Paris, Texas (1984)

23 05 2010

I’m accused movies of “cheating” before and I usually mean that in the sense that they are too close to my ideal vision of cinema. This is one of those movies. It’s a weird phenomenon and I can never quite put my finger on it, but films like these are perfect in my eyes yet still can’t provide the same emotional response as some of my more “flawed” favorite films. I’ll particularly throw out Two-Lane Blacktop and The Wayward Cloud since this film is of the same ilk and, in all likelihood, it’s probably aware of the former. It seems a little too simplistic, not to mention illogical, just to downplay a film like just because it doesn’t have any transgression or something, but there’s definitely something missing here.

If there’s one flaw in the film that I can immediately pinpoint, it’s the weird overly-bright, almost cartoony color scheme that is easy to find towards the start, but tones down before eventually arriving in Wenders’s usual visual territory. The film of his it is most like is probably The American Friend but the opening landscapes look a bit more commercial than anything in that film. It’s a really small gripe because looking at the film is almost completely a wonderful experience. I guess I just expect more from the usually aesthetically pleasing Wenders? Again, this is just small stuff.

The story concerns itself with Travis Henderson, a man lost in the desert who has obviously experienced something extremely traumatic in the past. He slowly becomes part of functioning society with the help of his brother, Walt and his wife, Anne who have been taking care of Travis’s son, Hunter ever since Travis vanished many years ago. There’s some nice bonding scenes that feel real even though the content is obviously bordering on being something out of a mushy Hallmark card.

In the last twenty minutes or so, the film (somewhat abruptly) shifts into territory that is more familiar for works of this style. Travis tries to hunt down his wife, the women who (we are to presume) played a integral role in his emotional collapse. Basically any scene with Nastassja Kinski is enormously sad and moving, but probably just a bit too dialogue-driven for their own good. It really goes against the grain, especially if one takes into account that a majority of the film’s opening is without any dialogue at all. It all works, but again, it might play some part in my inability to truly embrace this film like the two comparisons I mentioned in the first paragraph. Everything works well here: it just works too well, I suppose. Still, a great film that I enjoyed a lot more than this review probably implies. Pardon that, I’m still a bit rusty.

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3 responses

23 05 2010
Shubhajit Lahiri

Paris, Texas is one of the most famous movies ever made, and I too have strong inclinations towards it. You mentioned that Travis might have faced some trauma that made him take the route he did. Well, there’s certainly merit in that assumption, but what’s more important is what remains in terms of the effect – disillusionment & detachment. I’d agree with your view that near the end the film becomes a bit too talky; fortunately that’s just a minor blip in this otherwise extremely satisfying film.

26 05 2010
Jeff Duncanson

I love Paris, Texas unabashedly. I love how Wenders subverts our expectations of of what this “loving father” does. That is, takes his son out of a stable loving environment and delivers him to a mother who for all intents and purposes is a prostitute. P,T always gets compared to The Searchers, and well it should. I feel exactly the same way about Travis that I feel about Ethan in the Ford film. He is misguided and selfish in many regards, but at the same time extremely tender. That’s a enormously hard thing to pull off.

As for your comment about the film getting talky at the end, that is by design. Travis is silent at the start because he is completely siezed up with loss and regret. The finale of the film, and in particular the long monlogue behind the glass over the phone is cathartic for Travis – All the pain is flowing out of him now.

13 06 2010
bmac

I agree that the film becomes a bit too dialogue driven, especially during the penultimate scene in the sex booth. I mean, it’s a solid scene: the reaction shots, the vast separation that still exists between them, both literally and figuratively, and there is nothing particularly bad about said dialogue, it’s pretty well written. It just feels like there’s something I should be feeling during that scene that I’m not feeling. Extrapolating that thought toward the rest of the film, I don’t know, I almost felt like a dispassionate spectator throughout the entire thing. It never sank it’s emotional hooks in for whatever reason. Perhaps it had to do with the film’s set-up, the complete silence of the main character, etc. I was fascinated from the get-go but emotionally disconnected.

Visually though, I absolutely loved it. Definitely my style.

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