On the Circuit
A History of Film Festivals in 100 Movies
Episode 8: Paris, Texas - Wim Wenders

Episode 8: Paris, Texas - Wim Wenders

Cannes Film Festival

Welcome back to A History of Film Festivals in 100 Movies - This is Episode 8. Paris, Texas - by Wim Wenders and the Cannes Film Festival, which runs May 14th - 25th, 2024.

A big winner at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984, Paris, Texas has had a major impact on filmmakers, musicians and arts culture.

And the Cannes Film Festival is one of the "Big Three" major European film festivals, alongside the Venice Film Festival in Italy and the Berlin International Film Festival in Germany, as well as one of the "Big Five" major international film festivals, which consists of the three major European film festivals, the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, and the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, United States.


Wim Wenders was born in Düsseldorf (Germany) on the 14th of August 1945, into a traditionally Catholic family. His father, Heinrich Wenders, was a surgeon. He graduated from high school in Oberhausen and then studied medicine at the University of Freiburg (1963–64) and philosophy at the University of Dusseldorf (1964–65), but dropped out and moved to Paris in October 1966 to become a painter. He failed his entry test at France's national film school, and instead became an engraver.  During this period, he became fascinated with cinema and saw up to five movies a day at the local movie theater.

Now committed to a career in film, he returned to Germany in 1967 to work in the Düsseldorf office of United Artists. That fall, he entered the University of Television and Film Munich. Between 1967 and 1970, while at the HFF, he also worked as a film critic.

The Cannes Film Festival has its origins in 1938 when Jean Zay, the French Minister of National Education, historian Philippe Erlanger and film journalist Robert Favre Le Bret decided to set up an international cinematographic festival. They had early support from the Americans and the British.

Its creation can be largely attributed to the French desire to compete with the Venice Film Festival, which at the time was the only international film festival and had shown a lack of impartiality with its fascist bias during those years.

In May 1939, the city of Cannes was finally selected as the location for the festival. 

​​On August 31st, the opening night gala took place with the private screening of the American film The Hunchback of Notre Dame starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara and directed by William Dieterle. 

Hollywood stars Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Tyrone Power, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Mae West, Norma Shearer, and Spencer Tracy arrived thanks to an Ocean liner chartered by MGM. 

The next day, on September, 1st German troops invaded Poland. As a result, the festival was postponed, and then ultimately canceled.

Sixty-three years later, the organizers of the 2002 festival assembled a jury of six members, including Dieter Kosslick and Alberto Barbera, to watch seven of the twelve features that had been entered into the 1939 competition, namely: Goodbye, Mr. Chips, La Loi du Nord, Lenin in 1918, The Four Feathers, The Wizard of Oz, Union Pacific, and Boefje. Union Pacific by Cecil B. DeMille was retrospectively voted the winner of the 1939 Palme d'Or.

The Festival was not officially inaugurated until after the conclusion of the war. 

In 1946, the Festival was relaunched and from 20 September to 5 October 1946, twenty-one countries presented their films at the First Cannes International Film Festival, which took place at the former Casino of Cannes.  In 1947, amid serious problems of efficiency, the Festival was held as the "Festival du film de Cannes", where films from sixteen countries were presented. The Festival was not held in 1948 and 1950 due to budgetary problems.

In 1949, the Palais des Festivals was constructed on the seafront promenade of La Croisette, although its inaugural roof, while still unfinished, blew off during a storm. In 1951, the festival was moved to spring to avoid direct competition with the Venice Festival which was held in autumn.

In 1955, the first Palme d'Or was awarded to Delbert Mann for his film US Marty


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In 1959, the Marché du Film (Film Market) was founded, giving the Festival a commercial character and facilitating exchanges between sellers and buyers in the film industry. Today it has become the first international platform for film commerce. 

Up until the mid-1990s, however, most of the deals and meetings took place in the hotels and rented apartments where festival guests stayed. Marché du Film was shown in the basement of the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès. In 1994, when Tarantino's Pulp Fiction grossed over $200 million at the worldwide box office, a sum never before seen in Independent Film, the business community saw a monetary opportunity in independent cinema. 

Wenders Makes His First Feature

After doing several short films, In 1970, Wim Wenders completed Summer in the City as his Feature Debut.

Shot in 16 mm black-and-white by longtime Wenders collaborator Robby Müller, the movie exhibited many of his later trademark themes of aimless searching, running from invisible demons, and persistent wandering toward an indeterminate goal. 

In 1970, Robert Altman wins the Palme d'Or with Mash.

Wenders then directed The Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty, titled The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick in the United States. The film was adapted from Peter Handke's 1970 short novel. He then directed the period drama The Scarlet Letter (1973), adapted from Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel of the same name.

From 1974 to 1976 Wenders directed the Road Movie trilogy. They were all shot in German language.  The first film in the trilogy was Alice in the Cities (1974), which was shot in 16mm. The last two films are The Wrong Move (1975) and Kings of the Road (1976), the latter of which won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. The FIPRESCI often presents awards during film festivals to recognize examples of enterprising filmmaking.

The International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI, short for Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique) is an association of national organizations of professional film critics and film journalists from around the world for "the promotion and development of film culture and for the safeguarding of professional interests." It was founded in June 1930 in Brussels, Belgium. It has members in more than 50 countries worldwide.

Cannes 1976 was a big year. At this 29th Cannes Film Festival, The Palme d'Or went to Taxi Driver by Martin Scorsese.

In 1977 Wenders gained prominence for directing the neo-noir The American Friend, starring Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz. The film is adapted from the Patricia Highsmith 1974 novel Ripley's Game.  Of course, this novel has spawned several noteworthy projects, including The Talented Mr. Ripley with Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow, and has a current TV series Hit on Netflix, titled, Ripley.

J. Hoberman of The New York Times compared The American Friend,  to Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, writing, "Like Taxi Driver, The American Friend was a new sort of movie-movie—sleekly brooding, voluptuously alienated and saturated with cinephilia.”

Wenders would make a few more movies, including Hammett in 1982, which was Produced by Francis Ford Coppola and Zoetrope, and would find its way into competition in Cannes. This was also the year Spielberg was there with ET, as the Closing Night Film. 

Paris, Texas Wins Big

But it was really Paris, Texas in 1984 that changed everything.

Synopsis - A disheveled man who wanders out of the desert, Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) seems to have no idea who he is. When a stranger manages to contact his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), Travis is awkwardly reunited with his sibling. Travis has been missing for years, and his presence unsettles Walt and his family, which also includes Travis's own son, Hunter (Hunter Carson). Soon Travis must confront his wife, Jane (Nastassja Kinski), and try to put his life back together.

Wenders had traveled to the United States and stated he wished "to tell a story about America". The film is named for the Texas city of Paris, but is not set there in any scene. Paris is where Travis thinks he was conceived and where he owns a vacant lot, seen only in a photograph, in which he intended to build a house and live happily with his family. It is used as a metaphor for that ideal life.

Harry Dean Stanton had appeared in 100 films before Paris, Texas, with small roles in Cool Hand Luke and a large part in Repo Man, which came out the same year as Paris, Texas. He embraced the leading part of Travis, saying "After all these years, I finally got the part I wanted to play". However, Wenders also said Stanton was unsure of his part, and the age disparity between himself and the younger Nastassja Kinski (he was 34 years older). Wenders stated he had discovered Dean Stockwell as he was prepared to quit acting, finding no desirable roles and considering beginning a career in real estate. Hunter Carson was the son of co-screenwriter L. M. Kit Carson, and agreed to act while accompanied by his mother, Karen Black, who helped him memorize the dialogue.

Kinski wrote a diary for the character Jane to develop her backstory, imagining her emigrating from Europe, and getting more affection from Travis than she had from anyone.

Shooting had already started in 1983 when the screenplay was still incomplete, with the objective of filming in the order of the story. Shepard planned to base the rest of the story on the actors' observations and their understanding of the characters. However, when Shepard moved on to another job, he sent Wenders notes on how the screenplay should end instead. Shepard credited Wenders and L. M. Kit Carson with the idea of a peep show and the story's final acts.At the request of Wenders, Shepard composed Travis's climactic monologue to Jane, and dictated it over the phone to a secretary working on the film. The filmmakers opted not to portray a realistic peep show, as they needed a format that allowed for more communication between the characters. Kinski couldn't see anyone, only a mirror, in the peep show scenes, and said this created a genuine feeling of solitude.

Wenders said the film, shot in only four to five weeks, with only a small group working the last weeks, was very short and fast. There was a break in shooting during which time the script was completed. Filmmaker Allison Anders worked as a production assistant on the film,  while Claire Denis served as assistant director. Filming largely occurred in Fort Stockton and Marathon in the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas.

At the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, it won the Palme d'Or from the official jury, as well as the FIPRESCI Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. It went on to other honors and widespread critical acclaim praising mainly direction, acting, cinematography, emotional resonance and musical score.

Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, writing,

 "Paris, Texas is a movie with the kind of passion and willingness to experiment that was more common fifteen years ago than it is now. It has more links with films like Five Easy Pieces and Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy, than with the slick arcade games that are the box-office winners of the 1980s. It is true, deep, and brilliant.”

The Irish rock group U2 cited Paris, Texas as an inspiration for their album The Joshua Tree. Scottish rock bands Travis and Texas both took their names from the film. Musicians Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith said this was their favorite film of all time. The film has also influenced later directors, with David Robert Mitchell, who made It Follows, saying the aesthetics in its framing and composition were instructive. Wes Anderson was also inspired by Wenders' home movie scene with the photographs of the dead wife in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).

In 1986, the photography Wenders took on his location scout for Paris, Texas was exhibited at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, France, under the title Written in the West. In 2000, these were published in a book also titled Written in the West, with additional material in “Written in the West,” Revisited in 2015.

Wings of Desire

In 1986, he would return to Cannes with Wings of Desire, and won Best Director (The movie is number 34 on The 100 Greatest Foreign Language Films (BBC).

Wings of Desire is a 1987 romantic fantasy film written by Wim Wenders, Peter Handke and Richard Reitinger, and directed by Wenders. The film is about invisible, immortal angels who populate Berlin and listen to the thoughts of its human inhabitants, comforting the distressed. Even though the city is densely populated, many of the people are isolated or estranged from their loved ones. One of the angels, played by Bruno Ganz, falls in love with a beautiful, lonely trapeze artist, played by Solveig Dommartin. The angel chooses to become mortal so that he can experience human sensory pleasures, ranging from enjoying food to touching a loved one, and so that he can discover human love with the trapeze artist.

Inspired by art depicting angels visible around West Berlin, at the time encircled by the Berlin Wall, Wenders and author Peter Handke conceived of the story and continued to develop the screenplay throughout the French and German co-production. The film was shot by Henri Alekan in both color and a sepia-toned black-and-white, the latter being used to represent the world as seen by the angels. The cast includes Otto Sander, Curt Bois, and Peter Falk.

For Wings of Desire, Wenders won awards for Best Director at both the Cannes Film Festival and European Film Awards. The film was a critical and financial success, and academics have interpreted it as a statement of the importance of cinema, libraries, the circus, or German unity, containing New Age, religious, secular or other themes.

It was followed by a sequel, Faraway, So Close!, released in 1993. City of Angels, a U.S. remake, was released in 1998. In 1990, numerous critics named Wings of Desire as one of the best films of the 1980s.

As a side note, Wenders donated his $5,000 Cannes prize for Wings of Desire (1987) to Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan.

Until the End of the World

In 1991, Wenders would direct Until the End of the World. The film has been released in several editions, ranging in length from 158 to 287 minutes. Wenders says that he intended this as the ultimate example of the road movie genre

Wenders began working on the film as early as late 1977, when, during his first visit to Australia, it struck him that his surroundings would be the perfect setting for a science fiction film. In addition to fleshing out the complex plot, preproduction also involved extensive still photography. It was not until Wenders found commercial success with Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire, however, that he was able to secure funding for the project.

The initial cut of the film was, reportedly, 20 hours long.

Wenders was contractually obligated by his backers to deliver a standard feature-length film, so he edited it down to the 158 that was released.  

In September 2019, The Criterion Collection announced a special-edition Blu-ray and DVD of the 4K restoration of the 287-minute director's cut of the film, which was released on 10 December 2019.

While the film sadly was a commercial and critical failure, the Soundtrack was amazing.

Wenders commissioned original songs from a number of his favorite recording artists, asking them to anticipate the kind of music they would be making a decade later when the film was set. His desire to use all of the pieces he received contributed to his decision to make the film as long as it turned out to be

The title is a play on the phrase "sex and violence".

"The music was written during the rehearsals and recording that led to the Naked LP," recalled David Byrne in the liner notes of Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads. "I wrote the words later for the opening scene of Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World.”

Wenders would eventually direct the music video of the song (watch below).

He would make more films over the next few years (and his complete filmography can be found here), but it would be a shift to documentary for the outstanding Buena Vista Social Club that would put him back on the map.

The film documents how Ry Cooder, a long-time friend of Wenders who did the music for Paris, Texas, brought together the ensemble of legendary Cuban musicians to record an album (also called Buena Vista Social Club) and to perform twice with a full line-up: in April 1998 in Amsterdam (two nights) and the 1st of July 1998 in the United States (at the Carnegie Hall, New York City). Although they are geographically close, travel between Cuba and the United States is restricted due to the political tension between the two countries, so many of the artists were traveling there for the first time. The film shows their reactions to this experience, as well as including footage of the resultant sell-out concert. It also includes interviews with each of the main performers.

The film would premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1999, and then play at the Seattle International Film Festival and dozens more around the world.  It did well in its commercial release, doing over 23 million in box office, and became nominated for Best Documentary Oscar. In 2020, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.

The album itself has sold over 8 million copies. and was awarded the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album

Marché in Cannes Grows

In Cannes, the Marche continued to boom alongside the festival.

In 1995, there were over 2,000 participants, and by the year 2000, the number of participants had doubled. By 2005, there were more than 8,000 registrants.

In 2012, more than half of the screenings were from European countries, with a total of 4,000 films sold at the Marché du Film that year, half of which were fully completed.

The modern Marché du Film is a flagship event for the global film industry, no fewer than 12,000 participants, 3,200 producers, 1,200 agents and 800 festival managers.

Over 400 pavilions, collectively known as the International Village, stretch along La Croisette, and the total volume of deals made during the film market is in the range of over $600 million.

2023 Is Another Big Year

Wenders would continue to stay busy, making a combination of scripted features and shorts, along with more critically acclaimed documentaries, earning two more Academy Award nominations for Best Documentary Feature: Pina (2011), and The Salt of the Earth (2014). 

In 2023, he would return to Cannes with another remarkable documentary, about the artist Anslem Kiefer, one of the great contemporary artists. His past and present diffuse the line between film and painting, thus giving a unique cinematic experience that dives deep into an artist's work and reveals his life path. The Anselm documentary was also shot in 3D.

But this was not the only title he would present in Cannes 2023.  The other was Perfect Days, a Tokyo-set drama about a toilet cleaner. Wenders developed the story for Perfect Days with Japanese poet and writer Takuma Takasaki, and was inspired by the "civic sense of the common good" that the Japanese displayed after coming out of the long COVID-19 lockdown and won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the Best Actor Award for Kōji Yakusho.

It was nominated for the Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards in 2024, becoming the first film not directed by a Japanese filmmaker to be nominated as the Japanese entry.

Beautiful.  Poetic, and moving.  Through Wenders, a new sense of appreciating the small things in life.  And of course, we get another brilliant use of music throughout.  A truly remarkable experience.  The film is still playing in a few theaters and is on most tvod streaming platforms.

This is my favorite film of 2024, and now part of my top 10. 

Cannes 2024 is just around the corner and we’ve seen announcements rolling out these past few weeks.  The slate will include the much anticipated return of Francis Ford Coppola, who will be on hand for Megalopolis.

Coppola is one of very few filmmakers to have won 2 Palme d'Ors (The Conversation and Apocalypse Now).

The 2024 Cannes Classics section, created twenty years ago, will once again feature celebrations, restored prints, and documentaries. 

Wim Wenders will be back in Cannes yet again, to celebrate and present the 40th anniversary of Paris, Texas.

What a treat for audiences to get to experience this movie on the big screen…40 years after it premiered on Croisette.

And that’s a wrap for this edition of A History of Film Festivals in 100 MoviesEpisode 8 Paris, Texas - by Wim Wenders, and the Cannes Film Festival.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode, and if so, be sure to share with your fellow film fans.

There will be a bonus pod sent to our paying subscribers soon, where we take a deeper dive into Wim’s favorite films.



Criterion Archive
8 Reasons Why “Paris, Texas” is the Best Road Movie Ever
Where to begin with Wim Wenders (BFI)
Wim Wenders Foundation

"Spectators of Life". The Cinema of Wim Wenders: Image, Narrative, and the Postmodern Condition. Elsaesser, Thomas (1997). Wayne State University Press.

The Criterion Collection
Kolker, Robert Phillip; Beicken, Peter (1993). "Paris, Texas: Between the Winds". The Films of Wim Wenders: Cinema as Vision and Desire. Cambridge University Press.

On the Circuit
A History of Film Festivals in 100 Movies
A History of Film Festivals in 100 Movies will share the backgrounds, the stories and the filmmakers that have influenced the fest circuit and the business of movies. Covering the films and players that helped shape the landscape, the podcast will include the backstories, quotes, box office totals and career trajectories for the filmmakers that helped define this industry.