Paris, Texas (1984)

Masterpiece Obscure

         
 

19 August 2017| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

The drifter walks through hot, dry plains who would seem to belong to no one and have nothing. That would be Harry Dean Stanton as Travis, walking endlessly with no final destination in Paris, Texas (1984). He has been wandering in the wilderness for four years wearing his raggedy mud-stained suit and baseball cap. It’s easy to assume that he is crazy, but then we get to know his character and know that he had a past. He has been walking the desert as his penance.

A family member gets a tip about Travis’ whereabouts. Dean Stockwell, as the brother Walt, flies in from Los Angeles to pick up his vagrant brother whom he thought dead. Annoyed with the silence, Walt riles him to cut the crap and say something. Travis has a mournful tone when he does finally decide to speak. Though he mumbles at first, Travis’ obsession has something about how he destroyed his marriage out of jealousy and rage, besieged with nasty alcoholism. Travis was once joyously in love with Jane (Nastassja Kinski), a damn fine looker. He also left his four-year old son Hunter behind.

Upon their arrival in Los Angeles, Travis is reunited him with his young son (Hunter Carson) whom has been watched over by Walt, now in elementary school. Travis is greeted warmly by Walt’s wife Anne (Aurore Clement) wd iwho is generously hospitable on one hand, but guarded with a need to protect Hunter’s interests. Hunter is at first confused by the presence of Travis, treating him like a stranger. Travis learns that Jane wires money to Hunter on a monthly basis even though she makes no other contact with him. The bank wire comes from Houston, Texas, where Travis he now must go.

It is unclear what Travis’ intentions are at first, whether he wants to make amends with his wife or attempt to reunite with her for good. Travis lets Hunter tag-along with him without getting permission from Walt and Anne, whom were Hunter’s substitute parents for years.

“Paris, Texas” is a film of deep anguish and great sorrow, because we learn that Travis’ past destructive ways drove his wife to an unsavory type of lifestyle working in a glass booth at a sex club. Jane sits behind a one-side glass in a private booth where she does phone sex (and peep shows) to customers over a telephone. The customers can see her but she cannot see them.

“These two people. They were in love with each other. The girl was very young, about 17 or 18, I guess. And the guy was quite a bit older. He was kind of raggedy and wild. And she was very beautiful, you know?” Travis blathers away. There’s a tough scene where Travis with humility admits to his son Hunter, who isn’t old enough to understand all the implications, that Travis abused his mother. Travis does what he can to reconcile a mother and son, putting them above himself. In this process, we come to learn how past wounds came to destroy Jane’s self-worth.

I certainly feel this is a superb film, one told at great length and with deliberate pacing – it has the sprawl, observation and nuance of great fiction that is punctuated by a pitch-perfect Stanton performance. It takes its time to get intimate with its compelling range of characters and gets us to know the history behind them, letting us discover their secrets and pained wishes in the process. Director Wim Wenders, a German who made a transition into making American films briefly, is known for a few cult film obscurities but this is to me his finest film (I’d rank it the second best film of 1984, just under “Amadeus”). Robby Muller’s vast widescreen cinematography is essential to its artistic success and Ry Cooder’s moody string-guitar music score evokes a sense of distance and remoteness. Stanton and screenwriter Sam Shepard sadly passed away a few months between each other in 2017.

150 Minutes. Rated R.

DRAMA / ADULT ORIENTATION / MASTERPIECE VIEWING

Film Cousins: “sex, lies and videotape” (1989); “Man Push Cart” (2006); “Goodbye Solo” (2008); “Manchester by the Sea” (2016).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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