Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been 30 years. The movie hasn’t changed. I remember every scene. So that means it’s ME that has changed. While I really liked the movie on its 1984 release, it’s only now that I truly appreciate the brilliance of the script, the music, the direction, the photography and the acting … much less the wide range of emotions released in the smallest ways possible.
Director Wim Wenders has long been a favorite at Cannes Film Festival, and this one took home the prestigious Palme d’Or. Since then, the film has often been mentioned as one of the best movies of the 1980’s, and after this most recent screening (courtesy of the Dallas Film Society), I wholeheartedly concur.
Opening in a most unusual manner … the lead character comes stumbling out of the Texas dessert and doesn’t utter a word for the first 20-25 minutes … this film immediately strikes you as something unique –definitely not cookie cutter. Trying to outguess the script is a waste of time. It’s best to just watch it unfold in a believable and sometimes awkward way.
In a rare lead role, long time character actor Harry Dean Stanton plays Travis. We soon enough learn that Travis disappeared four years ago leaving behind a wife and young son. We also learn that his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) and Walt’s wife Anne (Aurore Clement) have been taking care of the boy, and Hunter (Hunter Carson) considers them his parents (his mom ran off too).
Walt and Anne invite Travis to stay with them and re-connect with his son, but they are caught off guard when the two really click and they take off to find Jane, the wife/mother. Their charming (but less-than-professional) stakeout leads to the discovery that Jane is working in a sex shop, spending her days talking to a 2 way mirror with lonely men she can’t see. One of the most remarkable on screen soliloquies ever seen occurs on Travis’ final trip to see Jane (Natassja Kinski). He tells her a heartfelt story that plays out as an explanation, an apology, and a plan for moving forward. She slowly realizes it’s their story he is telling. It’s his way of making reparations and finally doing the right thing (as he sees it).
As with most classic films, the backstory offers some interesting tidbits and the players are fun to catch up with. This story was originally written by the great Sam Shepard. Mr. Shepard is a Pulitzer Prize winner, an award winning playwright, and well known actor (Oscar nominated for playing Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff). Director Wenders then brought in L.M. “Kit” Carson to add and revise the script while on set. Carson’s son (with actress Karen Black) Hunter plays the boy in the film, and he delivers one of the best, least affected, child performances of all time. Kit went on to write the screenplay for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and had a significant acting role in Running on Empty (1988). His son Hunter is still a working actor today. Mr. Wenders was one of the German New Wave of directors along with Herzog and Fassbinder, and his Wings of Desire (1987) would make a terrific double feature with this one. Mr. Stockwell was a very successful child actor in the 1940’s and is best known for his work in Blue Velvet and TV’s “Quantum Leap“. Ms. Kinski is the daughter of Klaus Kinski and is fondly remembered for her roles in Tess (1979) and Cat People (1982), though she still works today as well.
Harry Dean Stanton is now 88 years old. He served in WWII and was present during the Battle of Okinawa. His acting career began in the 1950’s and he still works periodically today. In addition to nearly 200 acting credits, he has had a pretty nice career as a musician. His band built a large cult following. Some of his most popular acting roles have been in Cool Hand Luke, The Godfather II, Alien, Repo Man, Escape From New York and, of course, as the dad in Pretty in Pink.
The music in the film is provided by Ry Cooder, who is a tremendous slide guitarist and has worked with some of the all-time greats in the music business – The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and Neil Young, among others. Cooder is a multi-Grammy winner and re-teamed with Wenders for the Oscar nominated Buena Vista Social Club a few years later. The music is an exceptional compliment to the movie, as is the camera work of Robby Muller, who also works frequently with Wenders.
This story of loss and loneliness is an easy one to overlook, but when a film holds up well for 30 years … and affects you differently depending on your own lot in life … its legacy is secure.
***NOTE: those of a certain age will get a kick out of the use of a Muse Air jet
watch the trailer: