Paris, Texas: a visual trip

Paris, Texas is a film I am deeply in love with. The unanimous winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1984 (as well as the FIPRESCI prize), it’s a visually beautiful and emotionally rich experience – from its first birds-eye view of the desert to its final trip down a neon-lit road. It’s romantic, atmospheric, character-driven filmmaking of the highest calibre; its pleasures are immense and infinite.

With Paris, Texas, director Wim Wenders created an elegy to a particular idea of America – a crumbling world of endless highways, roadside diners and dilapidated motels. Robby Müller’s cinematography captures landscapes vast and intimate, matched by the ragged terrain of Harry Dean Stanton’s face – he’s leathered and lean, with sad eyes and a soft, sweet centre. After 100 or so films, Travis Henderson was Harry Dean’s first lead role and he’s perfect, giving a performance of tremendous empathy and tenderness. Every time I see it I feel overwhelmed by its subtleties and moved by its grace. Scenes with Nastassja Kinski (with a one-way mirror between them), who plays his estranged wife Jane, and with Hunter (Hunter Carson), the son they both abandoned, are touching and at times painfully real.

Paris, Texas is a film about many things – about love, sacrifice and redemption, and about the fierce yearning for an imagined place always out of reach. After my most recent viewing (in 35mm at ACMI) I’ve decided that it is a film above all about forgiveness. Travis walks out of the desert hell battered by his own suffering. He has a chance to make things right when he collapses in a tiny town and his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) travels from Los Angeles to bring him home. So much of the film takes place on the road (on foot or in a car) and every step closer to Hunter and Jane is a step closer for Travis to absolution for his sins. By it’s conclusion, he has reunited the two people he loves most with each other and disappears into the night. He has to keep moving but where he goes we’ll never know. Lost in America again.

What follows is a visual essay that attempts to come to grips with the immense emotional pull Wenders’ film continues to have over me. Words are by Sam Shepard, from his autobiographical collection, Motel Chronicles (1982), on which the screenplay for Paris, Texas (which he co-wrote with L.M. Kit Carson) is based. Images are by Wim Wenders, Edward Hopper and America.

——-

Alone

He drops them all on the pile of rubble. Squats naked in the baking sand. Sets the whole thing up in flames. Then stands. Turns his back on US Highway 608. Walks straight out into open land.

desert

My Dad lives alone on the desert. He says he doesn’t fit with people.

Harry Dean Stanton Paris Texas

Four Lane Road – Edward Hopper, 1956
Four Lane Road – Edward Hopper, 1956

I don’t feel like moving much. I’d just as soon live in this truck. I’d just as soon let the grass grow right through the tires.

alone

Maybe I should just walk with no destination.

walking tracks

space

I can’t breathe without you but this circle of ribs keeps working on its own.

love

Together

There were no people around. Just us and the dinosaurs.

dinosaurs

He could see his own heart. He could feel the demonic attachment of a man for his only woman.

IslBG

reunited

Summer Evening - Edward Hopper, 1947
Summer Evening – Edward Hopper, 1947

The rooms felt abandoned but I knew she was in there without seeing her. I could feel her mourning somewhere. I knew she could hear me.

facing each other

Morning Sun – Edward Hopper, 1952
Morning Sun – Edward Hopper, 1952

I saw her pink lips. Her arms upstretched. I thought of trying to reach her although I knew she’d moved away a long time ago. I remembered her voice. I wondered if she ever thought of me. And I knew right then that things were very separate from each other.

jane

Maybe we could both have a conversation. Would you like to have a conversation?

talking

Paris-Texas-2

He’d lost the fear of falling. The hand went straight through his back and grabbed his heart. It didn’t squeeze. It was a grip of pure love. He let his body drop and watched it tumble without hope. His heart stayed high, tucked in the knuckles of a giant fist.

paris-texas-hunter-and-harry-stanton

BLOW OUT_164.tif

Paris.Texas_.1984

Colors

Colors from the land: pale-orange sand, chocolate topsoil, pale blue like a tear.

paris, texas (8)

New York Movie – Edward Hopper, 1939
New York Movie – Edward Hopper, 1939

paris_texas_06

diner-window

Moving

He wondered who the drivers were, if they believed in God or if they were just driving for others who believed in God.

night lights

Maybe I should stay in one place and stay put and stop making up reasons to move.

on the road

motel 5

american diner

Gas - Edward Hopper, 1940
Gas – Edward Hopper, 1940

texaco

pepsi cola sign

In the midst of this emergency I think of you and only you.

Paris Texas

paris texas

saying goodbye

final scene

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3 thoughts on “Paris, Texas: a visual trip

  1. Wonderful post. I like how you’ve juxtaposed words and images here. I love this film, too. I’ve always thought it was interesting that all of the Texas locations were filmed in parts of the state far away from the actual town of Paris, Texas. The landscape around Paris is certainly much less dramatic, though, so perhaps that’s why. From a cinematic standpoint, it seems to be a case where the name works better than the place itself would.

    Harry Dean is one of my favorite actors. Have you seen the documentary about him that came out last year? I just found out about it recently (head in the sand!).

    1. Thanks again for your comments. I’ve had my head buried in the sand too about that documentary but will investigate this. I love HDS so appreciate this information. I agree with what you say about the use of the town name in the title – it’s evocative because of its immediate strangeness to a non-Texan/non-American. There is also something idealised and romantic about it, a place that is dreamed about but always out of reach.

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