Paris, Texas – ***1/2
Criterion Collection – Blu-ray
Directed by Wim Wenders
Starring Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell, Aurore Clement, Hunter Carson
Release date: January 26, 2010
What a way to open a film. The image first seen conjures up a mood that is sustained throughout the entire picture. It is of a splendidly eerie sight, showing a lonely man strolling aimlessly amidst towering mountains that resemble Monument Valley in which John Ford filmed The Searchers – in which Paris, Texas resembles in a way – with a rugged, dirty suit on, wearing a tattered red baseball cap and clutching an empty jug of water as if his life is depending on it. He has been roaming for days it seems. Just glance down at his shoes, or at least what is left of them, for further evidence of the many miles of terrain this man must have journeyed over. Four years he has appeared this way. Probably shunning reality away every time it manages to creep close to him and running from inner fears that bind him to his past life. There is no doubt he is searching for something. Something that is fearful and passionate only to him. But why? For what? Paris, Texas will slowly expand its straight-edged narrative to expound upon these questions. While all the while doom is looming in the air and the ghastly guitar music is alluding to an act of terror that may have already happened or has yet to have occurred. German director Wim Wenders is able to pierce the heart and confound the mind within the very first sequence of his film: A work of a European in a manner that is so Americana.
It seems as if an angel has spotted this man, who is played wonderfully and lethargically by Harry Dean Stanton, and decided to follow him throughout the film. This film, made in 1984, seems like a precursor to Wenders’ angel-based film. He made a film in 1987 called Wings of Desire, a film in which angels exclusively observe individuals going about their everyday routines, their trials and tribulations. What the angels see makes them sad because they cannot intervene within the lives of whom they are watching. They can only hope the individual can feel their presence and alter their decision before it is too late. Bruno Ganz’s angel in Wings of Desire yearns and eventually tries to adapt to a new way of living because he is fed up with the celestial life. He doesn’t want to observe any more. He wants to experience taste, emotions and physically touch and feel other individuals. The roaming man with the tattered red baseball cap is trying to forget a past life that proves to be much too sorrowful for him. He wants to stare anew, becoming one with civilization again. What is intrinsic with Ganz’s angel and Stanton’s lonely human is the fact that both want to embark on a new journey that doesn’t have any semblance of the past.
We learn the lonely man’s name is Travis after he stumbles into a desolate bar in an isolated southwest Texas town, collapses due to lack of drink and is attended to by the owner. The owner scurries around Travis’ wallet to find a business card. He phones it and it happens to be Travis’ brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), living in Los Angles manufacturing and constructing billboards. He is married to a German woman (Aurore Clement) in a home that overlooks Los Angeles’ airport. They have taken Travis’ 8-year-old son, Hunter (Hunter Carson), into their home after he was dropped off by his mother (Nastassja Kinski) four years ago. By the time Travis re-enters Hunter’s life he has come to recognize his uncle and aunt as his parents.
Once Walt gets word of his brother’s whereabouts, it has been four years since he heard from Travis, he boards a plane to Texas, rents a car and is eager to be reacquainted with his brother. Once Travis is picked up by his brother they go to a small motel, Travis is dropped off while he gets new clothes for him. Travis wants to make a break for it but is brought back to Walt’s home. He sets himself up here and begins his quest to defy the agitation that has been swirling within his memory for years. He partakes in a journey that will lead him to recapturing what was lost.
The inner-demons of Travis, the desolate landscape and the haunting soundtrack wield together to create an eeriness, an unwelcoming tone that strikes fear in its audience. The fear isn’t so much that found in a horror film, but a fear that is associated with loss. It is dreadfully weird. By capturing the haunting aesthetics the film and establishing them firmly Wenders is able to achieve the exact feel he is going for. Like he did so miraculously with Wings of Desire by capturing the dream-like essence of how an angel perceives reality, he does the same with Paris, Texas but in the total opposite feeling.
In this film the environment in which Travis occupies is, in his eyes, one that he is disconnected with; dislocated from reality for so long has formed his perception of reality to be obtrusive, hence the film itself resembling a state of total despair. How Travis sees the world is how we come to see it.
Wenders captures the moods alienation, isolation and confusion that are present in Travis just like great directors such as John Ford and Elia Kazan were able to capture. Wenders, of German descent, chronicles with perfection the passionate despair that is found in Travis. By having Sam Shepherd, a rugged American, as the screenwriter for Paris, Texas Wenders was able to use his American experience in ways that could only benefit the film. Travis represents the classical American character that is searching for something that has forsaken him and is plagued by this void in his life. But what is odd about Wenders ability to depict this “American” tradition so well in an era that seemed to forget how to do so is that he hails from Germany. His films mostly represent road maps in which his characters are trying to find their place in society despite their blemishes. Travis has been ousted from society by his own rebellion. He isn’t able to function properly until he comes face to face with what it is that is plaguing him and that can be found only in his relationship that he needs to reestablish with his son Hunter.
High-Definition Picture: The Paris, Texas Wenders is a realist. He relies on the desolate and bleak landscape of a primeval Texas town to convey his mood: Hopelessness. Scenes that occur in the desert towns of Texas are film’s most visually eerie scenes. The blu-ray transfer, when compared to the dusty DVD transfer, swirls around this environment in a way that seems to be glorifying it. Like No Country for Old Men, Paris, Texas is a film that relies heavily on mood. With this transfer the grains of sand, the beams streaming from the hazy sun and the never-ending blue skies are captured with purity, and seems to place the viewers in this actual location, accomplishing a sense of being in this desolate place. The incredibly beautiful mountains and the rambunctious city life of downtown Houston buck heads perfectly. The visuals capture the uniqueness of each, emphasizing the loneliness that can be felt in the desert and exemplifying the chaos that can be felt in the city. The transition from each location is a priority not only to the film’s narrative but also to the film’s visual mood. Wenders transports us to the desert and then to the city showing the sharp contrasts between the two. Travis will have to adapt from the primitive settings to the more civilized. The blu-ray transfer, expertly brought to life by the folks at Criterion, captures perfectly the essences of both lifestyles.
– Audio Commentary featuring Wenders
– Video Interview with Wenders by German journalist Roger Willemsen: SD
– Excerpts from a 1990 documentary on Wenders, featuring interviews with Wenders, cinematographer Robby Muller, Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper and director Samuel Fuller: SD
– Deleted Scenes and Super 8 home movies
– New Video Interviews with filmmakers Allison Anders and Claire Denis: HD
– “Wim Wenders Hollywood April ’84,” a segment from the French television program Cinema cinemas, showing Wenders at work on the score: SD
– Gallery of Wenders’ location-scouting photos: HD
– Behind-the-Scenes photos by Robin Holland: HD
– Theatrical Trailer: SD
– A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Nick Roddick and excerpts from Wenders’ book of photos Written on the West
Movie: ***1/2 out of ****
High-Def: **** out of ****
Special Features: *** out of ****
Verdict: Own it