The Combination of Paris & Texas

February 20th, 2008 § 4 comments

Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard are a rather unlikely pair. Wenders is such a romantic, his films often reflect the inner humanity of people and places, he captures beauty that might otherwise be missed, he finds the glory in despair, problems with divinity. The visceral world, with all of its disturbing tendencies is that which he loves, and he treats it tenderly, almost delicately, with his documentaries and films. One gets the sense that he tries very hard not to squelch the thing, a strain of humanness perhaps, that he seeks to capture, a fault of many film makers who smash first and look after, filmmakers who simply set about creating what they missed through old ticks of the trade. There are very few films I see that feel or even look honest, that represent rather than manipulate, and while I don’t get the impression that Wenders always succeeds, at least I always know he is trying. He reminds me a bit of Kieslowski.

And then of course, there is Sam Shepard, who will always be fixed in my mind as the only Chuck Yeager (or at least as more real than the real Yeager) there ever was, the perfect creation for Tom Woolf’s character. The last play of Shepard’s I read, and discussed with Jon shortly before he died, was A Lie of the Mind, and the last film I saw him in was in France, Don’t Come Knocking. His plays seem to me to glorify what is absolutely most foul about our human nature. His stories are twisted narratives beginning with a kind of mysterious dysfunction, who drift along a path that appears to be the reconciliation of that dysfunction, but which is really sending one farther towards it, and deeper into the heart of tragedy. The brilliance of them, and my hesitation at the word ‘glorify’, is somehow you care about these people, you care about their hearts and their blunders, they are almost relieved of their crimes by your lack of judgment. Perhaps because one is waiting and hoping so long for their redemption—you want the mother to find her son, you will the father to put down the bottle, you hope the brother will cease to beat his wife, you never expected the father to shoot the son-in-laws brother—that in the end their mere survival seems a feat to be applauded. His characters are slow to reveal who and what they are, why and how they came to be the way they are, and because of this they are not dramatically horrible, but subtly, and identifiably, flawed. Their ugliness makes them more human somehow than the pretty faces we admire so much on the big screen. So, Wenders and Shepard make an odd but interesting combination.

Don’t Come Knocking was very confusing on a number of different levels, but Paris, Texas, its predecessor, was much less so. Made the year I was born (1984) I find myself wondering at the world it depicts. Is Texas really that behind the times, or did the 80’s really look like that? Perhaps then my father-in-law is only displaced slightly, was only caught in recent years by the systems of capital that devoured the possibility of his lifestyle and reality. Shacks, dirt, open and empty roads, poverty that is not disgusting but simply, poverty, hats, boots, and neon signs fill Wenders horizontal images of dusty color by day and drenching florescent light by night. The brother holds the promise of what was to come, “it is just quicker to fly” or “no one walks, everyone drives”, with his promising house in a suburb overlooking the night lights of LA. His house overlooks a freeway, perhaps the 405, and LA, at least from above, looks almost the same as it does now, with a few more buildings. Houston too, has the clean gleam of my generation, the homogenized perfection of newness. The characters are a rather sad and desperate lot, in true Shepard style, but they meander through Wenders beautiful world that searches for the promise even in, well I don’t know the word for a place that has booths with phones and windows where the women do god only knows what for their ‘clients’.

I suppose in the end, or at least in this film, the director and writers odd and different takes on the meaning of human interaction complement each other, Shepard’s disturbing conversations and events are responded to by such shots as newspapers flying down a street at night, shortly before an 8-year-old boy watches his father get drunk. They almost seem to be responding, talking back to each other. It is quite a melancholy film, but not in the manner of Donny Darko or other such nonsense. If anything it reminds me of Tender Mercies, without preamble or pretense. Wenders world looks a bit desolate, for all his composition and faming, I am not sure what is sadder, the lost poverty of the west, the beginning of commercial airline traffic, the huge billboards the brother helps install around LA. Even the future, my present I guess, looks foreboding, it is bland, ugly, and dirty even though the hotels hide it better in Houston than they do in Paris, Texas. And I am likewise confused about the characters, is it worse that the boy lost his family or that he found them again, that he gained a mother at the cost of a father, or that his aunt and uncle who raised him as a baby now have to give him back? Perhaps the honesty comes from knowing that people are all of these things, that any relationship has the same kind of multiplicity, only the details shift. While a movie like Tender Mercies opts towards a simplicity of sorts as its purposed answer, Paris, Texas leans towards an unresolved complexity. Where is the father driving in the end, home, away, nowhere, somewhere? Will he come back, will he never see his son again, will he go back to his wife? I guess the answer is that he might be going all of those first places, and none in the second.

§ 4 Responses to The Combination of Paris & Texas"

  • a guzman says:

    I wish I could see the images that go with the story, it was a really lovely film, the characters just did not hold together all that well, then again I suppose they were probably not meant to. I am reading Lure of the Local right now, well, I have been trying to finish it for a very long time, and I am in the ending sections about urban renewal and the different housing laws passed that have changed the landscape of cities. It is quite sad how fast cities (blocks, streets, areas, etc.) come and go, Wenders story reminded me of her anguished recollection of the gentrification of SoHo, which was made interesting because she had lived there for a long time. She had a quote I liked, “the American landscape is strewn with the detritus of unconsidered change and shortsightedness.” She also makes the claim that the suburbs never change, which I know to be false. Anyhow, it is all very interesting to me, now if I could time travel, it would be much more inclusive.

  • someplace in this mess i have the original issue.
    have you seen wenders book of snaps – written in the west?

  • a guzman says:

    I don’t know, but I think so, I checked out a book of his from the Library as few weeks ago, he reminds me of William Eggleston, but I don’t remember what it was called. We have a good photo selection at the library at VCU, they have someone good buying books, the trouble is they are never there, or never where they say that are. Everything is always lost but never listed as being lost. Anyhow, apparently no one thinks Wenders is worth misplacing, I was pleasantly surprised to find that book right where it was supposed to be.

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