Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Top 100 movies of the 1980s: #5
5. Paris, Texas, 1984
Director: Wim Wenders
Paris, Texas is one of those films where I know it's a film for me, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a film for everyone. That's why it's five on the list. It's a personal favorite of mine and it's really influenced me, another film that sort of changed the way I think about movies. I didn't watch it until mid-2010 when I was starting my quest to watch as many '80s films as possible. So, it was a film that I forced myself to watch. Upon watching it, something happened to me, and the film has been in my psyche ever since. There's just this unspoken beauty and sadness within the film that just speaks to me in a way other films don't. That gave it an added flavor to a film that I already found much to admire about.
Top of my list of things to admire about this film is Harry Dean Stanton's nearly mute performance. Along the way, he starts talking, but for a good portion of the film he doesn't say anything. His character, Travis, had been wandering around the last few years of his life, drifting. He happens upon a saloon in South Texas and he collapses. His brother Walt (Dean Stockwell), who lives in Los Angeles, is eventually called in to retrieve him. Walt, much like everyone else, hasn't seen Travis in years. When he finds him, Travis is a mute, nearly catatonic. He can walk but other than that he's expressionless, emotionless. Walt tries to get Travis to lighten up and talk, but Travis remains quiet. Walt takes him back to Los Angeles.
What unfolds from there is Travis's backstory. What's great about Wim Wenders' film is that as slow as the pacing is, there is a convention to the story. The movie doesn't try to frustrate you and make you guess the whole time. There is a story to tell here, but the film takes its time. Considering the way it unfolds and how well characterized Travis is, the pacing is easily forgivable. You eventually find out that Travis has a son and Walt and his wife has been taking care of him. Travis has been gone so long that his young son doesn't even remember him. Once his son finally starts to take a liking to Travis and Travis finally starts talking, Travis decides he must take his son back to Texas so they can find his mother.
See, the film is pretty much formless until that moment. The film doesn't really have a structure for about an hour or so, the scenes just happen one right after the other and there's sort of an unpredictability to it much like how life is unpredictable. But when it does take form, the film goes to emotional heights so great that it catches you by surprise. Once we finally come across Travis's estranged wife (Nastassja Kinski), it's heartbreaking.
But the film's pacing and naturalistic form makes everything that unfolds feel so authentic and real. It may not be a film that makes you cry, but it will stir your emotions in some way. It's no surprise the film won Best Film prize at Cannes in 1984. What's most surprising is the fact that the film is set in Los Angeles and South Texas and it's directed by Wim Wenders (who is from Germany). Wenders really embraces the open atmosphere that South Texas has to offer and what we get are some really beautifully shot scenes. It's a gorgeous looking film with a melancholy tone.
Both Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire are excellent films. Wenders made some really great films in the '70s as well, but it's these two films from the '80s that he'll probably be most remembered by and it's for a good reason. They are both incredible peaks in a decade where other filmmakers were either on a decline or were just getting their start. Paris, Texas is easily one of the five best films from the '80s. After I first watched it, I thought it might be one of the best I've ever seen. That, I can't be too sure about, but it is definitely a film that means a lot to me.