Fiachra Johnston remembers a film that is both a visual and audible journey that draws the audience right into the seat of the protagonist.
Many films attempt to bring you on a journey, to see the characters evolve or devolve and become someone different by the end of two or three hours. Very few films, however, succeed in immersing the viewer in the journey itself: having them feel as though they are trudging through the blistering desert, or in the backseat of a sedan at night, as if they were the protagonist themselves. This is where Wim Wenders’ 1984 film Paris, Texas succeeds tremendously.
“It is a film of contrasting absolutes and striking imagery, viewed through the eyes of a broken man.”
Featuring iconic actor Harry Dean Stanton, Paris, Texas deals with themes of loss and recovery, as amnesiac Travis is found in the desert and brought to his brother (Dean Stockwell) and estranged son, now living in his care. The film then delves into the past of Travis, as he attempts to unravel the last four broken years of his life.
This is Stanton’s greatest role. There is a weariness that Travis attempts to hide but is very easily let out, especially in the presence of his son Hunter, both of whom are incredibly wary of each other, not knowing why. Yet despite Stanton’s spectacular performance, it is the cinematography and editing that allow the viewer to experience Travis’ world as if it were their own. Scenes of high contrast, both in light and colour, mixed with an emphasis on mid-to-close up shots, highlight specific elements the director wants you to focus on. It is a film of contrasting absolutes and striking imagery, viewed through the eyes of a broken man.
“Having them feel as though they are trudging through the blistering desert, or in the backseat of a sedan at night, as if they were the protagonist themselves.
It would be a tragedy not to mention the soundtrack as well. Scored by Ry Cooder and often sampling Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground’, the music is nearly entirely composed of slide guitar and ambient noise, and the vast loneliness it exudes is positively chilling, and will stay with you as long as the film will.
Paris, Texas is one of those films that you can’t seem to get out of your head after seeing it. Those opening guitar chords, the bright lights of the desert, and the final monologue are somehow impossible to forget.