I was first approached with the opportunity to choose a film to show at the
Trylon, Theater of Blood rose quickly
to the top of my list. I immensely enjoy the horror genre, but mostly when a
movie can be funny while taking itself seriously.
Price masterfully plays Shakespearean roles from: Julius Caesar, Troilus &
Cressida, Cymbeline, The Merchant of Venice, Richard III, Othello, Henry VI:
Part One, Titus Andronicus, Romeo & Juliet, and King Lear. Typically cast
as a B-Horror Movie actor, Price was often asked to play parts that fit his
wheelhouse. Theater of Blood gave
Price the chance to branch out, but also integrated the macabre and dry comedy
he is so well known for.
reasons that I enjoy this film: The death scenes are realistic without being
overly gory, although I must admit they can be gruesome- quite possibly some of
the most innovative and creative ways murder has been depicted on the screen! The
cinematography is top notch. Notice the interesting angle choices and use of
natural lighting throughout the picture. For example, in the first ten minutes there
is a shot through the slats of the floor looking up at the face of the victim
laying on the floor with Price standing over.
thing I love about this movie is that everything was filmed on location. There
was no stage set. The director, Douglas Hickcox, discovered an abandoned
theater house from the early 1900s on Felsham road in London. (http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/14972).
Hickcox had used the theater
for parts of his film Sitting Target from
the year prior. The theater was known as, “Putney Hippodrome” and was torn down in 1975.
Lastly, I also just love the aesthetics of the 1970s in general. There are some great fashion statements and room knick-knacks that make this a feast for the eyes.
Edited by Olga Tchepikova-Treon
Theater of Blood screens as part of our Volunteer Programmers series on Thursday, February 6 at 7 pm. To purchase tickets or learn more about this screening, visit our website at trylon.org.
Paris, Texas begins with Travis Henderson
(Harry Dean Stanton) in a kind of walking catatonia. He has spent years away
from his family––most of them on foot, for all viewers know––and only
reconnects with his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) after collapsing in a small
West Texas town. Despite these odd circumstances, director Wim Wenders avoids outright
surrealism in the film’s early scenes, favoring a grounded, naturalistic
approach. And yet Paris, Texas suggests that a literal-minded
understanding of Travis’s affliction––a specific medical diagnosis––is beside
the point. For Wenders, Stanton, and screenwriters Sam Shepard and L.M. Kit
Carson, what Travis’s condition is matters less than what it means.
Their film’s title, evoking two places at once, is a signpost––we’re in the
realm of metaphor, however dusty and sun-bleached it appears to be.
Once Walt takes charge of
his brother, Travis slowly becomes more animated, more articulate––the closer
he gets, viewers realize, to reckoning with his past. The film’s design is
simple in this respect. Paris, Texas unfolds like a folktale, a
transformation story with a distinctly American myth underneath it: that anyone
can start anew. Travis begins his journey apart from his own personhood, and we
watch him remake himself. His story resembles an archetypal American fable, one
that begins with a person in a state of destitution, persecution, or simple
dissatisfaction and ends with the person reaching self-reliance, wholeness,
Wenders’s suitability for Paris, Texas begins in his youth in postwar Germany, where he encountered America almost exclusively through its pop-culture exports and thus almost exclusively in terms of American myth making. The story marks a major shift for the director. The Wrong Move (1975), a study of the psychic conditions of Wenders’s home country, features sweeping overhead shots of trains in motion and long takes of characters conversing in front of massive hills, but the film’s atmosphere is one of unease, even paranoia, not unlocked potential. Kings of the Road (1976) is, well, a road picture, but its characters’ movements across Germany play, from the start, like indications of existential malaise, not the pursuit of a dream. The American Friend (1977) depicts a collision between European and American sensibilities, with its “cowboy in Hamburg,” Dennis Hopper’s Tom Ripley, disrupting the life of a German artisan (Bruno Ganz), but the movie is a story of transformation only en route to despair. Not until Paris, Texas, and the opportunity to film the wide-open landscapes and sprawling cities of the American West, does Wenders allow optimism equal to the American dream into his films.
But if Paris, Texas
is about an American regeneration, it’s also about the magnitude of regret. By
the film’s end, we have an explanation for Travis’s extreme stoicism in earlier
scenes: a consciousness of guilt so severe that it nearly destroyed his larger
consciousness. When Travis’s quest for atonement leads him to his estranged
wife (Nastassja Kinski), he elaborates:
knew she had to be stopped or she’d leave him forever. So he tied a cowbell to
her ankle so he could hear her at night if she tried to get out of bed. But she
learned how to muffle the bell by stuffing a sock into it, and inching her way
out of the bed and into the night. He caught her one night when the sock fell
out and he heard her trying to run to the highway. He caught her and dragged
her back to the trailer, and tied her to the stove with his belt. He just left
her there and went back to bed and lay there listening to her scream.
With these lines,
Paris, Texas complicates its mythic
underpinnings. Travis may have started the story primed to begin anew, but only
as a result of his own abusive behavior. His distressed circumstances are
wholly his own fault. (This is perhaps the most American thing about the movie—the
jarring reality from which a myth emerges.) And yet Wenders, Shepard, and
Carson don’t interrogate this myth to the point of deconstructing or abandoning
it. Instead, the film suggests that Travis’s reflection on his past actions—after
a break from awareness of them—completes his transformation.
Viewers could credibly dismiss
the film on those grounds. One take on Paris, Texas––and a justifiable
one––is that the film suggests a person can get away with anything if they
apologize with the gravity of Harry Dean Stanton. (Near the movie’s end, Travis once again
exits the lives of his family members, but in the manner of a ghost that has
settled its unfinished business.) But another is that the film’s empathy extends that far, even to
someone whose actions it condemns. Wenders, Stanton, Shepard and Carson are
certainly aware of the wrongness in Travis’s past––it’s the context for
everything we see. Paris, Texas
implies that, to the extent Travis can exist apart from his past, he can do so only after he fully accounts for
that wrongness. Notably, the film focuses on tracking this shift rather than
contriving a display of forgiveness from Kinski. People can change, Paris, Texas says, but that change isn’t
easy, automatic, or—in Travis’s case—the responsibility of anyone other than himself.
This is maybe why
Stanton’s climactic words are so well remembered. Stanton played Travis after
decades of supporting parts, and the lines he delivers to Kinski are a gift
from Wenders and the film’s screenwriters to a journeyperson actor in his first
lead role. And while the material serves Stanton, he serves the material just
as well. The scene is fraught, but a viewer, sufficiently moved, believes both
in the weight of Travis’s wrongs and in the transformation Paris, Texas
thinks possible. We see Stanton take on a myth that’s compelling but also
troubling, and commit to the part worth keeping.
Part of the Trylon’s “Volunteer Programmers” series, Paris, Texas was chosen by Greg Hunter, box office volunteer since 2011. Hunter is an arts writer and a graphic novel editor based in Minneapolis. He is kind to animals, serious about breakfast, and a fan of any movie starring Toshiro Mifune or (naturally) Harry Dean Stanton.
Paris, Texas screens at the Trylon on Thursday, December19 at 7 pm. Purchase tickets and learn more about our Volunteer Programmers series here.