Plot: What’s it about?
Recently, I finally sat down and dedicated the nearly two and a half hours necessary to watch the well regarded Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas. This has been on my to-do list for a few years and I have owned the Criterion Blu-ray for at least that long. To be candid, I am freaked out by the time requirements of longer films. I am sadly somewhat shallow in this regard, despite my attempts to prove otherwise to myself. I watched Wim Wenders’ excellent film The American Friend a couple years ago and had vowed I would watch Paris, Texas next, but it still took me a couple of years to build up to it. I am so glad I finally grabbed it out of my collection and watched it.
As the film begins, an unknown man (Harry Dean Stanton) wanders into a small Texas town from the dessert. Exhausted from the sun, while trying to get some ice in his mouth, he passes out and is taken to a doctor in Tirlingua. The man remains mute. The doctor finds a card in his pocket and calls the number. He informs Walt (Dean Stockwell) that his brother Travis is at his office. Walt had not seen Travis in four years. By the time Walt arrives in Tirlingua, Travis has wandered off. Walt locates Travis, but Travis does not seem to recognize him. His brother asks if he has seen Jane and let’s him know that he and Anne assumed he was dead. Walt calls Hunter and let’s him know that his dad is alive and he will bring his father home. Walt and Anne took in Hunter when Travis and Jane disappeared. Travis finally speaks up and asks Walt if he’s ever been to Paris and if they could go there. Travis refuses to fly with his brother and they end up driving back towards Los Angeles. On the drive he shows his brother a picture of an empty lot that he had purchased in Paris, Texas. When Travis arrives at his brother’s house and sees Hunter for the first time in years, he decides that he must reconnect with both Hunter and Jane. Jane lives in Houston. I don’t want to spoil how this all plays out, so I will stop there.
Paris, Texas has long been heralded as one of the best independent films made in the Eighties. The film was written by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and author Sam Shepard with some collaborative help from Wim Wenders. It was Wim Wenders’ attempt to capture the essence of America and the film was shot in the heart of Texas. The film was shot by master cinematographer Robby Muller who worked on numerous Winders films before helping Jim Jarmusch define his style. The combination of those three talents and a lead performance by Harry Dean Stanton makes the film something very special. This film has been held in high regard for nearly thirty five years with good reason.
Harry Dean Stanton gives a career defining performance as Travis. For the first third of the film, he is mute. All the emotion that is taken from all those scenes comes strictly from the lines on his face and the his ability to express himself while silent. After he speaks, he gives an amazing monologue in the final part of the film. Anybody who has seen it will know what I am talking about. This extended monologue, when you watch it, take note that it was shot as a one-take. Everything that Harry Dean has to do in this film requires extraordinary skill and after years as a side player in films, he had the right stuff. It’s an unforgettable performance.
Wim Wenders was so satisfied with this film and felt so sure that he had finally achieved his goal of capturing America that his next film was shot in Berlin (another well regarded film, Wings of Desire.) Wenders has brass balls. He shot this film with a half written script and hoped that Sam Shepard would deliver when he needed to in the end. Amazingly enough, Sam Shepard in one night, while working on his other commitments, wrote the amazing monologue in the last third of the film. Wenders also had the courage to let the film breathe. There are numerous stretches that are silent and those stretches allow the audience to absorb the setting. This wise choice is also a brave one that requires pure confidence in one’s ability to tell stories via imagery. Then again, when you have Robby Muller as your cinematographer you have every reason to be able to stand by those images. Wenders is not necessarily slow-paced, but he is deliberately paced. People looking for a film that moves quickly may find themselves at odds with the intent of this film.
On top of all that I have mentioned above, there is no way to discount the great performance given by Nastassja Kinski and great supporting roles by Dean Stockwell and the young Hunter Carson. All of the acting is really superb in the film. The score by Ry Cooder fits the film perfectly. It is evocative of the emotions in the film and the landscapes on display. It’s excellent,
Here is the saddest part about this film. In the last year we lost three of the major reasons that this film is amazing. Sam Shepard, Harry Dean Stanton, and, most recently, Robby Muller have all passed away. Each one of those men were masters in their professions and will be missed. At least we have this film to remember them.
This film deserves my highest recommendation.
Video: How’s it look?
Criterion rolled out this Blu-ray in 2010. Despite the fact that Blu-ray image quality has gotten even sharper and more detailed since then, this Blu-ray still looks pretty fantastic. There is a fine grain over everything and fine detail is very good. Occasionally, the focus is a bit soft, but this presentation in 1080p in 1.78:1 aspect ratio holds up remarkably well. That said, given some of Criterion’s recent 4K transfers, this transfer is not quite up to that level. Fans of the film should not hesitate to buy this release unless Criterion starts rolling out UHD titles. Overall, this is a beautiful film and very deserving of adding to your Blu-ray library.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Criterion Collection have provided a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that made me very pleased. Given how soft spoken this film is, I was impressed by how evocative the surround field turned out to be. Ry Cooder’s excellent score has been given the royal treatment and sounds great here. Dialogue is crystal clear. There is no hiss. There are no cracks, thumps, or anything to distract from the excellent film.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – Wim Wenders gives a great heartfelt commentary on the ways in which the film was made, technical details from shooting the film, and thoughts on the cast and crew. Really solid stuff.
- Wim Wenders – this German television interview with Wenders is incredible. Wenders reveals tons of information about the production of the film and his feelings about the film itself. Well worth your time. (28:59, 1080i).
- The Road to Paris, Texas – this 1989 piece features interviews with Wim Wenders, Robby Muller, Ry Cooder, Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper, and many moreover his collaborators. I was very excited to see Samuel Fuller make an appearance. This piece is good overall. (42:42, 1080i). In English, not subtitled.
- Claire Denis – The assistant director discusses how she came to work with Wim on the film and memories from during the shoot. She went on to direct White Material, which is also in the Criterion Collection. Filmed in October 2009. (20:28, 1080p).
- Allison Anders– the production assistant for the film reads from her diary from during the shoot. She went on to direct Border Radio, which is also part of the Criterion Collection. (25:25, 1080p)
- Cinema cinemas – this short piece features Wim Wenders and composer Ry Cooder working on the score for the film. Short but sweet. (12:20, 1080i).
- Deleted Scenes – these feature an optional commentary by director Wim Wenders that almost make them worth your time (23:38 min, 1080i)
- Super 8 Footage – Super 8 footage shot for the film with music by Ry Cooder (7:00, 1080i).
- Written in the West – photos from Wim Wenders’ trip through Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and California in 1983.
- Robin Holland – photos from the unit photographer from during the filming.
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
Paris, Texas is a fantastic film. Wim Wenders created something truly unique and beautiful. It is a shame that the world will not get to see any more Harry Dean Stanton, Sam Shepard, or Robby Muller films. The combination of all those talents led to something truly remarkable and memorable. Criterion have provided a great transfer and excellent supplements. I highly recommend that you add this film to your collection and let it slowly seep in. It’s deserving of all the praise it has received over the years.