Lucy Calderbank: Boundary and Division in ‘Paris, Texas’

Creator’s Statement

 

Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984) is by far one of my favourite films. The emotional depth is deeply interrelated with its unique use of space, which creates distance between the characters. The film delivers a portrait of 1908s Western America from the perspective of a foreigner, Wenders being a German filmmaker. His European approach is interesting as he combines both cultures in his cinematic language. His attitude towards America is both critical and compassionate. He has described television, a major symbol of American modernism and technological innovation, as a source of ‘optical toxins’[1], but he also honours those landscapes by magnifying their strange beauty.

The video essay is concerned with the themes of boundary of division in relation to space in Paris, Texas. Roger Bromley in From Alice to Buena Vista: The Films of Wim Wenders (2001), writes: « The title of the film announces boundary and division, a seemingly contradictory state, an entre-deux-never reducible to the differences it joins and separates (bonding and separation are themes which recur throughout.) »[2]. I looked at three main points: Travis as the aimless wanderer, the failure of the ‘American Dream’ and the confined spaces. They map out a journey of the film, with its different movements across America, the changes of dynamics between the characters and how the space affects them psychologically and emotionally. The locations vary from vast open spaces like the desert to small confined spaces like the peepshow club where Jane works. The protagonist Travis has been in a state of transit since he has lost his wife and child, and the film can be seen as his quest to reunite his family as well as his return to civilisation. The desolate landscapes reflect Travis’s loneliness and pain as well as his desire for freedom and escape. Travis embodies the division between the desert and the city, the urban and the rural. I chose to use a split screen showing on the left side Travis entering the peepshow club and on the right side the Texas desert in order to contrast the city to the desert. Indeed, these two locations differ hugely in what they represent, as the peepshow is associated with greens and reds and confined spaces, whereas the desert looks more natural looking with its sandy colours and vast open space. The film establishes and compares different worlds, the desert and the home, the father and the mother, exile VS the return. Travis is put in contrast with his brother Walter, who is introduced to us in a shot against an oppressive building, directly associating him with capitalism and the modern life. The video essay compares and contrasts the different ways the characters exist in the world Paris, Texas sets up for them.

 

 The characters always seem to be torn apart between their desires and the reality they have to face. They chose a path that perhaps wasn’t right for them at first, and they are now dealing with the consequences of their actions. Travis and Jane seem to be lost as if their lives had been put on pause since the tragic incident. They both inhabit surreal spaces, Travis the empty desert, Jane the dehumanised and lonely peepshow.

 

I chose to let the images speak for themselves at times, without putting voice-over everywhere. I left the soundtrack of the film to emphasise the poetry and loneliness of the shots. I tried to create a similar in the video essay to the film itself, a slow, steady rhythm, which allows the actors to experience deeply every moment. The opening is a close-up on Hunter holding a picture of Paris, Texas, the land Travis purchased many years ago, whilst Hunter asks: “Where’s Paris Texas?”. Paris, Texas appears to be a foreign promised land, a utopia, and the audience is made to question if such a place really does exist, or if it is the fruit of Travis’s imagination. The point of the video essay was also to emphasise the surreal nature of the spaces in the film, as they seem to be disconnected from any point of logic and time, but are more a psychological and emotional extension of the characters. I chose to end on the scenes in the peepshow club, which separates and finally reunites the long-lost lover, Jane and Travis. There are boundaries between them that the past has built forever.

 

Lucy Calderbank

[1] Alexander Graf, The Cinema of Wim Wenders : The Celluloid HighwayWallflower Press, 2002

 

[2] Roger Bromley, From Alice to Buena Vista : The Films of Wim Wenders Praeger, 2001

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