Paris, Texas correspondence
Date: Fri, 8 Nov 1996 13:53:54 +0400
From: Gary Grant <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: paris, texas
Your email arrived at an auspicious time for me. I will deliver a paper on Paris, Texas at a symposium on landscape in film at a university in Tour, France over the Thanksgiving break and I am trying to put my thoughts in order. Thankyou for your comments on film directors and on American dislocation. I hope that you will write back to me concerning your critique. The purpose of the Shepard Website, as I see, is to open up this kind of dialogue.
Here are a few questions about Paris, Texas that I am considering that may be of interest to your seminar on the family:
I feel that Shepard is the kind of writer who writes in order to "map the states of his consciousness." If you are interested, my writing on this topic and Shepard's notebooks and journals can be found in Modern Drama V. 34 (1991), 549-565. Shepard explores many states of consciousness including intoxication, meditation, writing and playing music, performing on stage and in life, exploring a variety of emotions to locate what he calls,"the Me right now." A sense of place, his location at a particular moment of writing is also one of these jumping off points, as are his relationships to his family, primarily his relationship to his father. (Many critics compare Shepard to O'Neill in this regard.) Now, it seems to me that Paris, Texas juxtaposes a sense of place with a search for or an exploration of identity in the family. For example, two very interesting scenes to compare would be the opening sequence in which the absent father, Travis, is walking alone through the desert and the scene in which the absent mother, Jane is confined in the claustrophbic space of the peep show booth. The question for Shepard might be how these two character become aware of the state of consciousness, what I might call we a family identity as they become aware of where they are. In these locations, in their monologues, they recall other locations and gradually begin to speak about their respective roles as husband and wife, father and mother, lovers and friends. Hunter, their son, also goes on a journey from his home in the suburban hills, through interstate on and off ramps to a big city, through small desert towns to a condominium in a large city. It's interesting to note how in the search for his parents in each of these locations, he innocently (that is, he does not voice his awareness of this process) acts out the role of their parent. The denoument of the film begins with the superimposition of Jane's face over Travis' face in the mirror of the peep show booth and develops the narrative to the scene where Travis looking up at the condo drives away into an urban landscape and Jane and Hunter embrace while protected inside of the condo and in front of a glass window which shows the same urban landscape.
For now, I want to leave open the interpretation of these scenes in terms of identity and role in the family or the impact of the landscape on the consciousness of the character. I'm merely trying to describe a context for interpreting these scenes. Perhaps, this is the area where we can correspond with our ideas as they develop.
Once again, thanks for looking at the website and I hope to hear from you again.
Gary Grant (email@example.com)
Department of Theatre and Dance.
Lewisburg, PA 17837
Phone: (717) 524-1235, Fax: (717) 524- 3760
From: Leslie Carolyn Johnson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Gary Grant <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: paris, texas
Dear Dr. Grant:
Thank you for your prompt reply. Your insights have helped me re-think some aspects of the Travis/Hunter relationship; their role reversal (I think) helps them to understand each other's role in their family, even if it is not a conscious exercise for them. The Jane character, although at first not seemingly worth of sympathy, elicits some interesting and complex aspects of motherhood. For example, her tenuous connection with her son enables her to continue providing for him even as she keeps him at a controllable distance from her. At first glance, one could argue that a good mother would not abandon her child; on the other hand, a good mother might find a "creative" way to hold on to her child, even if circumstances cast her as villainous and cruel.
Although the subject of our class interest on the film centers on the difficulties of defining family, your observations about the paradoxicality of the desert landscape (that vast openness that ironically evokes feelings of isolation) inform the contradictions found in family relationships, especially when traditional roles become ambiguous and uncertain. For example, who is to nurture whom, and how?
I appreciate the reference points you suggest, I will research the text you mention and incorporate the information into my critique. I know you will be very busy preparing for your lecture, so I am especially grateful that you took the time to answer my query and to give me a few interesting things to ponder (we seem to do a lot of that in graduate school!).
I look forward to continuing this correspondence with you. Thank you again, good luck in France!
Back to Paris, Texas.
Back to the bibliography.
Back to the Sam Shepard Web Site.