If you are looking to take a road trip to the shooting locations of Paris, Texas, you will be making pitstops at a lot of Texas towns like Galveston and El Paso, but not the actual city of Paris, Texas itself. Although named after the tiny Texan city, the true location of Paris is actually a quaint little town on Highway-82, 90 miles northeast of Dallas and has a 45-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower paying homage to its French counterpart. However, the now-iconic feature film never actually shows its namesake or shoots in it.
German director and film pioneer Wim Wenders’ avant-garde art house western swept the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984 with its visual enticement, subtle poetic emotional unveiling and existential solitude. The screenplay by Pulitzer Prize-winner Sam Shepard opens with Travis, a character famously played by the great Harry Dean Stanton, stumbling into the desert with no preamble and soon embarks on a road trip across the desolate albeit hauntingly picturesque landscape of west Texas. Much like how you may begin your film buff’s pilgrimage of this movie’s shooting locations, you may reconsider his wardrobe choices on your voyage. The run-down building in which Travis passes out is located near Terlingua, west Texas, near the Mexican border but, unfortunately, the building is now long gone.
In an uncanny parable allegory, Travis is the prodigal father returning home after being missing for four years, looking somewhat bedraggled and presumably amnesiac. His brother, Walt (played by Dean Stockwell) comes to pick him up. The reunion is shot in Marathon, a town just north of the Big Bend National Park in West Texas. In a separate cinematic sideroad, some may also remember the Big Bend National Park as the dramatic scenery of the island in Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids 2: Island of the Lost Dreams. If there is one thing characteristic of desert highway locations, it’s motels, and the motel Travis and Walt decide to lay their heads is the Marathon Motel and RV Park, West Highway 90, Marathon.
While it’s definitely not Hotel California, you can check in anytime you like into this rustic, quaint little log cabin with a breathtaking view of West Texas desert as far as the eye can reach, well at least up to the Chisos Mountains. The Shoemake Hardware Store scene in the film is a store by the same name on Northeast, 1st street (near Avenue E), Marathon Texas.
As Travis continues on the road trip, the barren landscapes, the desolate gas station and El Rancho Motel with its neon green lights create a visual identity of alienation, desolation and primal loneliness manifested in the visual abundance of overwhelming emptiness. The obvious allure of the film is in part due to the cinematography of Dutch photographer maverick Robby Müller, an artist who paints the lens with a sparring shock of neon colours only to be interspersed with the musty steaming roads, bathed in sunlight.
The first allusion to an almost transatlantic name, along with its director’s European voyeurism of Western Americana gives it a dystopian feeling of placelessness. The two-third part of the film sees Travis reunited with his son, Hunter, who was being fostered by Walt and his wife Anne in their house in Los Angeles. The shift from primal to urban is reinforced by the concrete jungle that is Olivia Terrace, Los Angeles, California.
Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, 1900, North 6th Street, Burbank, California is where Hunter goes to school, a staunch apostle of American public schools at the heart of urban life. The father-son reunion is overshadowed by the absence of the wife and mother Jane (Nastassja Kinski) whose whereabouts are unknown even to Walt, but who sends a check every month from a bank in Houston. Travis reacquaints himself with the son he deserted as they take long walks along Edmore Place, Los Angeles, California, copying each other’s gait is a gesture of recurring familiarity.
Travis, with his son Hunter, hits the road again in an old Ford truck in order to travel to Houston in a bid to look for his wife. Travis and Hunter find Jane making a deposit at the downtown Chase Bank Drive-Up, Houston, the gleaming steel of the Chase Bank Sitting on the edge of the bayou is as stark in its isolation as the primal sun-scorched desert. Travis follows Jane along the freeway from S9N to 110W (curtesy jump-cut), making an exit from Shepherd and Durham from 110 outbound, turning south on Patterson. In a climactic reunion, he finds her in sex club peep show encased in a glass box.
From the steaming brown sun-scorched highways of West Texas, surrounded by the majestic stretch of desert, the fluorescent signposts, and the gleaming steel building and freeways of Houston, the film takes a journey along the asphalt spine of American geography with a kaleidoscopic European view, steps quite worthy of retracing to revel in the grandiose unfolding of American. Au Revoir.
Watch the trailer of Paris, Texas, below.