29 January 2010

Paris, Texas Gets Criterioned

My old DVD of Paris, Texas had been loaned out to friends and acquaintances many times, because it's the sort of movie I just want to make people sit down and watch.  DVDs are sensitive things, though, and somewhere along the line this one got scratched, making it skip and stall during one of the most important scenes at the end.  Sometime this summer, I decided to replace it, and went searching for a cheap copy on Amazon.  When I saw a Criterion edition would be coming out, I gave up on the idea of getting a cheap replacement for my wounded disc and instead pre-ordered the new one.  There are a few films that, if you're going to own them and watch them a few times a year (as I've done with Paris, Texas ever since first getting it on a $5 videotape during a sale at a local video store), you should get them on the best edition possible.  And the fact that it's now on Blu-Ray is nearly enough to make me run out and get a Blu-Ray player.

I ordered the disc so long ago, I nearly forgot I'd done so and almost ended up replacing the other edition.  But the new one arrived yesterday, and I quickly watched all the extras on the second disc and a few favorite scenes in the film itself.  Because it had been about a year since I'd last watched the movie, the final half hour seemed even richer in its emotional effect than ever.

The colors on the new disc seemed more vivid than ever, though I haven't compared it to the previous disc and my memory of the film is strongly affected by having watched it many times on a washed-out VHS.  The greens, reds, and blues are particularly sharp now, almost overwhelmingly so.  The film has always been, even at its most desaturated, a powerful visual experience, but with the fine-tuning of every element by Criterion, it now verges at times on being an assault on the senses.  In a good way.

Part of me, though, misses some of the old flaws.  I really love the 23-minute collection of outtakes and extended scenes that was on the old DVD and is also on the Criterion edition -- love it not only because all of the scenes are interesting, a few of them are stunningly beautiful, and together they add up to a fairly compelling short film on their own, but also because the film hasn't been cleaned up, it's grainy and torn and messy, with moments of Stan Brakhage texture.

The feature commentary with director Wim Wenders is very good, but is the same one that was on the old DVD.  Some of the interviews on the Criterion edition are interesting, but the real treasure of the extra features is a collection of the Super 8 films that were excerpted as home movies in the feature.  They're evocative on their own, but the best thing Criterion did was add an optional audio track of Travis's monologue to Jane over them.  Written by Sam Shepard, this is one of the great film monologues (in one of the great film scenes), and adding it to the Super 8 footage creates a deeply affecting new short film.

I hope to get around to writing more about Paris, Texas as a film (and as a screenplay -- it's some of the best work Shepard, in collaboration with L.M. Kit Carson and Wenders, has ever done, and I think he's written a few of the greatest American plays).  But first I need to watch it a few more times, to revel in it, because this is a movie of endless revelations.

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