Sight and Sound Top 250 #185 – Paris, Texas (1984)

As we finally get back to our trip through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, we come to #185, Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

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ptp01Paris, Texas isn’t a place on a map, it’s a place in the soul.

Yeah, I know, sounds like a bit of advertising copy, doesn’t it? For all I know, it could very well be. (Hey, anyone out there looking for blurbage for your film? Drop me a quick message.)

There are some actors who I love seeing in the cast list for a movie because I know that no matter how bad the movie itself may be, at least that actor is going to give me an enjoyable performance. One of those actors is Harry Dean Stanton. I can’t exactly put my finger on why it is that I have that reaction, but there it is, And hey, there’s HDS’s name right a the top of the billing for Wim Wenders’s 1984 outing Paris, Texas. Okay, I tell myself, at least I know I’m in for something I’m going to like about this film.

And the truth is that there’s actually quite a lot to like about it.

Paris, Texas is the story of Stanton’s Travis Henderson who disappeared from his family’s life four years earlier. When he turns up on the edge of a south Texas desert, dehydrated and either unable or unwilling to talk, he is taken in by a doctor who contacts his brother, Walt (played by another favorite character actor, Dean Stockwell), who agrees to come pick him up. Since Travis refuses to travel by plane, the two brothers drive back to Walt’s home in Los Angeles where he lives with his wife Anne and Travis’s son Hunter. Walt and Anne have been raising Hunter as their own since Travis and his wife Jane disappeared.

pt003Along the road, Travis slowly begins to open up to Walt, and we find out a lot about what has happened to him in the time he has been missing. Upon arriving at Walt and Anne’s house, the relationship between Travis and Hunter is at first strained, but eventually begins to thaw as the two learn to trust each other, and they begin to bond. Eventually Anne reveals to Travis that though they’ve had no contact with Jane since she left, she has been making regular deposits in a bank account for Hunter and that those deposits have been made on the same day each month at a bank in Houston. When Travis decides to go to Houston to try to track her down, Hunter declares that he is coming along too.

pt004I think that’s about as far as I want to go with a plot synopsis, because to go any further, I’d have to give away too many of the twists that lie further along the road.

As I said at the top, I expected from the beginning to be entertained by the performances of both Stanton and Stockwell, and I definitely was. As Travis, Stanton puts in a near-perfect performance as a lost soul slowly regaining both his memories of and his connections to his past. For his part, Stockwell displays just the right combination of love for and exasperation with his brother. Of course, much of the credit for both of these performances must go to director Winders who gives this relationship just the right amount of room to breathe.

pt001Probably the most surprisingly good performance in the film comes from young Hunter Carson who plays Travis’s son Hunter. In a role that could have come off as mawkish or annoying, the young actor instead shows just the right amount of self-confidence to be neither.

As far as the look of the movie, one of the most striking aspects of the film is Wenders’ use of color. From the striking blue skies of the outdoor scenes to his palate choices for the various characters to his lighting choices which highlight each, this is a tour-de-force example of what can happen when a director is in sync with his cinematographer, as Winders obviously was with long time collaborator, Robby Mueller.

pt006If there is any nit to be picked with this film, it might be the ending which I can see some as finding too ambiguous for their taste, but in my book strikes just the right note of both hopefulness and loss. Interestingly, according to Wenders, he actually started shooting with only half of a script, with screenwriter Sam Shepherd wanting to see how the main characters played off of each other before he finished the writing.

One other aspect of the film that I have to make note of is the completely fitting score which was recorded by blues guitarist Ry Cooder and works perfectly to set the mood for the film and is completely in place for the atmosphere the director is trying to achieve.

It’s often said that for many people on a long trip it’s not so much the destination, but the journey. Whichever is your preference, I highly recommend this Texas road trip.

Here’s your trailer (which, I feel I should point out, really doesn’t do all that good a job of giving you a true feel for the actual movie, as is all too often the case.):

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