Colors, Paris, Texas
Wim Wenders‘ movie „Paris, Texas“ (1984) opens with Harry Dean Stanton‘s character Travis Henderson wandering through the American desert. He is wearing a red cap, wearing a white shirt, and walking in front of the blue sky.
Red, white and blue. Those are the three colors of „Paris, Texas“.
Films are a visual medium, and use of color is an important component of any visual artist‘s toolbox. A lot of the time color is there to make a movie pretty. Most of the time this is its sole purpose. But now and then a director and his crew elevate the use of color from merely being decoration to having actual meaning. But even then it is often limited to only a couple of key-scenes. And then, every once in a while, a film is so well planned and thoroughly constructed that even the colors of the world bow to it in every shot. „Paris, Texas“ is one of those movies.
Red, white and blue, the three colors of the American flag. The majestic mountains with their white and red stone against the blue sky. This is how it begins. And lost among them Travis Henderson with his red cap and white shirt. His white jug of water has a bright blue cap. For roughly four minutes these are the only colors of note.
But then suddenly, when Travis enters a dark, dim store in the middle of this American nowhere, green and black hit us. A green billard table in black shadows breaks the red, white and blue sequence.
Travis collapses from exhaustion and wakes up in a doctor‘s office. Everything is tinted green. Now we have our full cast of colors. On the one side red, white and blue, the American dream, and then by contrast, green and black, the waking up in reality.
Travis‘ brother Walt is informed and travels all the way from L.A. to Texas to pick Travis up. We are moving again, we are back to red, white and blue. Two brothers on a road trip through the land of the free. Both dressed in shirt and jacket. Partner Look.
But even on a road trip with your estranged brother, you have to make a stop to call your wife. And hence, the world turns green. Walt‘s wife is an intruder, disrupting the bonding of the two brothers.
Back on the road the dream lives once more in all his colors. Red, white and blue means movement, means being in control, means getting the exact car you request at the rental service. Green and black mean stagnancy, being held back, sometimes by the need to rest and sleep, other times by a commitment to other human beings.
Finally they arrive in Los Angeles at Walt‘s house. They are greeted by Walt‘s wife on a green floor.
But it is not actually her, who is the intruder here, Travis is. In this house everything was going according to plan, everything was moving in its designated ways. It was a red, white and blue family with red, white and blue shoes living in a red, white and blue house.
And then Travis came and disrupted it, sitting among the green grass. He is here to see his 7-years-old son. A son that had been raised by Walt and his wife as their own, when Travis and his young wife disappeared four years ago.
Then we learn a little bit more about the characters‘ past in the form of a Super 8 film shot on a vacation. It is mostly washed out red, white and blue.
But then green strikes again. This time in the form of a jacket, Travis is wearing.
Back in the present, things seem to be all red, white and blue, but green is always lurking in the background.
As the movie continues and Travis and his son start to warm up to each other with ups and downs, so changes the color.
Eventually Travis and the boy decide to look for Travis‘ wife, the biological mother of the child, who also disappeared four years ago, just as Travis did. Of course this means disrupting a powerful, established bond. The bond between a mother, that raised the child for the last years, and her adopted son. A break of such enormous scale, it can only be expressed in heavy, all-out green.
For Travis and his son, however, everything is in motion once more. They are driving their metallic blue-white car through the United States and wearing their red shirts. Partner Look.
They track down the mother in Houston, Texas, and of course they do it by chasing a lot of red, white and blue cars, passing red, white and blue buildings and looking at red, white and blue street art on the walls. Whoever did location scouting and set-dressing for this movie absolutely deserves a medal.
The two eventually find the woman they were looking for in further, absurd amounts of red, white, blue. The woman herself is wearing red, has pale white skin and blond hair, as she should. Even in the etablissement Travis finds her in, a Peep-Show, everybody is playing their part. „Nurse Bibs“ is wearing her white and red fetish uniform, while handling a red and white blow-up rubber horse in a little blue room. Another employee roams the halls, tinted in red and blue light, in her white and blue sailor costume. However, finding his old lover and wife within this strip-club, throws Travis into another crisis, as the green grass in the middle of the black road informs us.
After a good talk with his son, a lot of alcohol and some sleep, Travis decides it is time to reunite his son with his long-lost mother and so they head back to Houston, again wearing matching red shirts.
Back there, a change occurs. Travis records a voice message for his son and does so in a greenly lit bathroom looking over a green park. He is wearing black. His son, while still wearing blue jeans and red socks is also wearing black, as he listens to the message. A red bottle of ketchup stands next to him.
Travis meets his wife once again in the Peep-Show. She is wearing black. Partner Look. He tells her to meet their son in the hotel room. When she shows up there, she is dressed in green. So is her son. And even the city in the background is nothing but black and green. Travis is not in the room. He is down at the parking lot, which is flooded in green light. He watches as mother and son reunite, then gets into his car, and drives into a red, white and blue night.
There is not much left to say, except to sum things up.
Red, white and blue means everything is going according to plan, everybody is playing their part, everything is under control, everything is moving.
Of course this does not mean that the plan is a good one, or that everybody is moving into a positive direction. It just means, they are moving. After all, one can pretty much argue about every single decision Travis makes in this movie. How is it supposed to end? Will his wife raise the son from now on? Alone and working in a Peep-Show. While the woman that raised the child so far, is heartbroken, her family ruined. Will Travis’ wife eventually just bring her son back to his aunt and uncle, where he was raised anyway for the last four years. With Travis wandering the country aimlessly, and her working far away, everything would just go back to the start of the movie. We don‘t know.
And then there is of course green. Green means crisis, but also family, means commitment, means intrusion and disruption. Green means reality, means uncontrollable change. Everything comes to a halt.
I am not entirely sure, why they chose green as the color of crisis. There is a green whine bottle visible in the Henderson‘s kitchen once and we do learn that Travis had (and has?) a severe drinking problem, so maybe there is a connection. Green is also linked to nature. Travis likes to sit in the green grass, while staying at the Henderson‘s house and in their green kitchen, there is a (possibly fake) vine decorating the cupboards. This would maybe indicate the link to forces, that we cannot control.
Of course, these are only interpretations and one can debate wether this is what it actually means or not. But one thing is certain, all these colors have meaning. They were put there on purpose, none of the above is just accidental. The colors themselves are part of the story.
November 6, 2015
the new James Bond movie Spectre has just been released and this time they really seem to pander to the German market:
Fahr’n fahr’n fahr’n auf der Autobahn!