Criterion // 1984 // 145 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 25th, 2010
Where lost love is found...
Slide guitar is one of the more interesting technique available to the guitarist. The effect is achieved by running a flat object (usually a metal or glass cylinder) over the strings of the guitar rather than fretting individual notes. The result is a wailing, plaintive sound, as if the strings have lost something. The technique also opens up the space between traditional notes, allowing the musician to explore more of the instrument. Slide guitar (as played by Ry Cooder) is also one of the main instruments on the soundtrack for Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas, and the two couldn't possibly be more made for each other. Wenders' film, like slide guitar, is a plaintive, wailing depiction of the spaces in between whether they be geographic, familial, or between individuals. Criterion has seen fit to bring Wenders' elegiac masterpiece to hi-def and the results are typically stunning.
Travis is found wandering through the Texas desert, and his estranged brother Walt is called from California to retrieve him. It seems that Travis walked out on his wife and son several years ago, and eventually the son ended up with Walt and his wife. Travis travels with Walt back to California to see his son, and then Travis takes his son back to Texas to search for his missing wife.
Paris, Texas is really four films in one:
* Walt and Travis. The film opens with the epic American landscape, and the epic moving face of Harry Dean Stanton, which seems to say so much just from the lines and expression. This section of the film feels the most cinematic, as the pair travel across the Texas landscape. Little is revealed initially because Travis refuses to talk, but the combination of his brother's unwavering dedication and the freedom of the road seem to open Travis up. This section is an interesting peak at the dynamics of brotherhood and contains the film's most humorous scene -- Travis and Walt scouring a rental-car lot to re-rent the exact car they'd just turned in because they'd been kicked off a plane.
* Travis and Walt return home. This is where Travis is reunited with his son, Hunter. Of course Hunter has been living with Walt and Walt's wife Anne as his parents for years, so there is some understandable tension. Travis isn't sure how to relate to Hunter, and vice versa, while Walt and Anne have to deal with the possibility of losing Hunter, who is essentially their only son. Despite these tensions, there is a genuine warmth to the familial moments. Part of that is nostalgia for the past, but it's also because Walt and Anne especially seem to be good people. Walt doesn't want to keep Hunter away from his biological father, and although Anne is obviously upset with Travis for abandoning Hunter, she seems to genuinely care for his happiness. It's one of the more moving portraits of family life I've seen.
* Travis and Hunter head to Texas. This section is the most joyous in the film, as if Hunter's youth and enthusiasm give new life to both Travis and the film. The quest, to find wife and mother, gives these scenes urgency and the seems to offer possibilities rather than emptiness as both characters search for something they've lost. It's a bright, shining set of moments in a film that is more often than not focused on loss.
* Travis and Jane. After his epic search with Hunter, Travis finds his wife, Jane. This final section betrays the dramatic origins of the narrative, as the scenes between Travis and Jane are mini-plays and could be staged just about anywhere. Although the two talk, the communicate mainly in monologue as each explains where they are and how they got there. The emotions brought out by both Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski are brutal in their honesty and emotional nudity. Although the film never makes the audience into voyeurs, these are very intimate moments to witness and that makes them all the more powerful.
Considering the cast and director it's no surprise that Paris, Texas is amazingly acted, from the young Hunter Carson to the more experience Stanton and Stockwell. It's also no surprise that Wim Wenders fills his frame with epic shots of the American desert and the motel-and-neon highways that cross it. In so many ways Paris, Texas is a gorgeous, melancholy examination of a lost America.
Paris, Texas first came to digital on a DVD from Fox that set the bar pretty high in both presentation and extras. Unsurprisingly, Criterion has managed to improve on that earlier release with this new hi-def disc. The look of the film's absolutely stunning, with strong colors and just the right amount of grain. The audio is a bit odd because directionality doesn't seem to be tied to what's on the screen, leading to a few moments where audio moves in the surround field unexpectedly. Overall, though, the dialogue is clear and Ry Cooder's score come out with remarkable clarity.
The deleted scenes from the previous release are carried over here, and both offer more insight into Paris, Texas. The deleted scenes include even more stunning shots of the American landscape and Wenders' commentary provides a lot of information with only a few lags. We also get the complete Super 8 footage that Travis and company watch in the film. There are also interviews with Wenders, Clair Denis, and Alison Anders looking back on the making of the film. There are also two featurettes from the 1980s that cover both Paris, Texas and Wenders' films more generally. The disc finishes up with a set of galleries with photos from Wenders' scouting tour of America and the film's trailer. The included booklet contains an essay by Nick Roddick, a collection of interviews, and a series of photos by Wenders.
By most standards Paris, Texas is both long and slow. The story is painfully simple and not much really "happens" throughout the film. There's some resolution at the end, but it's an ambiguous, tentative conclusion. For fans of Wenders, this film is a no-brainer, but this is definitely a film for the art-house crowd.
Paris, Texas is both haunting and beautiful, although not for everyone. The America it documents has largely disappeared (or maybe never existed). Fans of the film are surely going to want to upgrade to this disc for the improved picture and sound as well as the additional extras. Fans of the more arty strains of cinema should at least give this one a rental.
Paris, Texas is free to hit the road.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 145 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes