Paris, Texas

1984 heartbreaking masterpiece Cannes Grand Prize winner

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A drifting father reconnects with an eight-year-old son he hasn't seen in four years before stealing away to Houston to search for the boy's mother.

I really hated every single poster I saw for this movie, just a completely ugly collection. And that's strange because Wim Wenders' movie is so beautiful, every frame just almost perfect. Wenders uses color so well, throws the main character in just the right amount of shadow, and has gorgeous backdrops that are quintessentially American. Even when the setting isn't beautiful--like bricks with so-so graffiti art that somebody's scrawled the word "pussy" on--Wenders somehow makes it beautiful. I've never been to Houston, and I've only been to Texas a couple times. The opening shots are of a dreary desert-y Texan landscape; later, we get Houston, but Wenders somehow makes that desolate as well. You get the sense that there's barely anybody in Houston--just our central characters, a sleazy John Lurie, and the girls at the peep show business Lurie's character operates. Billboard deconstruction, abandoned cars, shadowy dinosaurs, a truck stop phone booth, busy freeways, geological monuments, peep show room insulation. It's all so beautiful.

Leave it to a German dude to make a movie so undeniably American. Others pay attention more and just have a better understanding of what this country's all about. Like Werner Herzog with Stroszek. This was a dancing chicken away from being a similar look at a different American dream.

I always--always--like Harry Dean Stanton when I see him, but you never really get to see the guy carry a movie. Now that I think about it, I started off 2015 watching Harry Dean Stanton and John Lurie playing apostles in The Last Temptation of Christ, and I'm finishing off the year with those guys, too. Stanton's performance isn't perfect here. There are lines that don't sound like they're delivered right, and he doesn't always have the best chemistry with Hunter Henderson who plays his son, Hunter. A scene where father and son are in a car during this movie's lone action sequence could probably be described as terribly acted. For the most part, however, it's a brilliant performance, especially when he isn't saying anything at all. He starts the movie like a mute, and there are full stories being told on his face. He ends the movie silently--just standing there in one scene and listening to somebody else's monologue a little earlier--and all the gaps created by the action and dialogue in those scenes are filled in by his posture and his eyes.

Nastassja Kinski plays Travis's ex, and it's also a performance that is very nearly perfect. She's stunning, but I don't think I'd ever want to have sex with her because I'd start thinking of her dad--Klaus Kinski--and be terrified. Can you imagine dating Klaus Kinski's daughter? Anyway, Kinski is really good here. She nailed the accent.

So much of the first three-fourths of this movie reads like Zen koans, almost little jokes without clear punchlines, inconsequential scenes with dialogue and situations so gappy and poignant. You fill those gaps on your own, both for the lives of these characters and all of humanity. Everything's protracted and sluggish, but it gives the movie's ideas time to breathe. I felt it was almost perfectly paced although I think it would probably bore most American viewers. It'll remind you of Jarmusch a little bit.

Oh, I do want to mention the score which is almost entirely Ry Cooder guitar noodling. It, for the most part, matches the situations and scenery perfect, plaintive slow-motion lonesome jams. It reminded me of a movie I've seen in the last couple years.

The movie's not terribly happy, and I can guarantee that no two people watching this are going to agree about the ending. After a long scene where characters spend time saying more than anybody's said for the entire movie, the movie ends dismally, that American dream kind of just left there to exist in nothing more than a withered photograph.

This is the first of a weekly thing my brother and I are doing where we take turns picking a Criterion movie to watch. Spoiler alert: He apparently doesn't like this one.


Anonymous said...

2 embarrassing reveals here. when you suggested paris texas i thought this for some reason was the david byrne movie. for some reason i had the movies confused and was expecting more whimsy and musical numbers.
number 2 i use to confuse harry dean stanton and dean stockwell. i didnt think dean was harry and vice versa. i thought both names somehow referred to dean stockwell. when i heard the name harry dean stanton i pictured dean stockwell. i only now know who stanton is because of his close association with richard brautigan. stanton was going to play cameron or greer(i forget which. does it matter?) in the film adaption of hawkline monster.
i didnt like the movie as well as few of the other wim wenders i have seen with the same theme with the same actress. they all seem to be about a man being in love with klinski's daughter(?)(just checked "wings of desire" and "until the end of the world is a different actress but they look similar) and giving up everything to be with her. i didnt like a lot about this movie but it is all kind of moot and can be explained away just by saying it is a wim wenders film. they all have a dreamy quality where nothing happens in a traditional sense. acting or pacing problems? its a long dream sequence. dreams dont have perfect pacing. dreams dont have "acting" etc. the texas desert setting has a dream quality to it as well. it is this setting that may make me dislike this film somewhat as i have lived in that setting and have despised it. though there is an odd stark beauty to it and wenders shows this beauty. you could almost say the whole film is starkly beautiful like that desert landscape this film is named after. pacing, dialogue its all beautifully minimal.

Shane said...

Didn't know that about Stanton. Man, it's really too bad a Hawkline Monster didn't happen. I'm not sure I can say I would even WANT it to happen now. As I probably said (because it seems like it's what I always say about him): I almost always like Harry Dean Stanton. I like Dean Stockwell, too. I thought his real name might have been Harry Dean Stockwell, but I looked it up and it's actually Robert Dean Stockwell. Now that you know this, you'll probably continue to confuse the two.

Odd that two guys you get confused end up in the same movie...

True Stories is the David Byrne movie. I wrote about it here:

I think it used to be on Netflix, but I don't know if it's on that or Hulu now. I liked watching it, but it's not a very good movie.

I'm surprised you didn't like this as much as me. I'm not sure why you thought a character was "giving up everything to be with" Kinski because that's not really what happened.

I never lived in Texas, so I'm not sure if that could have contributed to your dislike. For me, I loved the setting for the exact reason you mention--its dreaminess. Foreign filmmakers can make American landscapes so dreamy. Herzog, etc. And I loved the pace, but movies paced like this definitely aren't for everybody. Or most bodies.

When I write about Lady Snowblood (this weekend?), you'll be happy to see that I also liked it a lot better than you did...our Criterion venture is going so well!

Anonymous said...

jack nicholson was to play the opposite of stanton in the hawkline monster. really good brautigan and nicholson story.
re: theme.
in wings of desire the angel gives up being an angel to live one lifetime with the woman of his affection.
i forget what really happened in "until the end of the world" but i feel it had a chasing the same character over an impossible landscape. unofficial sequel to wings...?
far away so close official sequel to wings..? had kinkski as the female lead and i think it had a similar plot or love complication.
it may not of been as overt in this movie but it is still a man searching for this specific woman.