Wim Wenders Recalls How 20th Century Fox Pushed To Change ‘Paris, Texas’ Ending – Lumière Film Festival Masterclass

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Close to 40 years after Wim Wenders won the Cannes Palme d’Or for Paris, Texas, its enigmatic ending continues to spark debate in cinephile circles.

Talking about his career in a Lumière Film Festival masterclass over the weekend, the German director stood by his decision to have Harry Dean Stanton’s reclusive character Travis drive off into night, leaving behind his reunited estranged wife and young son.

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“I was very, very convinced that the ending of Paris, Texas was right. For me, it was an heroic act by Travis to leave the mother and son together,” said Wenders.

“He knew he had done so much harm that they were never going to make it as a family, while the son and the mother had a good chance of making a life together if he left.”

Wenders revealed he received pushback around the final scene, including from the U.S. distributor 20th Century Fox, which acquired the film after its Cannes victory.

“I got a call,” he recounted. “They wanted to propose just one thing: ‘We don’t want to change anything, but we’d like to add one shot at the end where we see Travis crying in his car. We don’t even need the actors, just a car. We’d like to add a shot in which we see the car do a U-turn… we’re sure the film will be a lot more successful.’.”

“I’d already had this battle with Harry who absolutely wanted his character to turn around and I had convinced him that it was better like that. Even in Cannes, he turned to me and said, ‘You see, I should have turned around’. I explained to them there was no way I going to add the shot even if meant the film wouldn’t come out. They left me alone, but they didn’t make much effort with its distribution from then on.”

Shot under the radar over the course of just five weeks around Fort Stockton and Marathon in West Texas, from a screenplay by Sam Shephard and with crew featuring his faithful cinematographer Robby Müller and Claire Denis as assistant director, the film had arrived in Cannes with little fanfare back in 1984.

“I was pretty nervous as I’d only sent in a working copy,” recalled Wenders. “They took the film without seeing the final version. I’d come down the morning of the first press screening from the lab in Paris where we’d done the subtitles at the last minute.”

“I arrived at the station with the first and only subtitled copy. There were seven reels, and the film was pretty heavy. There weren’t assistants or anything like that in those days and I delivered the copy to the press screening myself and then went for a very long walk.”

The Cannes victory success marked a seminal moment for Wenders after nearly a decade of living in the U.S. and the ill-fated shoot of neo-noir mystery film Hammett for Francis Ford Coppola under his Zoetrope Studios banner and Orion Pictures, which the director ended up filming twice after pushback for straying too far from the original screenplay.

“That was an essential stage in my life, not only because of the difficulties I experienced with Hammett,” Wenders said of his time in the U.S.

One big lesson was the realization that he needed to work independently.

“You can have lots of money but if you don’t control it, it doesn’t mean a thing. I swore to myself that from then on, I only wanted to make films, even if that meant working with small budgets, where I could see the relationship between the money and the story,” he said.

“Of course, that means there are limitations but at least you know where you stand. I’ve produced all of my films since and that is a condition of my cinema… I’m grateful to Orion and Francis because if I hadn’t learned that lesson, I don’t know if I would have become the director that I did.”

The other lesson was an understanding that his place was in Europe, making European cinema.

“I was never going to become American, or an American director, or make American films. At heart, I was a romantic German,” he said.

Paris, Texas allowed me to come back. I was finally able to make the film, I wanted to make but had been been unable to make with Hammett, or Lightening Over Water, or even The State Of Things… it was my film, under my rules, with my production and a very small budget, with the best people in the world such as Robby Müller, Sam Shepherd and Ry Cooder… I was able to come back with my head held high.”

Wenders, who is in the Oscars races this year with his Tokyo-set drama Perfects Days (which is Japan’s Best International Feature Film entry) was at Thierry Frémaux’s Lumière Film Festival in Lyon this year to receive its Lumière Prize, following in the steps of the likes of Clint Eastwood, Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Jane Fonda and Tim Burton.

The masterclass was followed by a charged awards ceremony on Friday evening, attended by more than 3,000 people at Lyon’s conference centre including directors such as Alfonso Cuarón, Gaspar Noé and Michel Hazanavicius and Jean-Jacques Annaud.

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