Tuesday, June 14, 2011
The first film I would like to kick off this column with is the brilliant Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas. The film won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984, was written by the superb Sam Shepherd, and features a subtly beautiful soundtrack written and performed by the legendary Ry Cooder. It features the incredibly underrated Harry Dean Stanton and Natassja Kinski as well as Dean Stockwell and Aurore Clement in career defining performances.
The film stars character actor Harry Dean Stanton as Travis, who has been lost for four years and is taken in by his brother (played by Dean Stockwell). He later tries to put his life back together and understand what happened between him, his wife Jane (Nastassja Kinski), and his son Hunter (Hunter Carson)...Paris, Texas is notable for its images of the Texas landscape and climate. The first shot is a bird's eye-view of the desert, a bleak, dry, alien landscape. Shots follow of old advertisement billboards, placards, graffiti, rusty iron carcasses, old railway lines, neon signs, motels, seemingly never-ending roads, and Los Angeles, finally culminating in some famous scenes shot outside a drive-through bank in down-town Houston. The cinematography is typical of Robby Müller's work, a long-time collaborator of Wim Wenders...The film is accompanied by a slide-guitar score by Ry Cooder, based on Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground".
That description describes the tangible objects and locations in the film, but does not describe the incredible atmosphere created through lighting, pacing, and music. The film does not look or sound dated in the least; in fact it looks as if it may have just been released due to the clarity of the cinematography, the way the each frame looks like a sublime, magical-realism photograph.
And the performances are staggering, painful and moving. The scene between Travis and Jane is one of the greatest in cinema history. I don't want to say much about it to spoil anything for you, but if you still have a dry eye at it's close then you may need to check yourself for a pulse.
Paris, Texas is an achingly beautiful meditation on the existential, inevitable distance between human beings. A truly unique film experience. If you have some time this summer, check it out.