Review by Gordon Justesen
Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell, Aurore Clement, Hunter Carson
Director: Wim Wenders
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: See Review
Length: 145 Minutes
Release Date: January 26, 2010
“I knew these people…”
Some films manage to strike you in such a way that makes it difficult to state how you feel after watching it. I just finished watching Wim Wenders much acclaimed Paris, Texas less than 24 hours ago, and am so incredibly affected by the film that I’m not entirely sure I can accurately put my reaction into words, and it may take another viewing to determine how I truly feel. For this is one of the setbacks of being a film reviewer with a deadline.
What I do know right off the bat is that I admire this film tremendously. I’d never seen a frame of the film before, and only knew of it as one of the most acclaimed films of the 1980s. And having just become familiar with director Wim Wenders after seeing Wings of Desire not too long ago, I was more than eager to see another film from this one of a kind visionary.
The one thing that’s most riveting about the film, especially watching 26 years after its initial release, is that it plays absolutely NOTHING like a film made in the year 1984. Movies made the early 1980s seem to carry one common characteristic; a glimpse of the era could be found in everything from the music to the style of the time. Very few films were rid of this element, and I could only imagine what it must have felt like to experience a film this incredibly distinctive at that point in time (a great deal of that has to do with the dreamlike music score by Ry Cooder, which sounds like nothing heard in the movies at that time).
And Paris, Texas is first and foremost an experience. It seems like such a cliché to label certain films that way, but no other film is more deserving of the label. Wenders and screenwriter Sam Shepard set out to make a piece in which all who watched it were right in the shoes of its lead character.
The character in question is Travis Henderson, played by the great Harry Dean Stanton in what is unquestionably the performance of his career. Stanton is one of the great character actors of all time, and has delivered nothing but profound work in just about everything he’s been in. And I feel somewhat ignorant for discovering his greatest performance so late in the game, because having seen him in films such as Wild at Heart, The Last Temptation of Christ and even Escape From New York, I didn’t think I could ever seen him in higher form.
When we first encounter Travis, we’re not quite certain what his deal is. He is wandering in the middle of the South Texas desert until he is located by his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell). And Walt is right there with the viewer because even he can’t get his brother to explain why he went missing, or say anything for that matter.
Travis doesn’t say a word until he and Walt are halfway back to LA. But even as he begins to talk, never once does he mention of how he ended up in the Texas desert, or for that matter his whereabouts for the past four years. He had been presumed dead during that time, until Walt received a phone call from a German doctor who found Travis collapsed in the desert.
The story becomes most heartbreaking once Travis, and we, realize that he abandoned his young son, Hunter (Hunter Carson), who was cared for by Walt and his wife, Anne (Aurore Clement), during this four year period. After coming to grips with the hurt he’s caused, he makes an effort to try and get to know his son.
Eventually, Travis makes a crucial decision to take Hunter on a road trip to Paris, Texas. It is there where his wife, Jane (Nastassja Kinski) has ended up after becoming missing herself. In addition to learning of her whereabouts, Travis also learns that she has been making a good bit of money at her new job, and has been making monthly deposits to an account in the son’s name.
I wouldn’t dare even dream of spoiling the details of the final confrontation between Travis and Jane, but I can definitely say that the inevitable scene will stay with you long after the film has ended. Like most everything in this film, the confrontation doesn’t play out like you would expect. And Stanton delivers what has to be one of the deepest, most emotionally shattering monologues in the history of cinema.
I’d be lying if I said that Paris, Texas is a film for everyone, because it definitely isn’t. You have to be willing to invest yourself in this story, which moves along slowly but with purpose. But if you are a lover of poignant character studies with never-ending depth, this is about as great a film as you’re ever going to find.
Criterion once again proves that it and Blu-ray are a match made in heaven. There’s nothing quite like seeing a film from the 80s in such a remarkably pristine presentation, especially when you’re first viewing comes courtesy of the 1080p. Right from the very opening shot of the amazing Texas desert landscape, you simply can’t helped but be extremely marveled by the gorgeous handling of Robby Muller’s breathtaking cinematography in HD. No matter what location the movie ventures to, the look is nothing but purely spectacular. In short, it’s a film that was made to be seen in HD and ONLY through Criterion!
This is a mostly quiet film, so even with a superb DTS HD mix don’t expect to be explosive results. But the main attraction here is Ry Cooder’s magnificent guitar-based score. My description of it can never do it justice, as it simply must be heard to be thoroughly appreciated. And dialogue delivery is tremendously clear, to say the least, and that’s important since that is one of the key essentials here.
Criterion remains king of the extras department, now more than ever on the Blu-ray format. Included is a commentary with Wim Wenders, as well as a video interview with Wenders conducted by German journalist Roger Willemsen, excerpts from a 1990 documentary featuring interviews with Wenders, cinematographer Robby Muller, composer Ry Cooder, actors Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper, Peter Falk, and Hanns Zischler, novelist Patricia Highsmith, and director Samuel Fuller. There’s also new video interviews with filmmakers Allison Anders and Claire Denis, a segment from the French television program Cinema cinemas titled “Wim Wenders Hollywood April '84”, which shows Wenders and Cooder at work on the score. We also get Deleted Scenes and Super 8 home movies, a Gallery of Wenders’ location-scouting photos, Behind-the-scenes photos by Robin Holland and a Theatrical Trailer. And in pure great Criterion fashion, there’s an awesome insert booklet featuring an essay by film critic Nick Roddick, interviews with Stanton, writer Sam Shepard, and actors Nastassja Kinski and Dean Stockwell, and excerpts from Wenders' book of photos, “Written in the West”.
I’m very certain that Paris, Texas will be one of those special films that will become even greater the more times I revisit it. It truly is unlike any other film I’ve ever seen, and if you’ve ever been curious to sit down and immerse yourself the world and mood Wenders creates, I can’t stress picking up this brilliant Criterion Blu-ray enough!