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Paris, Texas

Do you ever get the feeling that you want to disappear? Just leave everything and everyone behind and poof…you’re gone. In the America of the 1980’s that was still a viable option. Because in a world where cell phones did not exist yet, you could vanish without a trace. You would wander around aimlessly through the Mojave Desert or submerge yourself in a distant city where you’d find a job as a stripper in a seedy peepshow – anything it took to stay away from a past that you would never, ever want to face again. German director Wim Wenders made a legendary film about just that story. It is a once in a lifetime experience called Paris, Texas. 

This article was published earlier in WOTH – Wonderful Things Magazine. 

Wenders didn’t do so alone. His partner in crime was Robby Müller, the legendary Dutch cinematographer who recently passed away. In the grip of a common passion for the United States, they toured the diners, motels and gas stations of the American prairie, looking for the melancholiest locations for a plot that had only been partly developed: A hobo who is found back in the desert by his brother and in turn goes looking for the lost mother of his child. Beyond that, famous American playwright Sam Shepard hadn’t fleshed out the story yet. Its climax became a gripping saga about being nearby and yet staying far away, about creating illusions and finding truths, but above all about getting lost and being found again. Robby Müller filmed it all with stunning beauty under a sky that he captured even better than previous Dutch Masters. And he made it all look so easy! After all, Müller would often wait until he had arrived on the set before he would determine how to reach maximum visual effect with only limited technical means. He used neon signs to create an oversaturated unreality. And with an abundance of diagonal lines and asymmetrical compositions Müller underlined the feeling of an America that had to keep moving in order to escape from itself.

But in a column that is supposed to be about film interiors, isn’t there anything to be said about the interior scenes of Paris, Texas? Of course, there is! For starters, Müller could film a car interior in more ways than you could possibly imagine. Seen through American eyes, I guess that also counts as an interior experience. However, it is the final act that will make every interior design lover’s heart beat faster. A peepshow room seduces us with an uncanny color chart consisting of nude walls, a bright red rotary phone, a cognac lampshade and yes, an iconic hot pink mohair sweater. It is a color combination that is so off, it can only hold our eyes as unwilling hostages. And what about the makeshift one-way mirror that hangs a wooden frame filled with reflective insulation foil? It serves as a dramatic barrier between the fantasy world of stripper Nastassja Kinski and the real world of her ex-husband Harry Dean Stanton. For us Europeans, Paris, Texas is a nostalgic look back on the America we had come to know and love. An America that will never return, or perhaps never existed in the first place.

 

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