Paris, Texas (1984)
, directed by Wim Wenders.
A man wandering in the Texas desert has gone feral. Not vicious, just withdrawn and mute, a face formed by hopelessness and suffering. He visibly flinches when he sees himself in a mirror and heads back out into the wilderness. It takes time to domesticate what has become wild.
The story proceeds in three acts: (1) Travis is collected by his brother who works hard to get him indoors and talking again, (2) their return to LA where Travis must be reacquainted with his young son, and (3) their road trip back to Texas to find Mom.
The story of this shattered family, how it broke apart and how it might be reassembled, is revealed slowly. In some ways it is a western; like The Searchers (1956)
after the hero recovers the lost woman and returns her to her family, he turns and heads out again, alone.
A couple of bits I had forgotten:
- Quite plausibly, the walls on the girls side of the peep show rooms are unfinished with bare insulation. The customers never see it.
- Sitting at an intersection, left goes to Mom, right back to LA. "Left, Dad", says the kid.
After about 100 credits as a supporting and character actor, the great Harry Dean Stanton finally gets the lead in a role he believes in. Dean Stockwell, used to so many eccentric characters, gets to play a normal guy. Nastassja Kinski gets to be American and we welcome her. Great work from each of them.
Photographed by Wenders' long-time cameraman Robby Müller. I first saw most of these films on video tape and remembered nothing about their visual composition. In the Blu-ray era they are just gorgeous and I am amazed on what those two could do on the day of shooting, picking up beauty as they found it.
I did see this one in the theater, but to me it looks better on home video and also seems to run faster. 2h25m is probably too long for many viewers, but it did not seem overlong to me this time.
Ry Cooder provides a lovely, hurting slide guitar concerto with cantina music on the side. He says the main theme is adapted from Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground
by Blind Willie Johnson, 1927.
Available on Blu-ray from Criterion with a meticulous commentary by the director wherein I learn:
- He had wanted to work with Sam Shepard before but the studio wouldn't allow it because Shepard, although an accomplished playwright, had done no screenplays yet. No one wants to be the first.
- They wrote the story up to LA and had planned to write the rest while shooting, but Shepard was away on another project. He contributed at a long distance and wrote the peep show dialogue. (An aside: those bits sound like recited playwright-speak to me).
- All real locations, all direct photography. (The peep show setting was constructed; he said he didn't think anything like that existed in reality).
- He fell in love with a split-lens and used it as much as possible. It allows both foreground and background to be in focus.
- He did not storyboard any of the scenes, just got the actors to run through it on the day and worked out the shots with Müller on the spot. Note that what he calls "storyboarding" meant staying up the night before and planning the next day. To others it would imply much more elaborate preparation.
- Cooder composed while watching the film. He would repeat each reel and play along until he got what he wanted.
- Stanton made up his own bits of doing dishes, singing Mexican songs, cleaning shoes. (I remember another actor -- was it Kris Kristofferson? -- telling how he got into films: "There was this guy who used to hang out at the bar, singing Mexican songs..." That was Harry Dean).
- One of those sweaters Kinski wears: Wenders knew what he wanted but couldn't find it. His costumer located it the morning of the scene at a yard sale.
- He says of Kinksi: we make a film together every ten years, thinking of Wrong Move (1975) and Faraway, So Close! (1993). They were overdue when he recorded the track and are long overdue now.