New German Cinema pioneer Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) brings his keen eye for landscape to the American Southwest in Paris, Texas, a profoundly moving character study written by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Sam Shepard. Paris, Texas follows the mysterious, nearly mute drifter Travis (a magnificent Harry Dean Stanton, whose face is a landscape all its own) as he tries to reconnect with his young son, living with his brother (Dean Stockwell) in Los Angeles, and his missing wife (Nastassja Kinski). From this simple setup, Wenders and Shepard produce a powerful statement on codes of masculinity and the myth of the American family, as well as an exquisite visual exploration of a vast, crumbling world of canyons and neon.
Presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on the first dual-layer disc of this two-disc set, Criterion’s edition of Wim Wender’s Paris, Texas presents a significant improvement over Fox’s previous DVD edition, and also manages to hold its own against Criterion’s own Blu-ray release.
Fox’s DVD wasn’t bad, especially when one considers the DVD could be found for around $5, but it could be improved upon. Sharpness and detail is far better here, without a moment of the image looking soft. Colours also look far more natural and better saturated on the Criterion edition, presenting natural skin tones, striking blues, and vibrant reds and greens from the various neon lights and signs that appear through the film. Like the Blu-ray it still presents blacks that can look a little washed but nothing problematic. The print has also been vigorously cleaned up and I actually can’t recall a spec of debris appearing throughout the entirety of the film.
It’s a long film, running 145-minutes, and I wasn’t holding out much hope for it being packed on a DVD, but it still pulls it off. I was actually fairly tempted to give it a higher score than the Blu-ray edition and I would have if it wasn’t for one thing: edge-enhancement. As far as artifacts go the transfer is pretty clean, the transfer even handling the film’s grain rather well except during darker scenes where it looks more like noise. Unfortunately edge-enhancement makes itself rather obvious on occasion. For the most part it can be mild, and slight halos can appear around objects, but there are moments where an object against the sky are rather problematic with large, fairly obvious halos. Thankfully it’s not a huge issue throughout the film, but it rears its ugly head on a few occasions.
Still I was impressed. Compared against the Blu-ray it does hold itself up against it rather well, though the Blu-ray still presents the better picture. Still, for those picking up the DVD edition they have nothing to fear: It still looks quite good.
Paris, Texas presents a simple Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track approved by Wim Wenders (like the video transfer.) I’ve heard complaints about the presentation on here and the Blu-ray but can’t wholly agree with some of the criticisms. It’s not at all an active track but then it’s not really an active film. The best aspect of the track would be Ry Cooder’s score for the film, which beautifully fills the environment and sounds crisp and clear, and is quite effective in capturing the mood. Dialogue remains in the fronts and also sounds natural, and the track as a whole is quite clean.
But there are no splits to speak of, no stereo effects, and bass is very low key. But then in all honesty I wasn’t expecting all that much from it and for the film it works rather well. Plus sound quality is excellent, so that’s all I’m concerned about.
While Fox’s DVD edition was fairly impressive for supplements (if only in the fact they actually bothered including what they did for a film that I doubt would be a big seller) Criterion’s 2-disc edition outshines it by far in this department.
The first disc presents an audio commentary from Wim Wenders, which sounds to be similar to if not the same as the one presented on the Fox DVD (I do not own the Fox DVD so I can’t compare immediately.) I have to admit that Wenders’ dry voice and tone doesn’t always work with me in his commentary tracks (or interviews for that matter) because he can come off as uninterested at times (though I highly doubt this to actually be the case) and I can have a hard time listening to them. With the Wings of Desire DVD’s commentary you at least had Peter Falk on occasion to offer some balance but here it’s Wenders all the time.
Having said that it’s still a fairly good track, though not without a few dry periods. He does have a real passion for the photography in the film and the look of the American landscape, and comments with absolute awe on how beautiful it looks, completely thrilled with how director of photography Robert Müller was able to capture everything. He also talks a lot about working with writer Sam Shepard and the development of the story, which a good chunk of, specifically the last half, was made up almost on the spot. He of course offers praise to all of the performers, specifically Harry Dean Stanton and then child actor Hunter Carson. But the track really comes to life as Wenders breaks down the final sequence between Stanton and Nastassja Kinski, where he gets into passionate detail about how the scene came to be and the shooting and editing that went behind it. Quite technical, and fairly dry at times, it’s still an excellent track that I think most admirerers of the film would be interested in listening to.
The first disc then closes with the original Fox trailer, which is in spectacularly rough shape.
The second dual-layer disc presents the rest of the supplements, dividing them into three different sections: Interviews, Deleted Scenes and Super 8, and then Galleries.
Under Interviews you’ll first find an interview with Wim Wenders, recorded in 2001 and conducted by German journalist Roger Willemsen. Running 29-minutes, Wenders talks about Paris, Texas and how everything that came before lead to it. He mentions his theater experience lent quite a bit to it, especially the last scene between Stanton and Kinski, and goes over the themes within the film, calling it a “very masculine” film. He also covers issues that came up during writing, like how he and Sam Shepard only had half the script done before they began filming, and then how he became oblivious on what to do next once he shot through the script. He didn’t have Sam Shepard available to him (he was off on another film) and he just made up stuff as he went, more or less, with Shepard coming up with the closing scene. He feels the second half does suffer because of this, but thinks the final scene makes up for it. He touches on the critical reception of the film, which was excellent in European countries, not so much in the States, and also touches on issues he had with the German distributors. Some of the same material is covered in the commentary but it still manages to add a lot on top of it. Again Wenders can be quite dry but the material he talks about keeps it interesting.
The next supplement is a 43-minute, 1989 documentary called The Road to Paris, Texas, featuring interviews with Wnders, Müller, Cooder, director Samuel Fuller, author Patricia Highsmith, critic Kraft Wetzel, and actors Harry Dean Stanton, Peter Falk, Dennis Hopper, and Hanns Zischler. It begins by slowly going through a few of Wender’s previous films, including Kings of the Road, The American Friend, and The State of Things, then making its way to Paris, Texas, which takes up the second half of the doc. Wenders and Cooder talk about scoring the film (Wenders claiming it felt like the film was being shot a second time) and then Stanton talks about how he got the role, with Sam Shepard previously wanting to play the role, and then comments on his dislike of the film’s ending. It’s an excellent documentary, but I have to say it’s made all the better because of Stanton and Fuller (who was in The State of Things.) The only way I can describe these two is with the word “awesome.”
Criterion has then added their own interview with director Claire Denis, who worked as assistant director on Paris, Texas. This rather energetic and fascinating interview, conducted by Kent Jones, may be one of the best features on here. Here she discusses how she first met Wim and how she got hired to work on the film, and then talks about the various issues that arose during productions (like problems with local teamsters, something Wenders also amusingly covers in the commentary track.) She also covers casting, mentioning how her comment about how a certain character in the film should be “snake faced” led to the casting of John Lurie in a bit part, the recording of the score, and her absolute horror at seeing the film at Cannes (though it was more because she had a fear that the sound had been done incorrectly and was waiting for it to show.) In 20-minutes she manages to cover so much and she has a certain energy that makes it go by incredibly fast.
Next is an interview with director Allison Anders, who was able to get a school grant to go and work on the film. She reads from journals she made during the shoot and then adds some context to them. She begins by explaining how, while in film school, she would write Wenders on a weekly basis, presenting herself as his number one fan. She was even able to get him to give suggestions on a film she was shooting, and he even came to visit to view her finished film. This all of course led to her working on Paris, Texas. She covers some of the same material as Denis (issues with teamsters, constant production shutdowns) but also talks a bit about Kinski, Müller, and then Denis. Another rather good addition to the set.
Moving on we then come to a segment from the French television program Cinéma Cinémas, a 12-minute segment on Wenders and Paris, Texas. It’s a decent program, a chunk of it taken up with an interview with Wenders while he’s driving, where he further covers working with Sam Shepard. The best aspect of it, though, is the first bit involving the scoring of the film with footage of Cooder recording it. Most everything in this is covered elsewhere but it’s a great addition just for that.
Moving on to Deleted Scenes and Super 8 we first get 24-minutes worth of deleted scenes, which I believe all of appeared on the previous Fox DVD edition. You also have the choice of watching the scenes with a commentary by Wim Wenders or without. What I don’t recall from the Fox DVD is the audio presentation: for this Criterion edition the score subtly plays over the scenes in Dolby Digital 5.1. I am not sure if this is how they were presented on the Fox DVD. The deleted scenes are all worth watching, though don’t add much to the film and it’s easy to see why they were cut (some also appear to be either extended or alternate scenes to existing ones.) Most interesting is a scene involving Dean Stockwell and Aurore Clément’s characters deciding to follow Travis and Hunter, a scene Wenders mentioned in the film’s audio commentary. In the deleted scenes commentary Wenders basically covers why the scenes were trimmed or excised (which are the usual reasons, such as they didn’t fit in the film, a place couldn’t be found for them, they repeated something else, or the film needed to be trimmed for time, and so on.)
Also found on here (and not on the Fox DVD) is the Super 8 footage shot for the home video sequence. A nice addition and interesting, it’s presented in two ways: either with music playing over it or with a recording of Harry Dean Stanton rehearsing, I assume, his final monologue at the end (it’s not exactly the same as what is presented in the film, cutting out Kinski’s interjections.) I actually preferred the Stanton dialogue playing over it.
We then move on to Galleries, which presents two short photo galleries that you navigate through using the arrows on your remote. The first is called Written in the West, which is made up of photos taken by Wenders of the various landscapes and buildings they came across during location scouting. He eventually used these photos in his bok Written in the West. The next gallery presents a few production shots by photographer Robin Holland with opening notes by her. They’re unfortunately small galleries, but the images are quite striking and certainly worth looking through. I know the Fox DVD came with a photo gallery but I unfortunately never looked at it so can’t say if the photos from that made it here.
The set also comes with a rather thick 42-page booklet. On top of a huge amount of photographs (that also appear on the disc under the “Galleries” section) you get a few written articles, first with an excellent essay by Nick Roddick on the film and Wenders’ career up to that point. Also included are a collection of interviews with Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell, and Sam Shepard, reprinted here from the press book that appeared at Cannes in 1984. I thought these all proved to be an added value since, other Stanton, none of these individuals appear in the disc supplements (I had hoped Shepard might at least appear, since he did appear on Criterion’s Days of Heaven DVD. Also included is Wenders’ preface to his book Written in the West. Also bookending the booklet are quotes from Sam Shepard’s collection Motel Chronicles, mentioned throughout the disc supplements as an influence, if not directly, for the film.
And that perfectly rounds out this set, easily one of Criterion’s most impressive in terms of supplements. It can repeat itself unfortunately, but I still think every supplement on here does add value and further appreciation for the film. Impressive, and huge improvement over Fox’s DVD.
With this, Che, and their Rossellini box set, Criterion have started off the year in an incredible fashion and I hope this is an example of the year to come. Though previously available on DVD, Criterion’s edition of Paris, Texas is an improvement over Fox’s on all fronts. It comes with a high recommendation, even to those that own the previous DVD.