Top 100 Films #8 – Paris, Texas (1984)

 

rflxfem#8. Paris, Texas (1984)
Directed by: Wim Wenders
Written by: L.M. Kit Carson, Sam Shepard
Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell, Nastassja Kinski, Aurore Clement, Hunter Carson

German-born filmmaker Wim Wenders made his name on a trilogy of road movies, and has recently become famous for his visually stunning documentaries like Pina and The Salt of the Earth. His 1984 Palme d’Or winner Paris, Texas is what I’ll always remember Wenders for, and I’d like to think I’m in good company with that opinion. The film begins with a man named Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) walking alone through the desert in search of water. After finding a saloon and collapsing, his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) is forced to come pick him up and bring him home. There, Travis finds Walt’s wife Anne (Aurore Clement), and his own son Hunter (Hunter Carson), whom he abandoned and was subsequently adopted by Walt and Anne. After forming a relationship with his legitimate son, Travis and Hunter hit the road to find Jane (Nastassja Kinski), Travis’ lost love and Hunter’s biological mother. What follows is one of the most moving and satisfying character studies ever made, and ultimately one of the most memorable road trip movies ever. Wim Wenders’ love for Hollywood films is evident in every frame of Paris, Texas, and results in the director creating a unique and moving send up to American romance movies. His love of and experience with the road trip movie definitely adds to the experience, with Travis and the much younger Hunter being something of a mismatched but solid road pairing. Paris, Texas was shot by Wenders’ longtime collaborator Robby Muller, who gives each act of the film a slightly different look – the washed out desert, the overwhelmingly busy city streets, and the familiarity of the road. Wenders’ and Muller’s visuals are complimented perfectly by a guitar-driven soundtrack from legendary guitarist Ry Cooder. The soundtrack is perfect for Paris, Texas’ desert and road-driven movie, bringing with it a palpable sense of mystery and soul. Cooder’s take on “Dark Was the Night” is the standout of the incredible soundtrack – the painful and meditative theme suits the film perfectly. While the audio and visual elements of Paris, Texas may make it the unique Wim Wenders film it is, the lead performances are every bit as important as the technical side of things. Harry Dean Stanton’s Travis Henderson is one of the most heartbreaking and mysterious characters ever realized on screen. Stanton’s performance early on is stoic and silent, and slowly becomes more comfortable in his own skin as he becomes closer to Hunter, and closer to their final destination. Stanton’s “I knew these people…” scene is a true powerhouse moment for the actor, and allows him to really bare it all. The scene runs for nearly ten minutes and yet never once feels like it’s wearing out its welcome – the pain in Stanton’s voice and Nastassja Kinski’s Jane on the other side of the mirror is trying to piece the story together. It’s truly one of the most beautiful scenes ever made, and one that brings a tear to my eye everytime I see it. Hunter Carson’s performance as Travis’ biological son is tremendous for a child of his age, and his chemistry with Harry Dean Stanton drives the latter half of the movie. Paris, Texas is one of the most beautiful, soulful, and compelling stories ever told – don’t let its deliberate pace deter you. Once you experience Wim Wenders’ film, I promise you’ll never forget it.

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