Paris, Texas is a 1984 drama film directed by Wim Wenders and starring Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell, Nastassja Kinski, and Hunter Carson. The screenplay was written by L.M. Kit Carson and playwright Sam Shepard, and the distinctive musical score was composed by Ry Cooder. The cinematography was by Robby Müller. The film was a co-production between companies in France and West Germany, and was filmed in the United States.
The plot focuses on an amnesiac (Stanton) who, after mysteriously wandering out of the desert, attempts to reconnect with his brother (Stockwell) and seven-year-old son (Carson). He and his son end up embarking on a voyage through the American Southwest to track down his long-missing wife (Kinski).
The film unanimously won the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival from the official jury, as well as the FIPRESCI Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. The film has been released on DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection.
- 1 – Plot
- 2 – Cast
- 3 – Production
- 4 – Title
- 5 – Style
- 6 – Release
- 7 – Reception
- 8 – In popular culture
- 9 – References
- 10 – External links
Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) is walking alone across a vast South Texas desert landscape. Looking for water, he enters a saloon and collapses. He is treated by a doctor (Bernhard Wicki), but does not speak or respond to questions. The doctor finds a phone number on Travis, calls the Los Angeles number, and reaches his brother, Walt Henderson (Dean Stockwell), who agrees to pick him up. When Walt arrives in Texas, he discovers that Travis is gone. When he finds him wandering alone, Walt tells his silent brother that he will take him back to Los Angeles. They stop at a motel, but Travis wanders off again. Walt finds him, and the two drive to a diner, where Walt begins to question the still silent Travis more forcefully about his disappearance. Walt and his wife, Anne (Aurore Clément), have not heard from Travis in four years. After Travis abandoned his son Hunter (Hunter Carson), Walt and Anne took care of him for four years. Travis is visibly moved by the mention of his son, and tears flow from his eyes.
Travis finally breaks his silence when he is looking at a map and remarks “Paris,” talking about how he’d like to go there, although Walt mistakenly thinks that he is talking about France, telling him that it is a little out of the way. When Travis refuses to fly, Walt rents a car, and the brothers begin a two-day road trip back to Los Angeles. The next day, as the two brothers continue their journey, Travis shows Walt a weathered photograph of a vacant lot. He explains that he purchased the property in Paris, Texas, a town he believes is the place where he was conceived, based on a story told by their mother.
When they arrive in Los Angeles, Travis meets Anne and the son whom he abandoned four years earlier. Hunter is uncomfortable around this stranger who is his father. Walt shows some old home movies, hoping to evoke good memories and help break the ice between the father and son. The movies show Travis with his wife, Jane (Nastassja Kinski), and their young son, sharing a day at the beach.
In the coming days, the relationship between Travis and his son slowly grows, and a bond of trust between the two starts to develop. Anne tells Travis that although she has not heard from Hunter’s mother for a long time, she still deposits money into a bank account for her son on the same day each month. She reveals the name of the bank in Houston, where the deposits are made. Travis becomes determined to find his lost wife, and when he tells his son that he plans to travel to Houston to find his mother, the boy says he will accompany him.
Travis and Hunter leave for Texas without telling Walt and Anne. During their journey, Travis and Hunter grow closer, with Hunter sharing things he learned in school, and Travis sharing his memories. When they arrive in Houston on the expected day of deposit, Hunter spots his mother leaving the bank. They follow her to a parking lot of a peep show club. Telling Hunter to wait in the car, Travis enters the club, containing rooms where customers sit behind one-way mirrors and tell the strippers what they want to see via telephone. The women cannot see the customers. Travis is shocked, but ends up in a room opposite Jane. After several minutes of awkward silence, Travis walks out, returns to the car, and drives to a bar, where he begins to drink.
The next day, Travis drops Hunter off at the Méridien Hotel in downtown Houston, and heads back to the club. Travis enters a room with Jane on the other side of the one-way mirror. He picks up the phone, turns his chair away from her, and tells her a story of a man and a young girl who fell in love, married, and had a child, probably before they were ready. At first, Jane is confused by the story, but she soon realizes who is on the other side of the glass, and that the story is that of their relationship. Travis describes how the couple’s love turned from being joyful to stifling, explains how the drunken man suffocated the young girl with his jealousy and control, and tells how he came to loathe himself and why he disappeared to a place “without language or streets” — never wanting to see anyone again.
When Travis prepares to leave, Jane urges him to stay. She tells how hard it was to leave him, that for years she thought of him often. Travis finally faces the glass, turns a lamp on his face so Jane can see him, and tells her where she can find Hunter, asking her to go there and reunite with her son. Jane agrees and Travis leaves the room. Later that night, Jane enters the hotel room where Hunter is waiting, and they reunite at last. Travis watches from the parking lot and then leaves Houston behind him, driving alone.
In order of their appearance
- Harry Dean Stanton as Travis Henderson
- Sam Berry as Gas Station Attendant
- Bernhard Wicki as Doctor Ulmer
- Dean Stockwell as Walt Henderson
- Aurore Clément as Anne Henderson
- Claresie Mobley as Car Rental Clerk
- Hunter Carson as Hunter Henderson
- Viva as Woman on TV
- Socorro Valdez as Carmelita
- Edward Fayton as Hunter’s Friend
- Justin Hogg as Hunter (age 3)
- Nastassja Kinski as Jane Henderson
- Tom Farrell as Screaming Man
- John Lurie as Slater
- Jeni Vici as Stretch
- Mydolls as Rehearsing Band
Wenders said the film shot in only four to five weeks, with only a small group working the last weeks, very short and fast. There was a break in shooting during which time the script was completed.
Filming commenced with the story and script only half written, the intention being that they would shoot chronologically and writer Sam Shepard would, once he had watched how the actors interpreted the roles, write the second half accordingly. Shepard left to work on another project, however, resulting in the second half of the film being written by Shepard remotely with notes sent by Wenders.
The film is named for the Texas town of Paris, but no footage was shot there: filming largely took place in Fort Stockton and Marathon in the Trans-Pecos region of west Texas; and Nordheim, southeast of San Antonio. Instead, Paris is referred to as the location of a vacant lot owned by Travis that is seen in a photograph. His obsession with the town is based on the notion that he may have been conceived there. The photograph shows a desert landscape, although in reality Paris lies on the edge of the forests in Northeast Texas and the flat to gently-rolling humid farmland of the north-central part of that state, far from any desert. Paris, Texas, is mentioned on page 123 of W.H. Davies‘ cult classic The Autobiography of a Supertramp, 1908, a possible source for the title of the film.
Paris, Texas is notable for its images of the Texas landscape and climate. The first shot is a bird’s eye-view of the desert, a bleak, dry, alien landscape. Shots follow of old advertisement billboards, placards, graffiti, rusty iron carcasses, old railway lines, neon signs, motels, seemingly never-ending roads, and Los Angeles, finally culminating in some famous scenes shot outside a drive-through bank in Downtown Houston. The film’s production design was by Kate Altman. The cinematography is typical of Robby Müller‘s work, a long-time collaborator of Wim Wenders.
After its premiere at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, the film went on to sweep the top prizes from all three juries at Cannes: the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) from the official jury, the FIPRESCI Prize, and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.
Paris, Texas currently has a score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, based on 28 reviews with an average rating of 8.3 out of 10. Critic Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, particularly praising the performance of Hunter Carson.
Summarizing his review of the film, Ebert wrote “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.”
Newsweek referred to the film as “a story of the United States, a grim portrait of a land where people like Travis and Jane cannot put down roots, a story of a sprawling, powerful, richly endowed land where people can get desperately lost.” 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.”
Musician/Writer Matt Selou believes there are many similarities to the film Harry and Tonto – especially with the protagonist trying to fly but for some reason having to turn back at the airport and taking a car for the long distance. There’s also the similarity of the young, new person in the protagonist’s life to seek out someone they hadn’t seen in years.
In popular culture
- Irish rock group U2 cite Paris, Texas as an inspiration for their album The Joshua Tree.
- 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.
- Defunct instrumental rock band The Six Parts Seven used samples from the film at the beginning of the song “From California to Houston, on Lightspeed”. The song’s title is also an homage to the film.
- Jane Henderson’s line “Yep, I know that feeling” is sampled on Primal Scream‘s 1991 album Screamadelica, at the end of the song “I’m Comin’ Down”; it is also repeated in the song “Space Angel Station” on the 1994 Drum Club album Drums Are Dangerous.
- Dialogue from the film is sampled during the song “O.O.B.E.” on the album Live 93 by The Orb.
- Dialogue “Do you think he still loves her? How would I know that Hunter? I think he does.” is sampled during the song “She Stands Up” on M83 by the band M83.
- Travis Touchdown from the 2008 Grasshopper Manufacture video game No More Heroes is named after the main character.
- “Paris, Texas”. Filmportal.de. Retrieved 10 May 2017.
- “Paris, Texas (35MM)”. Australian Classification Board. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
- “Paris, Texas (1984) – Box Office Mojo”. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
- “Festival de Cannes: Paris, Texas”. Festival de Cannes. Retrieved 23 June 2009.
- Anders, Allison; Wenders, Wim (9 September 2015). “Allison Anders (Grace of My Heart) Talks with Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas) for The Talkhouse Film Podcast”. The Talkhouse. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
- Wenders, Wim. “Anchor Bay’s The Wim Wenders Collection; Paris, Texas; Wim Wenders DVD Commentary”. cineoutsider – Paris, Texas DVD Review.
- “2006 Sundance Film Festival Announces Films From the Sundance Collection” (PDF). Sundance Film Festival. 23 January 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 April 2007. Retrieved 20 December 2007.
- Paris, Texas at Rotten Tomatoes
- Ebert, Roger. “Paris, Texas,” Chicago Sun-Times (1 Jan. 1984). Archived on RogerEbert.com.
- “Paris, Texas Official Site”. Wim-wenders.com. Archived from the original on 27 January 2010. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
- Canby, Vincent (14 October 1984). “Movie Review: Paris Texas (1984) ‘Paris, Texas’ From Wim Wenders”. The New York Times. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
- Lodge, Guy (27 April 2015). “My favourite Cannes winner: Paris, Texas”. The Guardian. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
- Kelly, Nick (25 April 2009). “From the Lone Star State to outer space”. The Independent. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
- Levine, Nick (12 March 2010). “Sharleen Spiteri”. Digital Spy. Retrieved 12 March 2010.
- Graham, Polly (21 September 2007). “Paper, Scissors, Rock: The return of Travis”. Daily Mail. Retrieved 12 March 2010.
- Phipps, Keith (2009-03-20) Paris, Texas: Better Late Than Never?, The A.V. Club
- Official website
- Paris, Texas on Internet Movie Database
- Paris, Texas at AllMovie
- Paris, Texas at Box Office Mojo
- Paris, Texas at Rotten Tomatoes
Film Collectors Corner
Watch Paris, Texas Now – Amazon Instant Video