Friday, March 18, 2016

CANON OF FILM: "PARIS, TEXAS"

PARIS, TEXAS (1984)

Director: Wim Wenders
Screenplay: Sam Shepard adapted by L.M. Kit Carson



As much as I admire the leader of the New German cinema movement of the sixties and seventies, R.W. Fassbinder, and as much as I admire, probably the best and most important director in that movement Werner Herzog, if I actually had to pick a favorite New German Director, and probably one of my favorite directors of all-time, it'd have to be Wim Wenders. When I did a list of the 100 Greatest Films of All-Time, awhile back, I ranked his film, "Wings of Desire" in the Top Ten, and I still rank it that high btw, all his films, even his less-than-stellar ones all have this much more intuit sense to them. It's not empathy, it's almost spiritual. While Herzog is constantly searching the world to find the most primitive and improbable of places, circumstances and scenarios almost like a conqueror from a long-ago time, Wenders is always more interested in the human journey, the introspective and observant, almost like he's pining for something that's within his reach but he, for some reason can't quite grasp. 

Wenders has a couple other themes that go throughout his films. His films are usually road movies, even “Wings…” was essentially a road movie as the watcher angels went from one place to another almost randomly, just observing, watching with fascination of the world below.  One of his other famous films “Kings of the Road,” was about two guys who drive along the West Germany/East Germany border. Another intriguing aspect about him that keeps coming up is his fascination with the American desert. One of my old UNLV professors from film school was from Germany as he’s talked extensively on how unique the desert is and how many Europeans are enchanted by it, and how there isn't anything like it in Europe; I suspect that he felt even a more personal kinship to Wenders than I do. Wenders has made a few movies that take place in American desert, two involving Sam Shepard. Most of you are probably know Shepard's work as an actor, but he’s actually a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, and wrote the script for “Paris, Texas,” and it's by far the most successful adaptation of one of his writings to the screen. Shepard also likes road movies, and his characters are lost souls struggling to find something, usually a person, and usually involve a desert, and often Western movie archetypes or figures, even in modern day settings. “Paris, Texas”, is actually a pretty perfect match for both director and writer. The plot itself isn’t particularly unfamiliar, in fact, just like Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver", this film could be considered a remake of John Ford's film "The Searchers", a loose remake to be the sure, but the inspiration is clear. 

After years wandering the desert, Travis (Harry Dean Stanton), and yes the name Travis comes from Travis Bickle, but that's very deceptive, but anyway, he collapses in a Texas bar. His brother in California (Dean Stockwell) goes to pick him up, after long thinking he was dead, he finds him mute, and with amnesia, and very unwilling to go with him. Finally he gets him to his home where Walt (Stockwell) and his wife Anne (Aurore Clement) have been raising his son Hunter (Hunter Carson) after Travis and his ex-wife (Nastassja Kinski) both went missing. Stanton is one of the greatest actors alive, and could easily have easily been a movie star if he chose to, but he typically lends himself only to the most creative of projects and characters. He's one of the more eccentric actors in Hollywood, let's say; if you haven't seen the documentary about him, "Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction", I recommend it. 

After Travis finally starts talking, he admits he was on a journey to a piece of land that he owned in Paris, Texas, where reportedly his father had met his mother years ago, and in his mind, was probably conceived there, thinking he could return to the place where he first started. I’m not particularly a fan of revealing the details of the film’s story; to me, it works best as a deconstructionist work, where we reveal the film slowly, especially considering how drastically different the film’s ending is from it’s beginning. But, without saying too much, Travis begins reuniting with his son and even more slowly begins to readjust himself to reality, as he slowly recalls the reasons for his journey for the last few years. Eventually going out back to Texas to find his wife and bring together his family again. He finally finds Jane working at a peep show with a two-way mirror. These scenes, especially the last one, not only involves great acting, incredible lighting by Wenders legendary Cinematographer Robby Muller, but also much regret and sadness as both confront the failures of their love together and of themselves. I guess you can call this a sad film about sad people, about a person who’s trying to save a family that might not be worth saving, but the film is spiritual in tone. Like an epic western about life, family and love and the perils of them. How they can lead down different paths for different people, and how life is a journey which even at it’s most stable is filled with unpredictability that can shockingly and suddenly change everything for the better or for the worse, and how easily and quickly it can shift back again, even while still being haunted by the past. 

“Paris, Texas,” among film scholars easily ranks as one of the best American-made films of the 1980s, although other than the Palme D’Or at Cannes, the film didn’t win any major awards, not even for Robby Muller’s lighting. Understandable, to some extent, it’s not flashy, there's no major stars, it’s slow moving, but that just makes it more poignant and unforgettable. It's not a film about "regular people" per se, but it's a film about extraordinary and fascinating people that we just hadn't seen in a movie like this before, A beautiful poetic tale about a man who lost everything, struggling to regain everything that he lost, even if it's utterly impossible to completely regain.  
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