Thursday, September 08, 2011

Paris, Texas

Originally Written and Posted at 7/12/06 w/ Extensive Revisions & Additional Edits.

One of the leaders of the German New Wave, Wim Wenders helped revive the German film industry after the years of World War II by making films about Germany. While his peers contemporary like the controversial and dramatic Rainier Werner Fassbinder and the ambitious dream world of Werner Herzog helped redefine German films for an international audience. Wenders was different from them, largely due to his love for American cinema. Early films including his road trilogy of Falsche Bewegung (The Wrong Move), Alice in den Stadten (Alice in the Cities), and Im Lauf der Zeit (King of the Roads) in the mid-70s revealed his love for American road movies. One of his favorite directors was American filmmaker Nicholas Ray where in 1980, Wenders released a documentary called Lightning Over Water about Ray's final days.

Still fascinated by America, Wenders teamed up with Texan screenwriter and producer L.M. Kit Carson about an adaptation of a short story written by playwright Sam Shepard, whose most famous work was acting in Terrence Malick's 1978 masterpiece Days of Heaven. With Shepard, Carson wrote a script that was later finalized by Shepard about a lost man who is found as he tries to get reacquainted with the world and heal the wounds of his shattered family life. The final result would become of Wenders' greatest films about America entitled Paris, Texas.

Directed by Wenders with a script by Shepard, Paris, Texas is an existential road movie of a man who had disappeared for four years. Finally found and reunited with his brother, the man is forced to realize the real world while trying to re-establish a relationship with his young son and to find his wife. Taking Wenders' knowledge of American road movies and Shepard's study of decay, the film is a wandering, elliptical journey of a man trying to get a second chance while discovering why he departed an already fulfilled life. Starring Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell, Aurore Clement, and Hunter Carson. Paris, Texas is a beautiful, worldly masterpiece from the team of Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard.

A man named Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) is walking around a desert lost as he finds a gas station to get some water as he passes out. After a local doctor (Bernard Wicki) looks over him as Travis acts mute, the doctor finds out who Travis is through his wallet as he calls Travis' brother Walt (Dean Stockwell). Walt receives the doctor's call as he flies to Texas to identify the man he hadn't seen in four years. After arriving to Texas, Walt identifies his brother as Travis remains mute and acts strangely until Travis finally speaks asking to go to Paris, Texas where he claims that where he was conceived. The brothers go on a road trip on a different rental car to Paris, Texas for a plot of land that Travis had bought as Walter decides to take Travis home to Los Angeles.

Arriving into L.A., Travis meets Walter's French wife Anne (Aurore Clement) whom he hadn't seen in years as well as Travis' own son Hunter (Hunter Carson) as they're surprised by Travis. Though Hunter isn't sure who is, Travis spends his time trying to get reacquainted with Anne and Hunter while their maid Carmelia (Sorroco Valdez) helps Travis in re-bonding with Hunter. After watching through some old family films that featured Hunter's missing mother Jane (Nastassja Kinski), Travis decides to go and find Jane as Anne reluctantly reveals her whereabouts. Travis goes on the trip as he takes Hunter without telling Walt or Anne as Hunter later calls them as they go to Texas.

After arriving in Houston, Hunter finally sees his mother dropping off money in a car as Travis follows her as he sees that she's a stripper working at a peep show. Shocked by what she's become, Travis decides to go into the peep show pretending to be a different man to see Jane as they talk in a two-way mirror. The meeting forces Travis to reveal Hunter about what happened to him as he goes for one more emotional meeting with Jane about their departures and what they need to do for Hunter.

While the film is truly an American film, the film does have a sense of European style of narratives and filmmaking techniques. Still, the collaboration of Wenders and Shepard in their own respective style reveals how both work to create an entirely original, harrowing road film. What Wenders and Shepard reveal is that the film is about a man whose descent into madness makes him lose focus of what is important and when he returns to the real world, he has to deal with loss. The film's theme is loss since the character of Travis has lost his identity, his family, his dreams, and everything that was around him. What is more troubling was how he lost everything and how tries to regain everything.

Sam Shepard's screenplay is filled with allegories of the old West where the film opens with a worldly scene of the Western landscape with a hawk flying down. There, the script is filled with symbolism of the decaying world that Travis is trying to find as the film explores Travis' descent and his attempt to reclaim everything. Shepard's script allows characters to grow and deal with everything around them. Notably the characters of Walt and Anne who are dealing with the fact that Travis' return will shake their own idyllic life where they raised Hunter as one of their own. Shepard creates a harrowing script that has moments of humor and hope while creating an ending that is very ambiguous on what is to happen for all of its central characters. In many ways, it's truly part of the genius of Sam Shepard who is a master in the study of alienation, loss, and grief.

If Shepard needed a director to complement his study of character, Wim Wenders is the perfect director as he uses his knowledge of American cinema to view a world that is isolating. Wenders' observant yet wandering direction is filled with many symbols as one of the prominent colors of the film is red whether it's the red hat that Travis wears, the red jacket of Hunter, or the red car and sweater that Jane wears towards the end. The color in some ways serves as a tribute to one of Wenders' favorite director in Nicholas Ray while he opens the film with having the protagonist not uttering a word for the first 20-30 minutes. Its in Wenders that allows the character of Travis to try and explore his surroundings where he makes the audience aware of a world that is completely different from the one years before. Overall, it's some of the best directing and presentation given by a director as brilliant as Wim Wenders.

Helping Wenders in his presentation is his longtime cinematographer Robby Muller who helps capture the alienating feel of the American landscape. Muller's photography is one of the film's highlights as he captures the exterior of America with a disconcerting feel with an array of colors with sunlight and the moon to bring that feel of loss. Muller's presentation of America is beautiful but haunting as even the interiors in the film's third act from the strip club to a bar reveals the sense of isolation with its moody colors and compositions. It's truly some of Muller's best work in the world of cinematography. Art director does some great work in capturing the decay of the American West while showing the comfort yet claustrophobic feel of American suburbia. Costume designer Birgitta Bjerke also does great work in the film's costumes, notably the cowboy suit that Travis wears to impress hunter as does the clothing of red.

Editor Peter Przygodda does excellent work in giving the film an elliptical yet transcending style of pacing while his cutting to give the perspective of characters and it surroundings help the presentation that Wenders wanted. Sound editor Dominique Auvray and sound mixer Jean-Paul Mugel also does great work with the film's sound in bringing an atmosphere that is alienating from the quiet ambient tone of the Texas desert to the chaotic world of the cities in Los Angeles and Houston. Finally there's composer and longtime Wenders collaborator Roy Cooder whose lyrical blues guitar playing that is a variation of Blind Willie Johnson's Dark Was The Night brings the sense of grief and loss for the film's tone. Cooder's melodic playing is filled with sadness as its riffs are memorable to give the sense of Americana that Wenders and Shepard wanted. It's truly one of the best film scores ever done on screen.

The film's wonderful cast includes such notable small performances as Bernhard Wicki as the doctor, Socorro Valdez as the family maid, Tom Farrell as a screaming man who Travis walks by, Sally Norvell as a fellow stripper, Justin Hogg as the 3-year old Hunter, a cameo from Sam Shepard himself, and regular Jim Jarmusch actor John Lurie as the owner of the strip club Jane works for. French actress Aurore Clement gives a fascinating yet harrowing performance as a maternal figure who's afraid of losing her child while is reminded of the fact that Hunter is not her son yet she's been his mother for years. Clement is truly marvelous in her role as she brings a unique quality to her character. Hunter Carson is also great as the young yet smart Hunter who is aware that he has a father he hasn't seen yet he still calls both his real dad and uncle as dad. Carson brings a lot of innocence and realism to his character that most child actors do.

Dean Stockwell is wonderful as Travis' brother Walt who is forced to confront Anne's fears of letting go Hunter as his character is forced to deal with many forms of loss like the idea of losing not just his nephew but his brother again. Stockwell's performance is filled with the frustration and comfort of a brother who hopes to repair troubled relationships while understanding him as Stockwell carries the same realism that the young Carson has. Nastassja Kinski is entrancing yet complex in her role as the lost Jane whose descent is shocking as a woman who is trying to let go of her past only to be forced to confront it. Kinski early on starts off as a woman who is upbeat and quirky as the German-born Kinski pulls off a great Texan accent. Still, Kinski's role in the final minutes are very important to the story as she pulls off the emotions that is needed for its finale as Kinski remains underrated among her contemporaries.

Finally, there's noted character actor Harry Dean Stanton in what is truly, his greatest role to date. Stanton exudes all of the troubles and grief into his character where for the first 20-30 minutes, he doesn't even speak. Stanton's stillness in his minimalist performance shows his complexity and range as an actor who can do so much by doing so little. When his character comes out of the protective shell of grief and sadness, Stanton's minimalism in his performance is more drawn out as he reveals Travis' sensitivity and drive into repairing the damaged relationships with his family. Stanton's performance in the final act when he reveals the film's most important information in a very emotionally crucial scene reveals how he restrained he is with his emotions. It's a magnificent performance from the character actor who rarely gives an adequate performance.

Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas is a harrowing yet worldly masterpiece thanks to the contributions of Sam Shepard and the film's cast, notably Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell, Aurore Clement, and Hunter Carson. While the film's elliptical pacing, unconventional narratives might confuse or bore more conventional film audiences. The film does have something to offer in terms of its emotions and themes as it's considered to be one of Wenders' best films. For anyone wanting to see an intelligent, beautiful road movie, Paris, Texas is the film to see.

Wim Wenders Films: (Summer in the City) - (The Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty) - (The Scarlet Letter (1973 film)) - Alice in the Cities - Wrong Move - Kings of the Road - The American Friend - (Lightning Over Water) - (Room 666) - (Hammett) - (The State of Things) - (Tokyo-Ga) - Wings of Desire - (Notebook on Cities and Clothes) - Until the End of the World - (Faraway, So Close!) - (Lisbon Story) - (Beyond the Clouds) - (A Trick of Light) - (The End of Violence) - (Buena Vista Social Club) - (The Million Dollar Hotel) - (The Soul of a Man) - (Land of Plenty) - (Don't Come Knocking) - (Palermo Shooting) - (Pina) - The Salt of the Earth - (Every Thing Will Be Fine) - (Submergence) - (Pope Francis: A Man of His Word)

© thevoid99 2011


Anonymous said...

I watched this movie when it was new, but I'm afraid all I can remember from it is that I thought it was good. I guess I could be sad about this, but on the other hand I could turn it around and say: good for me! Then I can watch it again and enjoy with fresh eyes!

Anyway: thank you for yet another fantasticly well written review!

thevoid99 said...

It's been a few years since I've seen it and it was on TV again. It looks so much better and I just decided to watch the movie. I haven't seen a lot of films by Wim Wenders but it's still my favorite so far.