Paris, Texas (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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A lost man surfaces, reunites with his brother and son, and finds his wife working in a peep show. Directed by Wim Wenders. Music by Ry Cooder.
Something like a perfect artistic union is achieved in the major components of Paris, Texas: the twang of Ry Cooder's guitar, the lonely light of Robbie Muller's camera, the craggy landscape of Harry Dean Stanton's face. In his greatest role, longtime character actor Stanton plays a man brought back to his old life after wandering in the desert (or somewhere) for four years. He has a 7-year-old son to get to know, and his wife has gone missing. The material is much in the wanderlust spirit of director Wim Wenders, working from a script by Sam Shepard and L.M. Kit Carson. If the long climactic conversation between Stanton and Nastassja Kinski renders the movie uneven and slightly inscrutable, it's hard to think of a more fitting ending--and besides, the achingly empty American spaces stick longer in the memory than the dialogue. Winner of the top prize at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. --Robert Horton
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Here's the skinny. The plot for this could be summed up in about two sentences. This sounds like a remarkably thin plot for a movie which runs approximately 2.5 hours. Why would anyone watch it, let alone award it the Palme d'Or at Cannes? Second, what exactly does "Palme d Or" mean, anyhow?
I won't look up the translation but will observe, quoting the intelligent provided essay, that in 1984 Ronald Reagan was President of the US and Europe, particularly European film makers, were hardly in love with the US--at least the way our government ran foreign affairs. Yet here was a
German filmmaker, making a 2.5 hour long movie in the American Southwest, with American actors, and the dialog in English. Some called it Europe's love-note to the US--not necessarily the US in practice, but the IDEA of the US, which was in part a country so large, and particularly the Western half so sparsely populated, that the very land breathed a sense of freedom that often seemed lacking in Europe.
Then I shall point out the "art director" for the production is listed as "Kate Altman". Was this the wife of the famous American director, Robert Altman? I DON'T KNOW, but it could be, since his wife's name was Katherine, she survived his death in 2006, and lastly when George W. Bush
ran for President, Altman stated that if Bush were elected he'd move to Paris. When Bush WAS elected, he said of course, what he meant was he'd move to Paris, Texas--so he was certainly quite cognizant of the film many years later--which he surely would have been if his wife had collaborated
The two sentence plot is: In the first half of the film, a man is reunited with his brother and son. In the second half, he sees his wife for the first time in 4 years. Doesn't sound riveting? The draw of this film is its cinematographic beauty. The story unfolds between Big Bend, Texas and Southern
California, and the Texas vistas are so large that they drive home just why Texans love to call it "the Big state." However, even the city scenes and the interiors are generally beautifully filmed.
The dialog is as uncluttered as the vast Texan landscapes (hence the simplicity of the plot). One might consider this a "modern Western", if by that
one means a film centered in the American West--but it's misleading I suppose to use that term, as it associates the film with a genre it doesn't really fit. Last I should mention the score--mostly slide guitar by Ry Cooder, the greatest slide guitarist you never heard of. His acoustics lend a mournful note to those vast, unpopulated vistas, and the tale is a rather mournful tale, about the distances between even people who genuinely love each other, and the distances between what we know to be true and what we wish were true. Yes, in a way its like a visual Remembrance of Things Past [another very long but classic work]. The film ends with a departure but not exactly a resolution. I have a resolution in my mind as I saw the closing images, and like to imagine that it was in the director's and the writer's minds as well but who knows, sometimes there is a beauty in letting the viewer fill in the blanks with your own meanings.
If you want to see filmmaking as a visual art, without the use of the modern digital special effects that have become staples, but with complete use of color as a part of that beauty, then you may find this 2.5 hours time well spent. I give it an A-.
"Paris, Texas" comes across as the visual equivalent of a tone poem; Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) mysteriously shows up after 4 years in the desert. Travis would claim to remember nothing about his past if he would speak--everyone assumes he's mute until they are able to contact his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) who with his wife has been raising Travis' son Hunter (Hunter Carson) as his own. Travis has returned to rediscover his life and undo the past as best he can including locating his estranged wife Jane (Natassja Kinski)who disappeared sending Travis on his own lost journey into Hades.
Based on stories written by actor/playwright Sam Shepard, adapted by L. M. "Kit" Carson and directed by German director Wim Wenders ("Wings of Desire", "The American Friend", "Buena Vista Social Club")"Paris, Texas" makes the landscape as much a character as those we are following in the film. Having said that, this film is acquired taste with a pace more in keeping with later indie films (and, in fact, the feel of "Paris, Texas" has much in common with the films that Terence Malick made at the time and continues to make)--it's much more a mediative piece on the loss of self, memory and Travis' attempt to reclaim what is lost after trauma.
The Criterion edition features a stunning looking HD transfer (at one point you can see vultures circling over prey in the distance). There is a depth only hinted at on previous transfers, colors pop and the film has been scrubbed of flaws. Ry Cooder's marvelous score has never sounded so good with a rich sounding lossless presentation.
The special features (which are always a highlight of Criterion editions)are exceptional: we get excerpts from a 1990 documentary on Wenders featuring interviews with a wide variety of admirers and collaborators from Peter Falk to novelist Patricia Highsmith (who wrote "The American Friend"); an interview with Wenders, new video interviews; a 1984 French TV special about Wenders' work; deleted scenes and super 8 home movies from the film are also included and we get a gallery of Wenders' scouting location photos. The original theatrical trailer is included plus we get an excellent audio commentary from Wenders, behind the scene photos and a booklet with critic Nick Roddick's essay on the film as well as vintage interviews with Shepard, Kinski, Stockwell.
For fans of "Paris, Texas" the Criterion edition is the standard on Blu-ray (and DVD). The film has never looked better nor has it ever received such a lovingly detailed history on its production. Highly recommended.