PARIS, TEXAS (Wim Wenders, 1984)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Monday, March 2, 3:45, and Wednesday, March 11, 6:15
Series runs March 2-17
Tickets: $12, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk beginning at 9:30 am
Winner of both the Palme d’Or and the Critics Prize at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas is a stirring and provocative road movie about the dissolution of the American family and the death of the American dream. Written by Sam Shepard and adapted by L. M. Kit Carson, the two-and-a-half-hour film opens with a haggard man (Harry Dean Stanton) wandering through a vast, deserted landscape. A close-up of him in his red hat, seen against blue skies and white clouds, evokes the American flag. (Later shots show him looking up at a flag flapping in the breeze, as well as a graffiti depiction of the Statue of Liberty.) After he collapses in a bar in the middle of nowhere, he is soon discovered to be Travis Henderson, a husband and father who has been missing for four years. His brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), a successful L.A. billboard designer, comes to take him home, but Travis, remaining silent, keeps walking away. He eventually reveals that he is trying to get to Paris, Texas, where he has purchased a plot of land in the desert, but he avoids discussing his past and why he walked out on his wife, Jane (Nastassja Kinski), and son, Hunter (Hunter Carson, the son of L. M. Kit Carson and Karen Black), who is being raised by Walt and his wife, Anne (Aurore Clément). An odd man who is afraid of flying, has a penchant for arranging shoes, and falls asleep at key moments, Travis sets out with Hunter to find Jane and make something out of his lost life.
Longtime character actor Stanton (Repo Man, Wise Blood) is brilliant as Travis, his long, craggy face and sad, puppy-dog eyes conveying his troubled soul and buried emotions, his slow, careful gait awash in loneliness and desperation. The scenes between Travis and Jane are a master class in acting and storytelling; Stanton and Kinski (Tess, Cat People) will break your heart over and over again as they face the hardest of truths. Wenders and regular cinematographer Robby Müller use a one-way mirror to absolutely stunning effect in these scenes about what is hidden and what is revealed in a relationship. Wenders had previously made the Road Movie Trilogy of Alice in the Cities, The Wrong Move, and Kings of the Road, which also dealt with difficult family issues, but Paris, Texas takes things to another level. Ry Cooder’s gorgeous slide-guitar soundtrack is like a requiem for the American dream, now a wasteland of emptiness. (Cooder would later make Buena Vista Social Club with Wenders. Another interesting connection is that Wenders’s assistant director was Allison Anders, who would go on to write and direct the indie hit Gas Food Lodging.) A uniquely told family drama, Paris, Texas is rich with deft touches and subtle details, all encapsulated in the final shot. (Don’t miss what it says on that highway billboard.) Paris, Texas is screening in a new digital restoration at MoMA on March 2 at 3:45 and March 11 at 6:15 as part of a two-plus-week Wenders retrospective in advance of the release of his latest film, the Oscar-nominated documentary The Salt of the Earth; the director will be on hand to introduce the March 2 screening. The series continues through March 17 with such other Wenders works as The American Friend, Wings of Desire, Until the End of the World, Tokyo-Ga, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, and other well-known gems and rare early shorts, with Wenders at the museum for Q&As and introductions at all screenings through March 7.