West Germany-France, 1984
Director: Wim Wenders
Production: Road Movies Filmproduktion (West Berlin)/Argos Films (Paris), in association with Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Channel 4, and Project Film; in color; running time: 148 minutes; length: 13,320 feet. Released 1984.
Executive producer: Chris Sievernich; producers: Don Guest, Anatole Dauman; screenplay: Sam Shepard; assistant director: Claire Denis; photography: Robby Muller; assistant photographers: Agnes Godard, Pim Tjujerman; editor: Peter Pryzgodda; assistant editor: Anne Schnee; sound editor: Dominique Auvray; sound recordist: Jean-Paul Mugel; sound re-recordist: Hartmut Eichgrun; art director: Kate Altman; music: Ry Cooder.
Cast: Harry Dean Stanton ( Travis Anderson ); Dean Stockwell ( Walter R. Anderson ); Aurore Clement ( Anne Anderson ); Hunter Carson ( Hunter Anderson ); Nastassja Kinski ( Jane ); Bernhard Wicki ( Doctor Ulmer ); Sam Berry ( Gas Station Attendant ); Claresie Mobley ( Car Rental Clerk ); Viva Auder ( Woman on TV ); Socorro Valdez ( Carmelita ); Edward Fayton ( Hunter's Friend ); Justin Hogg ( Hunter, age 3 ); Tom Farrell ( Screaming Man ); John Lurie (" Slater "); Jeni Vici (" Stretch "); Sally Norwell (" Nurse Bibs "); Sharon Menzel ( Comedienne ); The Mydolls ( Rehearsing Band ).
BAFTA Award for Best Director, 1984. Palme d'Or at Cannes, 1984.
Shepard, Sam, Paris , Texas (in English, French and German), edited by Chris Sievernin, Berlin, 1984.
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Geist, Kathe, The Cinema of Wim Wenders: From Paris, France, to Paris, Texas , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1988.
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Variety (New York), 23 May 1984.
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Simons, J., " Paris , Texas: Wim Wenders' Wedergeboorte," in Skrien (Amsterdam), November-December 1984.
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* * *
It is not just the title of this film which suggests a meeting between Europe and America. Production involved collaboration between the director Wim Wenders, who caught the critical eye as part of the new German cinema of the 1970s, and the scriptwriter Sam Shepard, the American author of The Motel Chronicles , poems and prose about highway culture in the United States. There was a deliberate policy of substantially developing the script as shooting progressed (indeed the script was completed by Kit Carson when Shepard departed for another commitment during production). Wenders has always been fascinated with Hollywood as a mode of representation. Many of his films approach the legacy of American cinema through a strategy of quotation. Yet Paris, Texas invests directly in an emotional folkloric tale of white America. At the same time the film opts for complexity: in particular, the present lives of the main characters are shown to be psychologically haunted by past events, and contained within the story is a special emphasis on the power of images in their own right. Paris, Texas knowingly reworks elements from both classical Hollywood and European art cinema. Whether it exhausts these categories or expresses a contemporary condition of nihilism is open to debate.
Road movies and family melodramas are the chief genres on which Paris, Texas draws. However, the way in which mise-en-scène establishes a sharp contrast between humanity and nature, during the opening stages in particular, is highly reminiscent of the western. The startling drama of the opening sequence depends on the way Travis, the main character, is counterposed with the desert. Yet he lacks the clear cut motivation to triumph over this wilderness. When collected by his brother Walt, Travis is incongruously dressed in a battered suit with a trucker's cap. He is silent, refusing to explain why he disappeared four years previously, and where he has been. In Paris, Texas the mythical conquest of nature involves recalling the hero himself from the wilderness. The latter is also a mental condition. Travis has regressed from social values, and in a sense the rest of the film is about his reintegration with American society.
Travis's first articulated memory is Paris, Texas, a plot of land which he purchased and where he claims to have been conceived. One could say that Travis's return to civilisation is marked by his recall of land ownership and the nuclear family. But Paris, Texas is a painful memory. The land remains unoccupied because Travis's own family is broken. Family reunion becomes the narrative goal.
The film renews a type of plot which theorists, notably Peter Wollen, have located within classical cinema. In this kind of plot the central protagonists search for an object of value which has disappeared in the past. The object may often be a woman. In Paris, Texas she is Jane, Travis's wife. Father and son quest for her after being reunited themselves, a development which tears Hunter away from the stable and caring guardianship of Walt and Annie. The quest provides a sense of purpose lacking from Wenders's previous films. Jane's discovery promises to reveal the past and save Travis. When they finally meet in a peepshow we learn that Travis's violent desire to own Jane was an initial cause of rupture.
Travis is the voyeur looking in, while Jane is confined to the sound of his voice and her reflection in a one way mirror. Somehow on a second meeting here, they achieve a degree of mutual recognition, finding catharsis through confession to one another. The narrative winds down as the film alternates between them, finally moving to her side of the partition. Slight changes of camera angle open up the oppressed space. Quick cuts between them express the return of a bond, and at the end of the scene Travis turns off his booth light so that Jane can see him. He is resigned, distant, an illuminated image, the ghostly but overwhelming memory which has returned to Jane. Thus, in a powerful fashion, through a cinematic array of devices, we are presented with an imaginary realm within the fiction.
Throughout, a form of dominance is attributed to the image itself: Paris, Texas remains a crumpled photograph; the family is only seen united, enjoying themselves in a super 8 film. Meanwhile America itself appears to be filtered through the processes of representation. Not only is the country portrayed as the endless space of the road movie, but also through such motifs as the Statue of Liberty, which pops up in the background of one shot as a mural. This detail connotes Americana, a symbolic substitute for the nation. While, the action is strictly kept to the periphery of cities, the identity of America remains mysterious, a miragelike entity viewed from the distant perspective of Travis, the outsider. Maybe one reason why a European filmmaker can deal with American mythology in the 1980s is because Hollywood's stable representations of the nation are increasingly worked through high-tech science fiction, spectacle, and more marginal discourses than in the classical era. Paris , Texas is surely aware of this. After all, Hunter is depicted as a Star Wars fan. With the older mythologies vacated by the heavyweights of Hollywood, Paris , Texas is left free to renew a language which is more imaginary than ever.