RogerBW's Blog

Paris, Texas 21 November 2021

1984 drama, dir. Wim Wenders, Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski: IMDb / allmovie. A man stumbles out of the desert, and collapses. Why was he there? What will he do next?

There are two big things that get in the way of my enjoyment of this film. One is that Harry Dean Stanton was 58 (if well-preserved) when this was made while Kinski, as his character's abandoned wife, was 24. And yes, this happens in real life and even more in Hollywood, but given that their kid is rising 8 that implies things about their ages when they got together that ought to flavour their whole relationship, even leaving aside the illegality of it in most places. And yet nobody really seems to think about it.

And just as one's got past that, I at least couldn't help noticing that this guy has walked out of the desert, turned four people's lives upside-down irrespective of their own wishes, and walked (OK, driven) away again. And he doesn't seem to suffer any condemnation for this, diegetic or otherwise.

But this isn't, in one key respect, a Hollywood film: it isn't constantly telling you how you should feel, that this is the Good Guy. Yes, Travis is presented as cool and romantic (Ry Cooder's blues soundtrack doing much of the heavy lifting), the lonesome man of the desert, but at the same time he's clearly quite broken; he goes reluctantly back to civilisation, or at least Los Angeles, and he learns to live in it, but he's not comfortable there and he's clearly never going to be able to stick around… maybe anywhere. Is Travis doing the right thing? Well, clearly, no, unless you believe that it's an absolute truth that children should be with their biological mothers, overriding any other considerations. But he's doing what he thinks is the right thing.

And it goes on like that. Travis was a bit broken but it was when Jane got pregnant that things went wrong… at least in his head. She's doing something like sex work (the scriptwriters started from the idea of a peep show, but modified it to work better on film), and the first thing he asks when he finds her, the thing that's most important in his mind, is whether she's also going home with the customers. This film isn't saying "yeah, Travis is The Man"; indeed, I'm not sure it's really saying anything, but it's saying it in a way I enjoyed.

Sometimes the cinematography gets too clever for its own good, as when Travis's and Jane's faces merge together in a part-reflected image. Sometimes the influences are too obvious, as the little we see of the peep-show venue takes on trappings of a church and a confessional. But this is a 147-minute arty film that doesn't feel like a 147-minute arty film, and in particular I could watch Stanton walk across the Texas desert all day.

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes. (We recorded that episode, and I wrote most of this, before Dean Stockwell's death. He does a solid job here, but it's a thankless task…)

Tags: film reviews

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