I’ve been meaning to watch Paris, Texas (1984) for quite sometime now. Only being aware that it was a modern classic and seen as a modern take on The Searchers (1956) where once again I will be coming from as I explore and try to understand what is a beautiful film no matter the reading you take from it. I know now that my next piece of work will be based on the John Ford/John Wayne classic and how it’s influence on film ever since. My exploration has now taken me to Wim Wenders classic, having only seen one other of his films and more recently his Polaroid exhibition at the Photographers Gallery last year.
So where to start with Paris, Texas, I thought it would be straight-forward modern retelling of the Western classic. That was before we met Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) who in the opening scenes collapses from a mix of heat exhaustion and dehydration. The desert has not been kind to this tall gangly man who remains mute for the first 30 minutes of the film. Relying on his gestures or lack of them to discern what he wants. When his brother Walt’s (Dean Stockwell) called to come and collect his once thought dead brother from a small hospital in the middle of the Texan desert. Texas is the first real link to The Searchers where we find the film is loosely set, the backdrop of seven years of wandering. The silence is at first worrying, has Travis become a mute, or has he been psychologically afflicted, uttering no words, relying on his strained relationship with his brother to communicate. You can only feel for them both as Walt tries to reconnect and understand his brother who just can’t keep still at first, twice he bolts before finally making the trip West to California.
Hopes of flying home are soon dashed when Travis needs to stay on the ground, he’s a complex man who we are beginning to understand as he slowly opens up to us and his brother who we learn has been bringing up his nephew as his own child for the past 4 years. Travis has been wandering for the past 4 years, but why. The journey home on the open road doesn’t pass without a few bumps along the way. The location of Paris in the state of Texas is brought up a few times as they both reminisce, a plot of land that he had hoped to have truly made his home. The wandering cowboy making a small part of the world his own, a homestead for the family he once had. Still holding onto the more fragile parts of his past for later his return to Walt’s home and being reunited with his son Hunter (Hunter Carson). All this could be read as Aaron Edwards (Walter Coy) bringing home his wayward brother Ethan (Wayne) from the wilderness after the civil war. At this point I’m beginning to see how the classic has been reworked.
Back home he begins to open up to his son, both are unsure of each other, one leaving without reason or notice, feeling abandoned, whilst the other deeply troubled by his own behaviour. A cowboy just riding off into the sunset, much like Shane yet without the young boy crying out for his return. His presence would ultimately be detrimental to those around him. The family home – which could be replaced with the Edwards homestead is equally uneasy and full of memories for Travis who begins to make up for lost time with his son who begins to allow this stranger back into his life. I feel that so many of the scenes in this film could easily be shared here, but that would be too extreme. However the father son relationship that is at the centre of the film is only suggested in the Searchers, could Lucy (Pippa Scott) or even Debbie (Lana Wood and Natalie Wood) yet unable to express that connection would have broken the Hays codes that restrained films so badly in the 1950’s. Wenders doesn’t have any of that to consider, his family have raised the boy as their own without question, and without with-holding the truth either.
The blossoming of the father-son relationship is at times both heart-warming and very moving as they begin to see each other as part of one another. An invite to walk home together is brutally snubbed as only a child can handle, whilst Travis can only look on with rejection. It’s a family home-movie that seen to be most revealing. We meet the mother Jane (Nastassja Kinski) who had a passionate relationship with a much older Travis. The images are too much for him at time to bare. For the audience it’s our first chance to see Jane, a part of his life that has only been spoken about, shaping our view of what this character means to them.
Travis finally decides to take things into his own hands, after being told more about Jane by Anne (Aurore Clément ) who had raised Hunter as her own. Jane for the past 4 years has been depositing money on a monthly basis in a bank in Houston. That’s all he needs to seek her. After spending just over half the film trying to find himself and pick up where he left off, does the real search begin. Leaving with his son in tow they head for Houston hoping that they can find one person in a city of thousands. A beautifully simple translation of plot elements for a modern audience and setting. Father and son grow closer as they get closer to finding Jane who Hunter believes he’s spotted. The search is now on, following a 7 year olds hunch they hit the road in hopes that he’s right, or face waiting another month.
Finally reaching the car and a quiet building Travis enters into a world he knows little about. This the Ethan of the film does enter the Comanche Camp and finds his Debbie very much alive and well. Working in a peep-show, another form of prostitution. Unlike Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) who was able to save the young girl from a downward spiral, our Travis here is prevented by a wall of glass and a telephone, that affords him the safety to get to know the woman he knows he’s hurt, scaring both her and himself into their own separate wildernesses. What follows are some of the longest scenes I’ve ever watched, pure conversation between two people, only a phone line connects them, the truth hopefully will break through.
Let’s go Home Debbie – Ethan’s final lines of dialogue, the hatred in him has now melted away, allowing him to see the girl, the niece that can be saved. He can now see the hope in her to bring her back to civilisation. Whilst he’s still left to wander, unable to be part of the family. Travis gives up his position to reunite his son with his mother in an equally moving ending to the latter film, Believing this is the right thing to do by his son, finally putting Jane first after what was an emotionally abusive relationship built on a destructive passion that couldn’t last. There maybe no racism but there’s plenty of anger that still has to be dealt with internally for the quiet man who drives off into the night. Ending a film that is deeply melancholic, reaching into the heart of America’s deserts to reunite a family that ultimately cannot be together. Sam Shepherd‘s simple script has taken a classic formula of the search and rescue Western and transforming it into a tragic romance between a couple that had no chance of being reignited. I just wish I’d seen this classic years ago, now I’m left wondering how many more rich films have been inspired by such a complex Western that I maybe still in the midst of my own search for some time to come.
The 1970’s really did produce some real gems of cinema that just aren’t quite matched today, at least in quantity. When looking at Taxi Driver (1976) I knew I was in for something special, seen partly as Martin Scorsese’s The Searchers (1956) that sees a Vietnam war veteran adjusts to life on the streets of New York, something he has a hard time doing.
Unable to sleep during the nights he decides to take up a job as a New York taxi driver, something that allows him to earn a living and take his mind of being alone, picking up and dropping all walks of life which take him all over the vast city. He begins to detest the “scum” that walks the streets, something he didn’t fight for. Wanting to clean up the streets he later develops his own personal method that we see much later on.
Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) our lone man of the streets constantly writes to his parents, announcing that he has found a girl who he hopes to protect. A woman who we learn is more confident and assured than we were first lead to believe as Travis creates his own ideas about Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) work at the campaign office a presidential candidate Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris). Travis is not the usual type that we believe she would be attracted to, surrounded by men such as Tom (Albert Brooks) more intelligent but not as confident in front of the lone soldier on a one man mission to clean up the streets of New York.
His time as a taxi driver starts to wear him down, especially after having an angry husband who boasts about killing his philandering wife who is only two floors above. Finding solace in his fellow drivers who have armed themselves with guns. Turning also to a wise man of the yellow cab; The Wizard (Peter Boyle) who has seen it all in the world of a taxi driver. Needing to feel save he later invests in not one but for guns to arm and protect himself. They become a suit of armour which he crafts to his body in the event he may need to use them. When he is unable to hold down a relationship with Betsy his energy of romance turns to revenge,wanting to take it out on the presidential candidate which he builds up-towards, un-nerving the audience as to when he will carry out this assassination, to right the wrong of not having Betsy in his life.
There is however a glimmer of hope and shred of humanity in him, wanting to find once more the young prostitute that he nearly took away from her life on the streets. When he finally tracks her down we discover her Iris (Jodie Foster) a confident 12 1/2 years old girl who has adapted to a life of prostitution. Travis sees the innocence in the young girl wanting to restore what is left and return her to her parents. Something that she doesn’t want. Already having had to grow-up faster yet with a lot still to learn. Portrayed by the amazingly talented and young Jodie Foster.
We are seeing two sides to this man, one who arms himself to the teeth and the kind man who wants to save a young girl/woman from a terrible life on the streets. channelling his energy he once had for Betsy into this young girl who doesn’t know she needs to be saved. This is at the end of a long and disturbing journey from freshly released onto the streets veteran of the Marine Corps to wannabe assassin who transforms himself into a dangerous man with a heart. Living by the trigger of a gun to keep him safe on the streets that he wants to clean up, having lost faith in the politicians who have failed his country and damaged the man who returned from war.
An incredible film that doesn’t put a foot wrong, like many of the period, I want to re-watch this with the same passion I have for the near-perfect Chinatown (1974). With one of the last scored by the great composer Bernard Herrmann create a subdued jazzy atmosphere of the streets if New York. I’m not even bothered by the cheeky cameo by Scorsese which builds up his relationship with the De Niro that has worked so well over 30-plus years. We see a troubled man return to civilian life, struggle to adjust and finding hope in a real damsel in distress. The modern cowboy who great and dangerous feats, a man who has all but lost faith in humanity in a dirty world that he fought to protect.
- Taxi Driver by Martin Scorsese (1976) (spfilmjournal.wordpress.com)
- Cinema of moments (embodimentblog.wordpress.com)
- Taxi Driver (criticoffilm.wordpress.com)
- Taxi Driver (taxiconfessions.wordpress.com)