The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Shutter Island
John C. Flinn III, ASC
Sol Negrin, ASC
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
Paris, Texas
The Prisoner
ASC Close-Up
Paris, Texas (1984)
Blu-ray Edition
1.78:1 (High Definition 1080p)
DTS-HD  Master Audio 5.1
The Criterion Collection, $39.95

Across the mammoth, sepia-toned canyons of desert on the rocky border of Mexico and Texas, Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) moves steadily, the fierce sun beating down on his baseball cap. As he wanders through the acrid, remote terrain, he approaches a dusty village and heads for a run-down watering hole. Once he enters the darkness of the nearly deserted establishment, he reaches for a handful of ice and falls flat into a faint.   

When Travis wakens, he is with the local doctor, Doctor Ulmer (Bernhard Wicki), who, because Travis does not speak, assumes him to be a mute or an amnesiac. Ulmer finds contact information on Travis and gets in touch with Travis’ brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), in Los Angeles. A shocked Walt explains to his wife, Anne (Aurore Clement), Travis, missing for more than four years, has turned up.

Moving Travis from Texas to L.A. by car, Walt eventually gets him to speak, but he is not ready to explain why he left. As the brothers continue their strained roadtrip, Walt uncomfortably tells Travis he and Anne are raising Travis’ now 7-year-old son, Hunter (Hunter Carson). Walt explains that Jane (Nastassja Kinski), devastated after Travis abandoned both her and their child, left Hunter with them so she could try to start a new life.

Later, reaching Walt and Anne’s home, Travis and Hunter reunite. While Hunter is timid toward the father he cannot remember, he is curious about Travis, and the two gradually form a bond. Travis eventually asks about Jane. Anne tells him she is somewhere in Houston because she makes monthly deposits there into an account for Hunter. Travis feels he needs to seek Jane out and try to fix the damage he has done. Father and son set out on a road trip to find Jane and, they hope, to pull their estranged family together.

The internationally acclaimed feature Paris, Texas was a collaboration between two celebrated artists, German film director Wim Wenders and American playwright Sam Shepard. Working with ideas inspired by Wenders’ “road movie trilogy,” Alice in the Cities (1974), The Wrong Move (1975) and Kings of the Road (1976), and Shepard’s short-story collection Motel Chronicles (1983), the two artists conceived a handful of characters and their quests for reconciliation and meaning. They intended to create a story that would unfold en route across the American Southwest and spent time driving through that terrain, writing and taking photographs along the way.

Wenders turned to his longtime cinematographer, Robby Müller, NSC, BVK, to bring an immediate, “real-life” quality to the narrative and make the most of the film’s omnipresent but silent character, the road. Müller and Wenders developed an unusual strategy for the project, making no specific plans for each day’s shooting. Both artists felt it was more important for the performances and settings to dictate where the camera would be placed. Often relying on available light, Müller would shoot the actors as naturally as possible. While this unusual “no-plan” practice often resulted in very long shooting hours, the end result is a unique visual landscape that remains one of the film’s strongest qualities.

With all of its memorable exteriors and detailed interior lighting setups perfectly represented, The Criterion Collection recently introduced Paris, Texas in the Blu-ray format. The 1080p image transfer is excellent, giving Müller’s cinematography the perfect showcase. Uniform sharpness, consistent balance of contrasts and a wide color spectrum highlight this truly impressive presentation. The audio, presented in DTS-HD Master 5.1, is good, but really only the film’s great music score by Ry Cooder seems to take advantage of the rear surround channels. Other audio seems confined to the front channels.

This disc also offers a sidecar of exciting and detailed supplements. In addition to an audio commentary by Wenders, included are a 2001 video interview with the director and new video interviews with directors Claire Denis and Allison Anders, who served as assistant director and production assistant on the film, respectively. Müller and other crewmembers and actors appear in the documentary The Road to Paris, Texas, as does a short excerpt from French television featuring Wenders and Cooder. Deleted scenes, Super 8 film footage, two photo galleries and a booklet that includes a piece by critic Nick Roddick, assorted interviews and stills round out the supplements.

Criterion has created a winning new presentation for Paris, Texas. The glowing images that convey the story’s many journeys and passages are some of contemporary cinema’s most memorable and often referenced. This vivid Blu-ray is a must for longtime fans of this gentle drama of regret, second chances and, most important, the unassuming beauty of the roadside world we pass each day.

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