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AFF: Back and forth through time 

Paris, Texas, Sonic Silents and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

As film curator Ron Foley MacDonald explained before this afternoon’s screening of Wim Wenders’ Paris,Texas, Wenders is the German director with the most international vision—with Werner Herzog a close second. Wenders is fascinated with the creative impulse—he’s made documentaries about other filmmakers and musicians, including his award-winning film about the Buena Vista Social Club—and a number of evocative dramas, the most critically adored from the 1980s. And he's shot all over the world.

Paris, Texas is notable for a number of reasons. It’s a German/France co-production (announced almost apologetically in the opening credits) but a story set in the Mojave desert and Los Angeles. Despite their incongruity, French and German actors are shoehorned into the movie, and they all strike a peculiar note, even Nastassja Kinski, whose accent veers from Houston to Berlin and back again. But maybe a film this potent with such an American story (written by Sam Shepard) could only be made by an outsider like Wenders, who seems to observe south Texas as an alien landscape.

Travis (Harry Dean Stanton, who has always shirked lead roles, nails this one) is a broken man walking across the desert. He has been for years. He’s found by his brother (Dean Stockwell), reintroduced to his son (Hunter Carson), and gradually rediscovers his identity, lost over time and miles and pain. Though the pacing is gradual, the film never bores, and when the final reunion with his ex-wife takes place, the full story of their shared past is a heartbreaker.

It’s such a simple tale, but as I get older, it resonates even more than it did when I first discovered it half a life ago. It’s about regret, guilt and freedom, freedom from those things, reflected in the astonishing landscapes. It’s about telling stories and about how we get free from the burden of our own stories. Maybe by telling them to others? The tremendous Ry Cooder slide guitar score combined with the startling desert imagery provides an unforgettable experience that overcomes some odd casting.

A series of Wenders’ films will continue to be shown through the week for free at the Dal art gallery. Paris, Texas is a stunner, but many think Wings of Desire is his best work. It shows Monday at 5pm.

I attended another cinema-related event on Saturday, though not an official part of the festival. I caught my friend Sageev Oore’s Sonic Silents at the Sonic Temple on Hollis Street. He improvises solo piano over a selection of silent short films, including a couple of Charlie Chaplins, a couple of Russian films, a stop motion animation involving insects and Un Chien Andalou, Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel’s surrealist classic. Oore says that the first time he performed this event, years ago and with different films, he prepared a number of his pieces in advance but wound up not looking at his notes once through the show. Clearly, the fun of it—and the challenge—is to improvise, inspired by the selection of great silents. If you’re curious, he does it again Sunday night at 8pm.

Oh, and I’m going to take a moment to point something else out. On Saturday afternoon over 40 people sat together at the Dal art gallery to see a 25-year-old movie by a German director, and then another 30 or so sat in a renovated recording studio to watch a compilation of short films made early in the 20th century. And we can’t sustain a rep cinema in this town? Really? How much more fucking evidence do we need? People are into it.

People are going to be into The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus when it comes out. Those of us who are dyed-in-the-wool Terry Gilliam acolytes will thrill at the roiling, hallucinatory feast, evocative of his most unrestrained fantasy work: Time Bandits, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Heath Ledger fans are going to enjoy his final role, and it’s a hefty one. Fans of Christopher Plummer will enjoy him too, he’s great in this. Where does he get the energy? And the stoner brigade is going adore the picture in a huge way, no doubt, for its peculiar flights of baroque, visual fancy. But those who find Gilliam’s storytelling too disjointed or bizarre won’t be won over here. I’m not surprised to see that the few reviews so far listed on the Rotten Tomatoes critical aggregator website has the film at exactly 50 percent. It’s gonna piss some people off.

I say, god bless you, Terry Gilliam, for continuing to do that thing that both excites and annoys people and channel your energy into cinema, and for shaking off the mud and unpleasantness that scuppered The Brothers Grimm and Tideland. I say, keep on going Terry, you go make that Don Quixote movie after all. I say, nice job on this one.


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