Paris, Texas

Paris, Texas ★★★★★

Now this is a Ghost story.

Is it a happy ending, or an unhappy ending? yes
Is it problematic, or is it pure? yes
Is it about the power of speech, or the power of silence? yes

I hadn't seen this for a very long time, and I wanted to get around to watching it again, but it was Sam Shepard's passing that finally made me bite the bullet and take the chance. I was a little concerned it wouldn't be what I wanted to remember it as, you see-that it'd be too slow and sentimental, that there wouldn't be enough there to support all the weight of those teenage judgements.

But, uh, it held up. (You probably guessed that from the star rating already, right?)

So what now?

The final twenty minutes of film, that peep-show booth dialogue between Kinski and Stanton, is as good as everybody says, still as powerful, sure. But just as powerful, just as much a bolt of energy I'd say is the little bit when Harry Dean's Travis is trying to reconnect with his son Hunter--his first attempt at walking him home from school has failed, but he tries again, goes out and gets a nice suit and makes it a weird little adventure, doing a Chaplin shuffle down the opposite sidewalk from the clowning Hunter until he accidentally bumps into a garbage can. It's a ray of sunshine, and in that booth at the end of the film (and later, in the parking lot, bathed in green light and looking up at wife and son spin through the hotel window) we understand exactly what Travis is giving up, or rejecting, or stepping away from. What it costs him, and maybe, what it gives him (or maybe not-this is one of those movies that ends in just the right place).

Stanton's performance is amazing-particularly (on rewatch, when you know where the story is going) in the first third, where he's stumbling through the desert, found by his brother (A terrific Dean Stockwell, not suave here at all) by pure happenstance, and forcibly coaxed and browbeaten back to the world he's tried to run away from. You can see the silent struggle in Travis's eyes in those early scenes (right before he says Paris, for the first time, for example) between resignation that the story's not over, and bemusement that this stuff is all so weird to him now-he's a man playing at a ghost, le hombre invisible, in the start of the film, and that arc, from being seen by the people he ran away from, and then becoming a ghost again, is like a kick to the heart (and at the same time, once you know how irresponsible he is, how tempermental, it has the weight of inevitability on it).

Also, the photography, music, et al are terrific. There's an interesting review of Paris, Texas to be made from the Feminine POV, strictly focusing on the characters of Kinski and Aurore Clement and how they deal with the damage caused by the men around them, but I'm not the person to write that, I don't think. Sure would read it, though.

(One final bit that I had totally forgotten about, and was all the more effective for it--there's a scene where Travis is going to talk to his brother, and Wenders' camera follows him on a bridge crossing the highway. We can hear someone yelling about destruction, about punishment and how everyone's going to be destroyed, and Travis keeps walking, and finally we see the yelling man in the frame, standing in front of Travis, hands on the bridge, yelling at traffic. He keeps up his speech, but he starts watching Travis as Travis stops and watches him--and then, as he redoubles his efforts, Travis walks around him, stopping to touch him gently, deliberately, on the shoulder, and keeps going--the man disappearing from sight as he yells 'Don't say I didn't warn you! I warned you all!' Wenders is really good at the little gestures, is what I'm trying to say).

So yeah, R.I.P. Sam Shepard.

Jay D liked these reviews