At the dawn of the 80's, the monumental flop of Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate" put the final nail on the made-in-America auteur coffin, and one of the greatest and most inventive periods of Hollywood, the one that started with "Bonnie and Clyde" in 1967 and ended with "Raging Bull". Spielberg and Lucas had changed the game and 1984 was one of the peaks of the blockbusters' era with series' starter such as "Beverly Hills Cop", "Ghostbusters" or "Gremlins". Movies had to be as phenomenal as a Michael Jackson or a Madonna's clip and as far as pop culture went, there was a before and after 1984.
And if you look at the Best Picture nominees of the year, you'll recognize immediately the winner (and it's quite deserved) Milos Forman's "Amadeus" but the rest is relatively unknown no offense meant, but who remembers "Places of the Heart", "The Killing Fields", "A Soldier's Story" or "A Passage to India"? To make things worse, the best movie of the year was probably Sergio Leon's epitaph masterpiece "Once Upon a Time in America", what a title, but it had to be sacrificed at the altar of simplification-for-the-masses and be cut from 100 minutes and be victim of a disastrous editing, ruining forever the project of a lifetime.
It is a height of irony that at a time were the mass-entertainment status of Cinema provided some of its most popular movies but also prevented, a real masterpiece to sweep all the awards... and it was a European Festival, Cannes, that had the decency to screen the film in its totality, Europe respected America more than it respected itself, so maybe it's understandable that WimWenders' "Paris, Texas", literally, a European ode to American culture that won the Golden Palm that year. It is not as great as the troubled, haunting, hypnotic and personal, Leone's movie but in the context of 1984, it makes sense. Even the title works like the bridge between two schools of film-making that couldn't have been more opposite yet seem to make a truce.
"Paris, Texas" is the story of a man with no past and a future, or a past and no future; wandering in Texan no man's lands with an empty look that speak a thousand words and a baseball cap so red it looks as impacting as a stain on a canvas. Speaking for myself, I thought the red cap was supposed to symbolize the "woman in red" he had in mind (in his head) literally, played by NastassjaKinski, I won't spoil the rest of the film but I had to watch it twice to figure out what the symbolism was meant to define. And I liked the 'road movie' approach, the film turns into a sort of spiritual quest where a man tries to find the missing link between the present and a future to build out of painful memories.
The film is all about people trying to find connections, and I also empathize with the struggle of Dean Stockwell's character trying to reconnect with his estranged and mute brother, or his brother trying to reconnect with his son, wonderfully played by Hunter Carson. The film was powerfully conveying these attempts to make communication possible between people from different worlds, ages, memories. It overplayed it a little with Aurore Clément. Did she need to be French? Her thick accent and struggle to speak English make almost every line she said ring false, and I swear one of her "let me finish" lines sounded almost like Tommy Wiseau. She was distracting to say the least and a Razzie nomination wouldn't have surprised me.
Wenders was probably more fascinated by the sight of Texas than the Germany he grew up in and we can hardly blame it as movie lover, the Western setting that has always been a source of inspiration for the New Hollywood directors, "Bonnie and Clyde", "Badlands" or "The Last Picture Show" were indirect nods to the genre and Scorsese made more explicit references to John Ford's "The Searchers" in his breakthrough debut "I Call First".There's something cyclical in the way directors have all started to be fans and now it's Scorsese and John Ford who inspire one European filmmaker, deserts, baseball caps, motels prostitutes, all these archetypes and a protagonist named Travis, this is literally "The Searches" meeting "Taxi Driver" and ending not with an orgy of blood, but an orgy of color symbolized by NastassjaKinski's sweater.
The two Traviseswere lost souls in a quest that involves the reconciliation between their failed actions and a future that could be less grim. I can't say I didn't enjoy the film's approach, I just think it moved on too slowly and never tried to subdue the whole philosophical aspect. The first act is great, so was the third, the film kind of loses its way in the middle. And I read that Sam Shepard who was the writer, struggled to find the proper ending, somewhat this made me regard the film in higher esteem but God, did they need to have Aurore Clément?
But with European art house films, you never know, any flaws might be deliberate. I loved the imagery, I loved Stanton, Stockwell and Kinski but maybe I could find something in "Bagdad Café" that was precisely missing in "Paris, Texas", but I understand its iconic status "Paris, Texas" doesn't celebrate America as much as it exhilarates the European fascination for America. Europe is basically returning the favor after its own cinema inspired so many great American classics during the New Hollywood period, from 1967 to 1980.
And it's only fitting that in a year where European cinema applauded "Paris, Texas", the American Best Picture winner would be made by a European director, celebrating a European icon "Mozart", 1984 was weird indeed.