Putting the two words together is something of an oxymoron. A comma between them becomes a pregnant pause. Two places couldn’t be further apart than Paris and Texas. We can’t seem to come to terms with its existence as a real place…but then we see a picture of that barren stretch of land. For a man named Travis and his son Hunter it becomes the center of their universe, the origin of all things, a place achingly unreachable, alive only in their dreams where they long to be with a woman named Jane in a faraway land where the purchase of a remote plot of dirt represents the key to a happiness that could never be.
It’s a place that can only exist as an “idea ——- of her…love…family…redemption…the movies.”
As I recently announced on my own ever-expanding list of favorite films, and soon to be registered in the Best Films of the 1980’s polling at Wonders in the Dark, Wim Wender’s 1984 Palme D’Or winning Paris, Texas is hands-down my pick for the greatest film of the decade.
I decided to revisit Paris, Texas, which I only saw for the first time back in 2005. It was one of those weirdly magical movie-watching experiences. I was flipping through the channels on TV and came across it totally unaware of its existence before that moment, not realizing I had missed the first thirty minutes or so…but I was instantly transfixed. By the end of the movie, I was beside myself and re-watched the entire film from the beginning the very next day when it was rerun. Shortly thereafter I purchased the DVD and re-watched it yet again.
Looking back on my original review, I’m surprised I didn’t see fit to mention the following:
- Ry Cooder’s unforgettable and blisteringly unique film score that travels across the desert along with Wim’s camera and hits all the right chords. Only Anton Karas’ zither score from The Third Man or Jonny Greenwood’s moody strings from There Will Be Blood could possibly outrank Cooder’s high-water mark for originality in film music composition.
- The beautiful photography of the LA hills and valley and the Houston cityscape. One will always be scorched by the photography of the barren desert, but these haunting shots of civilization are equally as powerful.
- Some great movie moments when Travis becomes entranced watching the shadow of an airplane move across the ground as it takes off or when he attempts to walk his son home from school after the maid gives him lessons on being a “rich father/poor father”. Both of these scenes are brilliant and simple examples of a director telling his story and revealing something about the characters through what is seen in camera — the classic “show, don’t tell” move.
- Hunter’s fascination with “space” revealed in his ramblings about the Big Bang and time travel while on the road with Travis…or his perfectly 80’s LA kidspeak where he’s always on the verge or pre-irony and innocent precociousness and clips phrases by saying things like “I want to come with” instead of “I want to come with you” and “Night” instread of “Good night.”
- In my original review I failed to name the writers (a most grievous sin from a fellow writer) — L. M. Kit Carson and Sam Shepard — who were later honored in my post on The Best Screenplays of All Time.
There’s also a pensive and quiet suspense that is only experienced on repeat viewings when you know everything is slowly building up to that moment when Hunter spots Jane for the first time at the bank…and then Travis follows her to that down-and-out Houston neighborhood with the Statue of Liberty mural on the back wall by the dumpsters, and he enters the peep-show where the audience finally meet Kinski’s Jane in person. On first viewing you expect a show when she appears, but on repeat viewings you hold your breath…for all that conversation. “You can just talk…she’ll listen.”
In the years since first seeing it, my love for it has only grown, and any time it is mentioned — oh, how I became tinged with meloncholy when I learned it was rumored to have been Kurt Cobain’s favorite film, and oh, how I laughed the other day when it was referenced in a skit from The State (finally on DVD), and yes, I could probably set the record for x hours straight spent talking about Paris, Texas — I get an immense feeling of satisfaction.
Yes…Paris, Texas…I’ve been there, and it is wonderful. If you’ve never been, you’ll never know…so visit soon and visit often. When you layover in Houston, we’ll be waiting for you at The Meridian…room 1520.
Written by David H. Schleicher
*If you wish to view the film for the first time as an open book, I caution you not to read any further as there are many spoilers ahead!!!!!
Here is my review from the IMDB, originally posted back in December of 2005:
The Continued Development of the Dark Romance with Cinema
Author: David H. Schleicher
Directed by cinematic lyricist Wim Wenders, Paris, Texas is a slow-burning masterpiece. Marked at first by stark, beautiful photography of the American Southwest, later by memorable dialogue and conversational intercourse, and lastly by sublime and emotionally involving character development, the film transcends the idea of an atmospheric mood piece to deliver an engrossing meditation on loneliness, alienation, family and redemption.
Character actor Harry Dean Stanton is fantastic in the lead role of Travis — a man who had fallen into an emotional black hole and is then reunited with his brother (Dean Stockwell), who has been raising Travis’ young son, Hunter (Hunter Carson), in an idyllic and loving suburban landscape with his foreign wife, Ann (Aurore Clement). As Travis slowly begins to grapple with his past and bond with his son, he soon realizes he must find his long, lost wife, Jane (an excellent and understated Nastassja Kinksi), whom he still deeply loves on some level, and abandoned their son years ago shortly after Travis went off the deep end.
This all could’ve been the plot of Lifetime TV movie, but the European filmmaker’s perspective on an all American slice of melodrama adds an undercurrent of intrigue in that you never know what these characters are going to do next. We soon find Travis practically abducting his son (who eagerly plays along) from his happy new family life to go on a trek to Houston to find Jane.
The closing in scene in a Houston hotel where son and mother are reunited is one of the most fascinatingly rich scenes ever put on screen. Rarely does any one scene work to engage a viewer on so many levels:
Firstly: There is a complex psychological framework that is set into place in the scenes prior between Stanton and Kinski in the peep show booth where she now works which are two of the most expertly photographed and brilliantly acted scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Travis has confessed all to his lost love, Jane, and she is clearly in dire straits. His attempt to reunite her with their son is both selfish (in that it is clearly not in the child’s best interest to be raised by his emotionally troubled mother when he has loving foster parents waiting for him back home) and selfless, in that he truly feels his only way to repair the damage he has done is to leave after getting mother and son back together.
Secondly: It is beautifully acted with Kinski’s ghost-like entrance and young Hunter Carson’s trepidation. Witness his hand slide across the wall looking for something to grip, and then his hands running through his hair before he finally decides to embrace her.
Thirdly: It is exquisitely photographed. Earlier we see scenes of stark isolation as the child waits in the hotel room. Sofia Coppola later used a similar photographic technique in Lost in Translation to show how being alone in a big city and looking down from an anonymous hotel room window can be one of the loneliest things in the world.
The final scene is both beautiful and emotional, and at the same time makes the viewer wonder, how will this all end? Yes, it is wonderful to see the child and mother reunite, but their new life could easily turn into an emotional hell because of the now absent Travis’ misguided attempt at his own redemption.
A film working on so many levels like this is best summed up in its own dialogue. In one scene where Travis is drunk and telling his son some family history, he essentially says that his father was more in love with an “idea of her” than with his actual mother. This is a fantastic movie for people more in love with the romantic “idea of movies” and their potential power as an art form than with any one movie in particular. As such, this ranks among the best I have ever seen.
Originally published on the Internet Movie Database.
***A special side note to those who have read my novel, The Thief Maker, I hope you will notice a scene from the book near the end that is directly inspired by the closing scene of Paris, Texas mentioned above. Yes, that’s how much I love this film.
Favorite Paris, Texas quotes:
Travis to his brother: “I’m not afraid of heights, I’m afraid of falling.”
Mad man on the highway overpass: “There will be no safety zone!”
My Top 25 Films of the 1980’s followed by honorable mentions:
- Paris, Texas (1984, Wim Wenders)
- The Elephant Man (1980, David Lynch)
- Blood Simple (1984, The Coen Brothers)
- Raging Bull (1980, Martin Scorsese)
- The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)
- Hope and Glory (1987, John Boorman)
- Atlantic City (1981, Louise Malle)
- Fanny & Alexander (1982, Ingmar Bergman)
- Blue Velvet (1986, David Lynch)
- Hannah and Her Sisters (1986, Woody Allen)
- Salaam Bombay! (1988, Mira Nair)
- Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987, Louise Malle)
- Gandhi (1982, Richard Attenborough)
- Full Metal Jacket (1987, Stanley Kubrick)
- The Verdict (1982, Sidney Lumet)
- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989, Terry Gilliam)
- Glory (1989, Edward Zwick)
- Field of Dreams (1989, Phil Alden Robinson)
- Ordinary People (1980, Robert Redford)
- Raising Arizona (1987, The Coen Brothers)
- My Left Foot (1989, Jim Sheridan)
- Heathers (1989, Michael Lehmann)
- The Killing Fields (1984, Roland Joffe)
- River’s Edge (1986, Tim Hunter)
Honorable Mentions from the 1980′s:
- Airplane! (1980, Jim Abrams and David Zucker)
- Fitzcarraldo (1982, Werner Herzog)
- Poltergeist (1982, Tobe Hooper)
- Testament (1983, Lynne Littman)
- Without a Trace (1983, Stanley R. Jaffe)
- Zelig (1983, Woody Allen)
- The Natural (1984, Barry Levinson)
- Places in the Heart (1984, Robert Benton)
- Come and See (1985, Elem Klimov)
- Fright Night (1985, Tom Holland)
- My Life as a Dog (1985, Lasse Hallstrom)
- Out of Africa (1985, Sydney Pollack)
- The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985, Woody Allen)
- The Accidental Tourist (1988, Lawrence Kasdan)
- Lady in White (1988, Robert LaLoggia)
- Lair of the White Worm (1988, Ken Russell)
- Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, Woody Allen)
- Do the Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee)
Wow, great review. I immediately put a copy on hold through our library system (“There will be Blood,” also). I have a CD of the soundtrack and, not only love Ry Cooder, but also Harry Dean Stanton’s immortal monologue. This may be a male rescue fantasy reuniting mother and children), but it is the great one. http://www.SpankyAndJohnGoToTheMovies.com
John, yeah…I think you hit the nail on the head about this being a “male rescue fantasy” — it’s kind of the running theme of most of my writing, too…which is why I think this film spoke to me so deeply. Stanton’s monologue is classic…and when Kinski’s image melts into his reflection in the peep show two-way mirror…man, what a scene! –DHS
D.H., said,” I was flipping through the channels on TV and came across it totally unaware of its existence before that moment, not realizing I had missed the first thirty minutes or so…but I was instantly transfixed. By the end of the movie, I was beside myself and re-watched the entire film from the beginning the very next day when it was rerun. Shortly thereafter I purchased the DVD and re-watched it yet again.”
D.H., after reading your quote that I have quoted above…I may have to check this film out over there on Amazon.com in demand. Which I usually do when I want to watch a film immediately…and I must admit this sound like a film that I should watch immediately.
Thanks, for sharing…your thoughts about this film and the recommendation.
DeeDee – not “may” or “should”….you “must!” –DHS
The film isn’t available over there on Amazon.com in demand yet…therefore, I will have to purchase a copy of this film.
“A special side note to those who have read my novel, The Thief Maker, I hope you will notice a scene from the book near the end that is directly inspired by the closing scene of Paris, Texas mentioned above. Yes, that’s how much I love this film.”
Wow, I guess that you really do “love” this film…I can’t wait to read your book and watch the film…in order to tell you what page(s) in your book was directly inspired by the closing scene of Paris, Texas.
Ahhh!…a “slight” challenge!
DeeDee – Netflix I feel should remedy that (and no, they don’t pay me to keep mentioning them on my blog ha ha) — And, oh, wow, I like the idea of someone watching this film and reading my book back-to-back in context…let me know what you think! In addition to Paris, Texas, the Russian film Vor (The Thief) was also a big inspiration for some of the book’s themes. –DHS
My friend Dennis Polifroni is over tonight watching a movie with the kids. Dennis is a huge fan PARIS TEXAS, and he’s a regular commentator at WitD. He promises he will be visiting you soon to express full agreement with the love you have bestowed on the film David. I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll watch it again this week. I confess I haven’t to this point has the same feelings for it, but reflecting back, and reading this magisterial essay (one of your finest ever at the site) that I may have missed something. Dee Dee also mentioned how taken she was of the passion you are putting on the written page here.
I was always impressed with Stanton and the cinematography. And yes I do remember that score well. It’s funny you bring up Anton Karas’s zither music, especially since I was fortunate enough to see that Graham Greene cinematic masterpiece for the umteeth time this past weekend at the Brit Noir Festival at the Film Forum. Any music that can compare with that or Johnny Greenwood’s, well that’s the highest praise on can bestow on a film’s score.
David you should be proud of this review, it’s really a home run. I will let you know about my revisitation soon.
Sam, I look forward to Dennis weighing in and sharing his thoughts, and I’m glad I could encourage you to “re-visit”. Oh, and as many have similarly expressed over there at WitD, I am very jealous of the fact you were able to see THE THIRD MAN on the big screen over the weekend! –DHS
D.H. said,” In addition to Paris, Texas, the Russian film Vor (The Thief) was also a big inspiration for some of the book’s themes.”
First of all, I was able to secure a copy of your book, The Thief Maker.
Secondly, I was able to secure the film Paris, Texas…
Finally, I “wasn’t” able to secure a copy of the film Vor (The Thief)
Oh! Yes, I asked a friend to try and secure a copy for me through Netflix, but she said, “when she placed the film in her Netflix queue it stated the film is “unknown?!?”
I did locate copies of the film Vor (The Thief) … over there at both Amazon.com and Amazon.com UK., but do you think that I will be able to view the film on a standard or an all-region player? Most importantly, where did you purchase your copy of the film?
Because I ‘am totally, confused by Amazon.com description of what regions the film will be able to viewed.
Hi! Sam Juliano,
DeeDee — to be honest with you I never really looked into it, but it sure doesn’t “appear” to be readily available (and sadly so). I don’t own a copy of Vor (The Thief) . I’ve seen the movie only on television–perhaps first in 2000 or 2001 and maybe again some years later–on The Independent Film Channel. It struck quite a chord, but it was one of those emotionally draining films that I never felt the need to rush out and buy…I knew it would find me when I needed it, and I knew I would never forget it even if I never saw it again.
I will put it in my queue…sometimes the “unknowns” become “knowns” at a later date, and if this is the case, I will be sure to let you know. –DHS
Hello Dee Dee!!!!
David, THE THIRD MAN shows there several times a year, so you’ll definitely be able to snag a screening soon enough.
Sam, I shall have to keep my eyes and ears peeled then. –DHS
Oh! Yes, the “secured” copy of the film Paris, Texas has finally
arrived in my mailbox…Therefore,
I plan to watch Paris, Texas and The Odd Man Out over the weekend.
(Thanks, to my writer Andrew Katsis, for the latter recommendation)
D.H.,I tried to avoid your review until after I watch the film. However, I can tell you this much your screenshots mean nothing to me yet, but after I watch this film…I will tell you whether I would want to re-watch, and re-watch this film again, and again and…
DeeDee – I can’t wait to hear what you think of it. –DHS
I will put it in my queue…sometimes the “unknowns” become “knowns” at a later date, and if this is the case, I will be sure to let you know. –DHS
Oh! Yes, I did locate available copies of this film over there at Amazon.com not only on DVD, but in the VHS format too at…“real low prices.”
Oh! Yes, I own the “dreaded” dvd/vhs combo for emergencies just like this one. By the way, Thanks, for the heads-up!
DeeDee – No problem! If you come across any DVD version of Vor in your travels, let me know. Now that I have that all region player, I’ll have to find a good reliable website where I can purchase some of my foreign faves. –DHS
Check out! This link… Vladimir’s Thief
D.H., Do you know what version is the Russian version as oppose to the U.S. version?
Because over there on Amazon.com some customers, have pointed out the difference between the two…I think that the U.S. version has been edited.
I ‘am not familiar with Vladimir Mashkov’s The Thief film. Therefore, I ‘am unable to distinguish between the two films.
DeeDee — hmm, yeah I heard there are two different endings! The one set to be released in Sept. on Amazon has a run time of 94 minutes, while the one of that other site you sent me via email has a run time of 97 minutes. I would imagine the one on Amazon is the “altered” version…but I’m not sure. –DHS
Oops, this should have read…
I ‘am not familiar with Vladimir Mashkov’s 1998 film “The Thief.” Therefore, I ‘am unable to distinguish between the two versions.
By the way, I just send you an email…pertaining to this film.
DeeDee — and to clarify…the director is Pavel Chukhraj…the other guy must be one of the actors. We can continue this discussion via email. –DHS
After your “ringing” endorsement of this film and now I have discovered this post on a blog that I recently, added to my blog roll.
All I can truly say is…That does it…I ‘am most definitely, watching this film next week!…I must admit that I have been delaying watching the film Paris, Texas, but no longer.
DeeDee, I find it funny that blogger first came across the film on TV, too! And they told us TV rotted the brain. –DHS
(Laughter) In my “zest” to relay the news to you about the film Vor (The Thief) all I can say is…
…pardon me, but these were my “duh” moment(s)…First, I should have taken the time to check out the minutes of both films and Secondly, the director’s name too…Oh! Well, C’est la vie!
Oops!… The “typo princess” is now over here making mistake on your blog …I think that I should have used the word…
…In my “zeal” instead of, In my “zest.”
DeeDee, actually, either word works in that context quite well. –DHS
The Internet’s great for finding stuff.
Just found your review of what’s probably my favorite movie, a movie I actually saw in a theater in downtown Cincinnati back in 1985, when I felt as lost and alone as Travis. I had one advantage over him–I was eighteen. But this movie continues to stick with me, and I’ve watched it again over the years. To me, the theme is fascinating. Travis wants to start EVERYTHING over, so he goes back to where he actually begain…because he wants to fix everything, he starts over. And near the end, when he realizes he can’t fix everything, he fixes what can be fixed, at a cost to himself and his own dreams. That’s what makes him a hero to me. Harry Dean Stanton was amazing in this role…I’m sure you’re aware of Gene Siskel’s “Stanton rule”, that no movie with him in it can be completely terrible. I think this was his best work.
Dave – I’m happy to see you found your way to The Spin. It’s great to hear about others who love this film as much as I do. I hadn’t heard of the “Stanton rule” before but it makes total sense to me! –DHS
And where is – Amadeus (1984) – Directed by Milos Forman
Not having that on the list – makes the list invalid.
No, Chris, it just makes this list Not Your List. I found Amadeus to be a fine film, just not one of my faves or one of the best of the decade.
Does the ending of “Paris Texas”, remind you of the ending of “The Searchers”, and are there other aspects of the film that derive from Ford’s film? Cinematography, looking for someone, the job finished Travus like the Wayne character Ethan leave?
I’ll be honest, I hadn’t thought of the parallels to The Searchers before, but you might be on to something. Great observations!