Three Reasons to Watch: Paris, Texas
Every Monday, Curzon or a guest editor recommends a key film from the Curzon Home Cinema collection. This week, it's Wim Wenders' haunting 1984 odyssey.
Once viewed, it's impossible to forget the opening of Paris, Texas. A man walks out of a desert. He may not have been there for forty days, but his dusty attire suggests he has been walking for some time. An aerial shot of the arid Texan landscape cuts to a bird of prey watching the man, his red baseball cap a stark contrast to his surroundings. We're faced with the mystery of where he has come from, but also where he is going. And the man's near ceaseless desire to move from one place to another, seemingly fearful of what will happen if he stays put in one place for any length of time, that drives the film.
By 1984, Wim Wenders had experienced a few tumultuous years as a filmmaker. He was one of the celebrated members of New German Cinema (alongside Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog and Margarethe von Trotta) and his loose trilogy Alice in the Cities (1974), Wrong Move (1975) and Kings of the Road (1976) redefined the Road Movie. Following his 1977 Patricia Highsmith/Ripley adaptation The American Friend, Wenders was invited by Francis Ford Coppola to make a film in Hollywood. The result was the fitfully fascinating detective drama Hammett (1982). Though the experience of making it was painful for Wenders, he did meet Sam Shepard to discuss the possibility of working on the film's script. Although the actor and playwright said no, he expressed an interest in working with Wenders. They settled on one of the stories from Shepard's collection 'Motel Chronicles', which became the basis of Paris, Texas.
The man who walks out of the desert is named Travis. Although he lacks the angst of the Travis in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), both men share a sense of dislocation from the world they live in. We gradually learn some of this Travis' backstory, which takes us into the film's second half and the journey towards some kind of resolution. Throughout, we witness a rapidly disappearing environment – this was an era when Main Street USA and independent businesses were losing their battle against strip malls and commercial franchises. And Wenders' film, like Werner Herzog's earlier Stroszek (1977), records this transformation. But Wenders never loses focus on the mystery that surrounds Travis. And the film, which won the Palme d'Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival and is arguably the director's finest, remains a compelling and enigmatic work.
• Harry Dean Stanton as Travis – a career-defining performance by one of US cinema's finest actors. For the ideal Stanton double, check out Lucky. While not quite his swan song (that would be 2018’s Frank and Ava) it is nonetheless the perfect farewell, and the last of his films to be released during his lifetime.
• Ry Cooder's haunting score. With its echoes of Blind Willie Johnson's 'Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground', Cooder's music underpins the mystery surrounding Travis' past whilst emphasising the starkness and solitude of the landscape he travels through.
• Key Scene: Travis and Jane reunited. An extended dialogue between an estranged couple, through the mirrored glass of a peep show club, provides the emotional core of the film. It's understated, but devastating.
Discover one of cult actor Harry Dean Stanton's most memorable performances in the 1984 Palme d'Or-winner Paris, Texas.
This unusual road movie, with screenplay by acclaimed playwright Sam Shepard, tells the tale of Travis, a man lost in his own private hell. Presumed dead for four years, he reappears from the desert on the Mexico border, world-weary and an amnesiac. With extraordinary performances from Harry Dean Stanton as Travis and Natassja Kinski as Jane, the film also boasts a soundtrack by Wender's long time friend Ry Cooder.
Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas is available to watch now on Curzon Home Cinema