interviews,
we have an interview with Wim Wenders (28:58) from German television
in 2001. There's a lot of interesting stuff here about Wenders'
experiences in and attitude toward the United States that led up to
the production of Paris, Texas. The Road to
Paris, Texas (42:41) is a documentary from 1989 that includes
interviews with Wenders, Müller, Cooder, Stanton, and others - including
Samuel Fuller and Patricia Highsmith! - discussing the film.
Next is a pair of interviews with Claire Denis (20:27) and
Allison Anders (25:14), conducted specially for this DVD; Denis
served as Wenders' first assistant director on Paris, Texas,
and Anders was a production assistant. Cinema Cinemas (12:12)
is a segment from a French television program of that title that documents
the making of the film's score.
Next up, under the heading
Deleted Scenes and Super 8, we have a selection of Deleted Scenes
(23:24) with optional Commentary by Wenders. This deleted
footage is presented in an enhanced transfer. Super 8 Footage
(7:00) is the uncut version of the home movies we see in the middle
of the film; it is accompanied by an optional audio track comprising
one of Travis's monologues from later in the film.
Two items are including under
the Galleries heading. The first is a selection of Wenders'
photographs from the book Written in the West. The
second is a gallery of stills by the film's unit photographer Robin
Paris, Texas is a long
and thoughtful movie that kept me on the edge of my seat. The
brilliant performances and evocative photography go hand-in-hand with
Wenders' unmatched ability to create an atmosphere of unpredictability
and quiet wonder. The Criterion Collection has presented another
impeccable package around this tender, beautiful film. DVD
Talk Collector's Series.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.