|Directed by||Wim Wenders|
|Written by||Sam Shepard|
|Adaptation by||L. M. Kit Carson|
|Produced by||Don Guest|
|Edited by||Peter Przygodda|
|Music by||Ry Cooder|
|Box office||$2.2 million|
Paris, Texas is a 1984 drama road film directed by Wim Wenders, co-written by Sam Shepard and L. M. Kit Carson, and produced by Don Guest. It stars Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell, Aurore Clément, and Hunter Carson. In the film, disheveled recluse Travis Henderson (Stanton) reunites with his brother Walt (Stockwell) and son Hunter (Carson). Travis and Hunter embark on a trip through the American Southwest to track down Travis's missing wife, Jane (Kinski).
The film is a co-production between companies in France and West Germany, but it is English-spoken and was filmed primarily in West Texas. Cinematography was performed by Robby Müller, while the musical score was composed by Ry Cooder.
At the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, it won the Palme d'Or from the official jury, as well as the FIPRESCI Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. It went on to other honors and widespread critical acclaim praising mainly direction, acting, cinematography, emotional resonance and musical score.
Travis Henderson is seen wandering through the West Texas desert, bewildered and holding an empty gallon water jug. He wanders into a convenience store, opens a freezer, and starts eating ice before losing consciousness. A German doctor examines Travis and discovers that he is mute. The doctor goes through Travis's wallet and finds a card with a phone number on it. He calls the number, which belongs to Walt Henderson, Travis's brother.
Walt makes the journey from Los Angeles to Terlingua, Texas, to pick up Travis, who he had presumed was dead after not hearing from him for several years. Walt's wife Anne is slightly troubled by this, since she and Walt had adopted Travis's son, Hunter, as Hunter's biological mother Jane had been out of his life for years. Walt arrives in Terlingua and finds Travis wandering miles down the road from the clinic.
The two brothers begin their road trip back to Los Angeles. Walt grows increasingly frustrated with Travis's muteness and confronts him about his disappearance and abandonment of Hunter. At the mention of Hunter, Travis begins to cry, but still does not speak. The following day, Travis finally begins to speak and produces a photo of a plot of land, explaining to Walt that he purchased a property in Paris, Texas.
The brothers arrive in Los Angeles and Travis is reunited with Hunter. Hunter has little recollection of his father and is initially timid around him. Walt shows Hunter old home videos of them and Jane, and, after much persistence by Travis, Hunter begins to grow comfortable around his father. Anne tells Travis in confidence that Jane deposits monthly payments into a bank account for Hunter, and that the bank is in Houston. Travis becomes immediately determined to find Jane, and tells Hunter that he has to leave the following night. Hunter tells Travis that he wants to accompany him, though they do not have the permission of Walt and Anne.
Travis and Hunter embark on a road trip to Houston, with the two of them bonding and growing closer. They finally arrive at the bank on the day of the expected deposit and make a plan to locate Jane's car. Hunter spots Jane making a drive-in deposit, and the two follow her car to a peep show club where she works. Travis goes inside while Hunter waits in the car. The peep show is designed so that customers sit on one side of a one-way mirror with a telephone intercom to the performer. When Jane enters the room, Travis is unable to speak, and soon leaves without saying more than a few words to her. Travis is angry, driving to a bar and drinking while Hunter complains.
The following day, Travis drops Hunter off at the Meridian Hotel and goes back to Jane's workplace. He goes to Jane's room, this time turning his chair so it faces away from her. On the phone, he tells her a vague story about a man and a younger woman who met, quickly fell in love with each other, got married, and had a child. Jane is initially confused, but soon realizes that it is Travis on the phone. He tells her that after the child was born, the wife suffered from postpartum depression, becoming irritable and yearning for an escape. She would have dreams about running naked down a highway, but just as she was about to finally leave, he would appear and stop her. The now-alcoholic husband, fearing his wife's departure, tied a cowbell to her foot so he would be able to hear if she left in the night. On one night, the wife—having stuffed socks in the cowbell to muffle the sound—successfully snuck out, though the husband caught her and dragged her back home. He tied her to a stove with his belt and went to bed. When he woke up, the house was on fire and the wife and child were gone.
Jane turns the light off on her side and finally sees Travis. She expresses pain and regret over missing Hunter's childhood. Travis tells Jane that Hunter is in Houston waiting for her, and gives her Hunter's room number at the Meridian Hotel. That night, Jane and Hunter are reunited while Travis watches from the parking lot. Travis gets into his car and drives away, smiling to himself.
West German director Wim Wenders had travelled to the United States and stated he wished "to tell a story about America". The film is named for the Texas city of Paris, but not set there in any scene. Instead, Paris is referred to as the location of a vacant lot owned by Travis that is seen in a photograph, and is used as a metaphor. Wenders had taken photographs like it while location scouting in the western U.S. earlier in his career, photographing locations such as Las Vegas and Corpus Christi, Texas.
Screenwriter Sam Shepard met Wenders to discuss writing and/or acting for Wenders' project Hammett. Shepard said he was uninterested in writing Hammett, but they considered loosely adapting Shepard's Motel Chronicles, and developed a story of brothers, one having lost his memory. Their script grew to 160 pages, as the brother-brother relationship lessened in importance, and numerous endings were considered. Little of the funding for the project originated from Germany.
The film shares similar traits to Wenders' 1974 film Alice in the Cities (Alice in den Städten).
Harry Dean Stanton had appeared in 100 films before Paris, Texas, with small roles in Cool Hand Luke and a large part in Repo Man, which came out the same year as Paris, Texas. He embraced the leading part of Travis, saying "After all these years, I finally got the part I wanted to play". However, Wenders also said Stanton was unsure of his part, and the age disparity between himself and the younger Nastassja Kinski (he was 34 years older). Wenders stated he had discovered Dean Stockwell as he was prepared to quit acting, finding no desirable roles and considering beginning a career in real estate. Hunter Carson was the son of co-screenwriter L. M. Kit Carson, and agreed to act while accompanied by his mother, Karen Black, who helped him memorize the dialogue.
Kinski wrote a diary for the character Jane to develop her backstory, imagining her emigrating from Europe, and getting more affection from Travis than she had from anyone. According to Stockwell, his character in early drafts was intended to travel with Hunter, Travis and Anne before Anne turned back to Los Angeles and Walt became lost in the desert, paralleling Travis in the first scene. Stockwell and Aurore Clément's parts were later reduced.
Wenders said the film, shot in only four to five weeks, with only a small group working the last weeks, was very short and fast. There was a break in shooting during which time the script was completed. Filmmaker Allison Anders worked as a production assistant on the film, while Claire Denis served as assistant director. Filming largely occurred in Fort Stockton and Marathon in the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas. The film marked Wenders' first time avoiding storyboarding completely, going straight to rehearsals on location before shooting.
Shooting had already started in 1983 when the screenplay was still incomplete, with the objective of filming in the order of the story. Shepard planned to base the rest of the story on the actors' observations and their understanding of the characters. However, when Shepard moved on to another job, he sent Wenders notes on how the screenplay should end instead. Shepard credited Wenders and L. M. Kit Carson with the idea of a peep show and the story's final acts. At the request of Wenders, Shepard composed Travis's climactic monologue to Jane, and dictated it over the phone to a secretary working on the film. The filmmakers opted not to portray a realistic peep show, as they needed a format that allowed for more communication between the characters. Kinski could not see anyone, only a mirror, in the peep show scenes, and said this created a genuine feeling of solitude.
Challenges arose when the film ran short of finances, but Wenders was encouraged when they completed the scene with Kinski, remarking, "it dawned on me that we were going to touch people in a big way. I was a little scared by the idea".
Robert Phillip Kolker and Peter Beickene wrote the film presents the U.S. as "a fantasyland, a place of striking images, a mise-en-scène of desert and city". Aside from the landscape, there are references to U.S. culture and film, and similarities to John Ford's 1956 film The Searchers. Academic Roger Cook argued there is a connection between the character of Travis and his surroundings observable on the ride to California. The character gradually moves from the "desolate" to civilization, and Travis continually tries to break away from this difficult transition. His vehicles of choice possibly also reflect his characterization, as his preferred rental car has a bump, and he switches to a clearly used 1958 Ford Ranchero for his return to Texas.
Thomas Elsaesser discussed how Paris, Texas fit in with Wenders' depiction of women, saying many of the travels in his filmography are to find a particular woman. In the case of Paris, Texas, this is with the aim of "escaping her 'now' in order to find her as she was 'then'". Kolker and Beickene commented on the lack of touch, or even "emotional fulfillment" between Travis and Jane at the end, aside from their faces merging in the glass and their discussions of their emotions.
Marc Silberman examined how personal identity is also a theme in the film, as the name "Paris" is deceptive, conjuring images of France but referring to Texas. This is evident in what Travis refers to as "Daddy's joke" about Travis' mother being from Paris, and his belief that he was conceived there causes him to believe going there will achieve self-realization. Elsaesser believed the ending signified Travis sending Hunter in his stead to reunite with Jane. Elsaesser found this to be an example of a complicated system in which various characters see each other through fantasy, and remake each other as they desire. Travis' father had seen his mother as a Parisian, and this became "a sickness".
Cook opined that returning to the sanctuary of the road is Travis' response to having suffered the worst modern American experience, turning his son over to the boy's mother. Stan Jones suggested the story involves a European theory on perception, as Travis evolves as a character from the one who perceives, to a driving force, returning to perceiving, and then withdrawing. Jones quoted French critic Jean-Louis Comolli: "Never passive, a spectator works". The ending can also suggest hope for a fresh start for Jane and Hunter. Wenders himself said it marked a beginning for the next chapter in his own filmography, explaining Travis' exit: "This scene for me had a liberating effect ... I let him disappear in my own way, and all my previous male characters went with him. They have all taken up residence in a retirement home on the outskirts of Paris, Texas".
Paris, Texas belongs in the road movie genre, but The Guardian critic Guy Lodge suggested it could also be considered a western film. Stan Jones noted Mark Luprecht had classified Paris, Texas as a tragedy and had detected Oedipal themes in its depiction of family.
Paris, Texas is notable for its images of the Texas landscape and climate. Wenders had emphasized roads in his earlier works, particularly his Road Movie trilogy, to depict "characters' journeys", with the setting of Texas removing the cultural boundaries of Europe. The opening gives an aerial perspective of the dry desert. Critic Emanuel Levy noted the shots that follow of "billboards, placards, graffiti, rusty iron carcasses, old railway lines, neon signs, motels". The film's production design was by Kate Altman. Cinematographer Robby Müller had frequently worked with Wenders, and the photography in Paris, Texas is characteristic of Müller's style, which director Steve McQueen defined as "a visual language to capture what appear to be men falling to their deaths in slow motion". Senses of Cinema critic Lee Hill also compared it to the art of Edward Hopper and Edward Ruscha.
The film is accompanied by a slide-guitar score by Ry Cooder, employing Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground", which Cooder hailed as "the most transcendent piece in all American music". Screen International editor Nick Roddick wrote the music gives "a quality of yearning to the bleakness of the landscape". In 2018, Cooder revealed a specific source of inspiration during an interview on BBC Radio 4: "[Wenders] did a very good job at capturing the ambience out there in the desert, just letting the microphones ... get tones and sound from the desert itself, which I discovered was in the key of E♭ ... that's the wind, it was nice. So we tuned everything to E♭".
Paris, Texas competed at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, with Wenders claiming that Stanton was so anxious about Cannes that they hired Sean Penn to assist with Stanton's preparations for the screening. Roddick remarked on how the film's affectionate portrayal of the U.S. was well received by European filmmakers at Cannes at a time of high anti-Americanism, given the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
Conflicts between Wenders' Road Movies company and distributor Filmverlag over how many copies of Paris, Texas should be released in West Germany following Cannes caused it to be initially denied a theatrical release there, so bus tours were launched to transport German viewers to Zürich for showings. Road Movies launched a lawsuit to sever ties with Filmverlag, and the film reached West German theatres eight months later.
It was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 1985 and again in 2006 as part of the Sundance Collection category. It returned to Cannes for the Cannes Classics section of the 2014 Festival, after being restored by Cinepost. The film has been released on DVD and Blu-ray in Region 1 by The Criterion Collection.
Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, writing "Paris, Texas is a movie with the kind of passion and willingness to experiment that was more common fifteen years ago than it is now. It has more links with films like Five Easy Pieces and Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy, than with the slick arcade games that are the box-office winners of the 1980s. It is true, deep, and brilliant". Variety's Holly Willis praised the cinematography, and credited Wenders for a worthy European portrait of the U.S. Vincent Canby of The New York Times gave the film a mixed review, writing, "The film is wonderful and funny and full of real emotion as it details the means by which Travis and the boy become reconciled. Then it goes flying out the car window when father and son decide to take off for Texas in search of Jane". David Denby criticized Paris, Texas in New York, calling it "lifeless" and a "fiasco". Texas Monthly boasted Paris, Texas was "The hottest Texas town in France", noting Le Monde placed a rave review of the film on its first page.
It has had an enduring legacy among critics and film aficionados. In 2015, Guy Lodge of The Guardian named it a favorite Palme d'Or-winner, while Texas Monthly included it in its Best Texas Movies list for its depiction of Marathon, Texas. During the same year, Paris, Texas appeared on a posthumous list of Akira Kurosawa's 100 favorite movies. In 2016, Entertainment Weekly also included it in The 25 Best Texas Movies, while The Texas Observer critic Michael Agresta credited it with creating "a certain flavor of Texas cool". However, that year The Hollywood Reporter argued its prestige had lessened somewhat, naming it the 44th best Palme d'Or-winner to date. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Paris, Texas holds an approval rating of 94% based on 49 reviews, with an average rating of 8.2/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "A quiet yet deeply moving kind of Western, Paris, Texas captures a place and people like never before (or after)".
At Cannes, the film won three prizes: the Palme d'Or, the FIPRESCI Prize, and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. The decision from the main jury on the Palme d'Or was unanimous, with one of the members being French cinematographer Henri Alekan, who would later work with Wenders on Wings of Desire.
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s)||Result||Ref.|
|Bodil Awards||1985||Best European Film||Wim Wenders||Won|||
|British Academy Film Awards||5 March 1985||Best Film||Chris SievernichAnatole Daumanand||Nominated|||
|Best Direction||Wim Wenders||Won|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||Sam Shepard||Nominated|
|Best Score||Ry Cooder||Nominated|
|Cannes Film Festival||11–23 May 1984||Palme d'Or||Wim Wenders||Won|||
|Prize of the Ecumenical Jury||Won|||
|César Awards||3 February 1985||Best Foreign Film||Nominated|||
|German Film Award||1985||Best Fiction Film in Silver||Won|||
|Golden Globes||27 January 1985||Best Foreign Film||Nominated|||
|London Film Critics' Circle||1985||Best Film||Won|||
|National Board of Review||17 December 1984||Top Ten Films||Won|||
|Young Artist Awards||15 December 1985||Best Leading Young Actor in a Feature Film||Hunter Carson||Nominated|||
The Irish rock group U2 cited Paris, Texas as an inspiration for their album The Joshua Tree. The Scottish bands Travis and Texas both took their names from this film. Musicians Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith said this was their favorite film of all time. The film has also influenced later directors, with David Robert Mitchell, who made It Follows (2014), saying the aesthetics in its framing and composition were instructive. Wes Anderson was also inspired by Wenders' home movie scene with the photographs of the dead wife in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).
In 1986, the photography Wenders took on his location scout for Paris, Texas was exhibited at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, France, under the title Written in the West. In 2000, these were published in a book also titled Written in the West, with additional material in Written in the West, Revisited in 2015.