The funny thing about turning over this year’s Blind Spot selections to my readership, was that in more than one instance I was pointed towards films I might not have prioritized. In all honesty, more than one of my selections for 2015 had me thinking “Really? That?“. Not in the way that I didn’t want to see them, or thought that my readership was just looking to mess with me (though that HAS happened before), just in the way that I didn’t realize certain selections had such devoted followings.
I realized they had prominence and prestige, I guess I just didn’t realize their appreciation went as far and wide as it did. That’s the thing about finally scratching some of these off the list though…for great and for small, you finally get to see what all the fuss is about, and in the case of today’s selection, count yourself amongst the fussy.
PARIS, TEXAS is the story of Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton). He first arrives in the film drifting out of the Texas desert like a lost puppy. Why is he in Texas? Who can say. When his family is contacted to collect him, we are introduced to his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) whose nerves are tested as the very high-maintenance Travis doesn’t make the trip back to Los Angeles very easy. Once home though, Travis finds himself a little more grounded in the presence of his son Hunter (Hunter Carson). He might not have been ready to be a father when Hunter was born, and still might not now that he’s seven, but he’s willing to try – if Hunter will let him.
The story takes one more turn when Travis’ sister-in-law gives him a lead on the whereabouts of Hunter’s mother (Natassja Kinski). She has just the sketchiest of details to go on, but it’s enough to get Hunter and Travis on the road in search of her. They don’t believe they will find a happy answer, but they are adamant that finding her will at least provide an answer.
What’s incredible about a film like PARIS, TEXAS is the way it seems to be so poised to be something grimy and muted. From the raggedy suit Travis is wearing when we first find him, to the dusty expanse of America everything stems out from, our first inclination is to think that this will be another ugly American indie with a heart of gold. In short order though, this film becomes lush, bold, expansive, and shows us all that the grungiest of places can prompt splendid visuals when captured by the right pair of eyes.
Take Harry Dean Stanton’s introduction: The sight of a man wandering out of the desert would be stunning in its own right. It’s mysterious, concerning, and tremendously striking. Taking that same man and saddling him with a red baseball cap is what takes the moment and turns it from mysterious and concerning and suddenly makes it downright whimsical. As it stands, the man isn’t dressed for the terrain he is walking on. Throw the red cap on him and he’s just not dressed for anything specific. A moment like that draws us in that much deeper.
But then we get moments like the red stairwell, or the green parking lot. There’s an expansive valley below Anne and Walt’s home and a film within a film that seems like something out of The French New Wave.
Whether it’s the seediness of the strip club or the whimsical way Hunter’s feet tap underneath the dinner table, the film has a wonderful way of assigning extraordinary value to what should be ordinary details. One might expect such lavishness in an Almodovar melodrama or a Luhrmann musical, but finding them in a German-American southern gothic is an unexpected joy.
It’s impossible to even think about PARIS, TEXAS without considering the two scenes where Jane Henderson listens to Travis speak from the other side of a two-way mirror. These scenes are brutally honest, arresting in their stillness, and heartbreaking to endure. Both characters are trapped in separate rooms barely bigger than broom closets…and yet so little about these scenes feel claustrophobic. Much the opposite – it feels like walls are being knocked down, and windows are being shattered. Like a screen in a Catholic confessional, the divider between them allows for the truth to come to light. It’s a moment where we want to hug both characters and tell them that everything will be okay, especially since we can see that they aren’t about to hug each-other.
More than anything though, what this scene becomes is an example of acting away from the dialogue. Watching the range of emotions that go over Natassja Kinski’s face in these two scenes is incredible, and an amazing demonstration of what in basketball is called “play away from the ball”. She is doing just as much in these moments as Harry Dean Stanton, if not more so. She is breathing honesty and pain into his story because he is showing just how deep the truth of it can cut. In a lesser film, we may not even get a reaction shot, let alone have it be so affecting. And yet between keeping the camera on Jane, and Kinski wordlessly articulating what her character is going through, what we see is true human emotion captured in a very special way.
It’s one of the greatest take-a-ways of a film like this, and a nagging question over why more films don’t do such things.
This was the second month in a row where my Blind Spot selection was dedicated to a subdued story of very ordinary people dealing with very ordinary things. In a way, this is the sort of film that is easy to overlook since it tends not to come with the sort of flash, bells, or whistles that turn it into a cultural landmark. However, that’s the very reason why we need to keep reminding each other about these sorts of films as the years pass – and why I’m thankful to everyone last year who selected this as one of the films I was pointed towards for this year’s series. The fact of the matter is that these more subdued, “down-to-earth” films are landmarks in their own right. They remind us that films are not just for larger-than-life heroes and villains, but also for people like us who are the heroes and villains of our own stories. The mother that is trying to come to grips with returning to her son’s life is every bit as important to immortalize on-screen as the reality-bending saviour whole will protect us from mechanical overlords.
These landmarks deserve to be spoken of with the same sort of reverie, so that they don’t just become dusty rest stops on the highway. That should never be their fate. Instead, we should speak of them the way we speak of our favorite roadside greasy spoon; the one that doesn’t look like much from the outside, but makes the best peach pie in five states.
I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for October so far…
Rebecca watched THE SKIN I LIVE IN
Courtney watched HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR
Beatrice watched THE SHINING
Natasha watched OLDBOY
Andina watched CITIZEN KANE
Katie watched CINEMA PARADISO
Natasha watched INTERSTELLAR
Brittani Burnham watched SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT
Melissa Hunter watched PAN’S LABYRINTH
Steven watched SUSPIRIA