Thursday, December 4, 2008

L.M. Kit Carson on "Paris, Texas"


What was going on in your life before Paris, Texas happened?

CARSON: We did Breathless, so I'd done my first Hollywood film. I do these diaries whenever I make a movie and they were published in Film Comment, and as I said at the beginning of the Paris, Texas diary, after Breathless I was not exactly hot, but I was lunch. So I went to lunch a lot and was offered projects, and none of them was anything that I really wanted to do.

At the same time, my son had gotten cast in Paris, Texas, so I got to know Wim very informally because of that. So while I was doing lunch with all of the studios and executives from all the different agencies and all that, I was watching the progress on this. I knew that they had gotten started and that there was a stop date on the talent involved, so they had to launch. There was a stop date on Harry Dean and there was a stop date on Nastassja Kinski, so they had to start shooting.

They went off and started the beginning of the movie, down in Texas, in an area called The Devil's Playground in the desert. Wim was out there for two weeks and had come back. I wandered into the office one evening to see how it was going, and he was at his desk with his head in his hands. I said, "What's the matter?" And he said, "We have shot the beginning of the movie. It sets up this great mystery, and then the script explains it all away. And I don't want to do that."

He said, "I want this movie to be about love, a movie in which love triumphs at the end, but it's not sentimental."

That was the thrust of the movie, and he'd shot the opening mystery, the first 20 minutes of the film. And then he didn't like the rest of the script. I asked him what the script was like, and he said, "There are two versions."

One version was that Nastassja's father was a big Texas oilman, and his goons had gone and beat up Harry Dean and grabbed Nastassja and stuck her in a penthouse.

The other version was Nastassja's mother was under the thrall of a televangelist and, of course, he ran heroin dens and whorehouses, just like all televangelists do. His goons came and beat-up Harry Dean and grabbed Nastassja and stuck her in a heroin den/whorehouse.

And I said to Wim, "Those are kind of corny." And he said, "Yeah."

And I said, "What if they did it to themselves?"

And he looked up and he said, "Exactly."

Sam Shepard had, he explained to me, gone on to In Country, the film where he met Jessica Lange, because he and Wim couldn't get satisfied with the scripts. And so Sam just sorta said, "You figure it out. I'm outta here. I gotta go do this movie."

So Wim said to me, "Give me the weekend, I'll call Sam and tell him that I want you to do this." And I said, "Okay, but I'm going back to New York this weekend, I'm stopping in Texas first to see my folks. You call me by Sunday and tell me in which direction I'm going to continue going -- either back to LA or on to New York."

So I didn't hear from him, I didn't hear from him, and on Sunday night, at the last possible minute when I was about to go get my ticket and get on the plane, Wim called and said, "Come back."

So I came back and they resumed the shoot, and I stayed two weeks ahead of the shoot with new pages.

Did you have a sense while you were making the movie of the impact it would have and the status it would achieve?

CARSON: No. It was really just a bunch of guys driving around Texas in pick-up trucks making the movie. There was nothing that seemed important going on. We were not shooting a film that was going to win at Cannes. It was just a bunch of guys trying to do something.

Brilliant collaborators: Production designer Kate Altman -- brilliant. Cinematographer Robby Müller-- brilliant. And the actors are all brilliant. But it was wide open in the sense that all we were doing was serving the movie. There was nothing else going on except trying to figure this out.

I remember that the movie had a budget of about $750,000. That's probably not the official budget, but that's I knew we had. I was paid, partly, I was given a '57 Chevy Bel Air, with the fins. That was part of my pay. Nobody was paid anything, really, on this movie.

You look back at it now and you say, "How could you guys do something this good without any luxury at all?" But the intention was so high; there was nothing in the way of trying to do something honest and out of your heart.

Is there anything that you learned working on Paris, Texas that you still use today?

CARSON: Silence. I learned that.

The first part of the script was Sam's and it was full of silence. I found out about the power of silence from thinking about that over and over and over again, and thinking about how the characters relate to each other. There's a lot of silence in this movie and it's very powerful.

I've learned and applied that to everything else.


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