Saturday 19 May 2018

1,001 Films: "Paris, Texas" (1984)

The title of Paris, Texas speaks to the whole: here are iconic images of Americana (diners, poolhalls, freeways, mountains) steered in a new European direction. Mute, bearded, baseball-capped Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) staggers out of the Mojave desert, having been AWOL for four years; driven back to his native L.A. and taken in by his brother (Dean Stockwell), he tries to reconnect with first the son he abandoned in his earlier life, then the rest of the country, including the wife who walked out on him back in the day (Nastassja Kinski). Behind the camera, Wim Wenders had clearly realised that Reagan's America was hung up on fathers and sons, reinvention, taciturn men striding out of a Western landscape to do what they've gotta do; what's possibly surprising is how much the filmmaker is himself in thrall to these themes and concerns. Jettisoning the critical eye Wenders brought to Alice in the Cities, Paris, Texas proves far more yielding than the average Werner Herzog inquiry; it has none of the zippy, subversive energy of Alex Cox's near-simultaneous Repo Man

The film's bedrocks are Stanton, who probably couldn't have played sentimental if he'd tried, and Robby Müller's cinematography, which really does bring a fresh pair of eyes to this part of the world. It is, however, a familiar trail to mosey on down merely to discover what turns out to be no more than a Martin Guerre or Paper Moon-like weepie with just enough Ry Cooder slide guitar on the soundtrack to have convinced the Scala crowd they were watching something profound; in actual fact, the final hour is Stanton going out of his way to tell Kinski, at punishing length, just what a terrible mother she's been. It's telling that the filmmaker who really seemed to dig it was another Scala fave: David Lynch, who went on to cast Stockwell in Blue Velvet and Stanton in The Straight Story, may well have been taken by the late-in-the-day peepshow business (Kinski and Audrey Horne are sisters in sweaters), and came to pursue his own path between the conspicuously cult and the oddly conservative.

Paris, Texas is available to buy through Axiom Films, and to stream via Curzon Home Cinema.

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