Criterion Challenge #501
1984 // Germany, France, United States // Wim Wenders
“Paris.”After more than 20 minutes into the film, “Paris” is the first word we heard coming out from the mouth of the protagonist, the desert wanderer Travis, played by the magnificent character-actor Harry Dean Stanton, with such an electrifying performance that his image seems to be etched to the bleak landscape of the red terrain. The opening helicopter shot by cinematographer Robby Müller, obviously told a different story than one would expect to be found in “Paris”. As Travis recalled, it’s a running joke that was told by his father constantly, that Travis’s mother was came from Paris. But there is no Paris, France, so no romanticized love story nor Gene Kelly dance. It’s this bleak, unsentimental yet breath-taking valley shots in the opening, reminiscent to those western films by John Ford, that reminded us it’s Paris, in Texas, the southern part of America that was captured in films with immortality by the German director, Wim Wenders.
Wim Wenders was no stranger to this foreign country, he had made films in United States like HAMMETT (1982) before the road trip in Paris, Texas. Wim Wenders was no stranger to road trip too, many of his films could be categorized into “Road Movie”, most notably the unofficial “Road Trilogy”. Hence, there was always a sense of movement in Wenders films, a sense of development, evolution and uncertainty. The difference is that PARIS, TEXAS would have the most defined and detailed narrative among Wenders films.
The circular form of the film geographically (from the middle-of-nowhere desert to Los Angeles in California, then back to Houston, Texas) and narratively was attributed to the screenplay by the playwright Sam Shepard. Travis was found as a mysterious “mute” figure in the desert after collapsing inside a western-style bar, with thirst of water (available as ice in the bar) and avoidance of alcohol intentionally (which may come back as a plot point in the last act of the film). At the end of the film, Travis chose to leave behind the family he loves and disappeared in the neon-green-lit carpark, back to be alone and away from the “civilized” society which he felt like an outsider. But within this narrative circle, transformation, and probably redemption, could be found.
The beginning in the desert, Travis was “mute”, like a shell-shocked uncommunicative person. A doctor (played by Bernhard Wicki, who was also known as a German director of the film THE BRIDGE included in the Criterion Collection) exams him and found no physical disability. Travis’s brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), came to take Travis back to Los Angeles, where Walt was living with his wife Anne (Aurore Clément) and had been raising Travis’s 7 years old son Hunter (Hunter Carson) for four years after Travis disappeared. Apparently, Hinter’s mother Jane (Nastassja Kinski) was also nowhere to be found. Walt had difficulty in bring Travis back home. Travis, without having any willingness for explanation, kept aimlessly walking in a straight line, followed the electricity wire or strolled along the railroad track. The first part of the film was composed of many landscape shots in the magic hour, the space was more wildly opened, unrestricted, every image would be made as a frame of picture that you could hang on the wall in the living room.
Slowly, Travis gained back his senses and began to talk and communicate. Still there was no easy task for Walt as Travis refused to fly via plane. The importance of language and communications were enhanced gradually, throughout the second act in Walt’s house and till the”verbal” climax at the end of the film. Travis began by explaining the significance of the photo taken in Paris, Texas, the photo of an empty land he bought that he dreamt of building a house with Jane and Hunter one day. A dream that was never fulfilled.
In the second act, Travis living with Walt’s family and his own son signified a period of rebonding, as well as the realization of the belonging, not to the city but to the wildness. One of the major scene, the home movie with both Travis and Walt’s families in the beach, playing and enjoying themselves, was a time capsule of lost happiness. In this scene, we first glimpsed the appearance of Nastassja Kinski as Jane in open space, contrasted to the confined imprisonment-like peep-show setting at the end of the film. By the remembrance of the past, a lost bond was rebuilt between Hunter and his father, not by words but by images. Again, Wim Wenders was telling us both images and narrative could be coexisted and communally presented in a film.
When Travis learnt of the possible way to find Jane, thefilm moved to the third act seamlessly. Hunter, now fully bonded with his father, decided to come along in the search of Jane. Walt’s house was just a pit stop, the peep-show room was the destination in Travis’s journey. With a one-way mirror in-between, Travis found that Jane had been working to serve the customer on the other side of the mirror, by talking and showing her body. He left at the first time, and came with a confession-like speech. Arguably they never shared the same space, maybe not even the same world, even though love was, and still is, present. The entire scenes were well-lit and shot with static camera angles, sometimes with one character’s back facing the other, or the images of their face overlapped in the mirror. The conservation and monologues between Jane and Travis would be hard to defined in words, because their language became the only tool of bonding and understanding that could penetrate the mirror. Nastassja Kinski embodied the role of Jane with such a delicacy and sense of lost innocence that her face represented the entire film’s image.
Like many other Road Movies (maybe except EASY RIDER), the end of PARIS, TEXAS would be the beginning of another journey. Travis brought Hunter back to Jane, and disappeared. To Jane and Hunter, and to Walt and his wife, the structure of “family” was reshuffled. There was no resolution, no answer, yet I could still feel the certainty of the closure. PARIS, TEXAS was the first Wim Wenders film I watched, I absolutely love it. Looking back after the second viewing this time, I found myself more and more immersed into the capsule created by Wenders, contrary to the movement of Road Movies, there was a sense of stillness of time in this film. And the image of stillness will be forever linked to the name of Paris, Texas.
Film score: 5/5
Supplement score: 5/5
Besides Wim Wenders giving an audio commentary, there are lots of interviews and deleted scenes, enough to fill up a whole week. What more could I say, PARIS TEXAS is my first “full score” review I give to Criterion disc. Perfect.