“Paris, Texas” and “Fool for Love” are both based on Sheppard’s writings, thus to a large extent mirror Shepard’s beliefs. The movies also share a largely similar thematic universe, as both deal with broken down families, the dissolution of the American Dream, and other “Sheppardian” themes. Nevertheless, in spite of the large array of possible interpretations and parallels between the two, the space limitations for this paper impose a clear restriction to one theme. The end of both plays strongly suggests to the viewer reconciliation between the characters, a final understanding of what things are and should be.
The feeling of finality and mutual understanding, be it violent and painful (Fool for Love) or peaceful and melancholic (Paris, Texas) originates mainly from the cinematic elements of the work. Shot duration, transitions, sound and color components not only underline the understanding of the plot, but also enrich it with new meanings, providing means to understand the character’s perception. The cinematography is more impressive in “Fool from Love.
The very agitated and conflict ridden end requires a large panoply of effects. “Fool for Love,” is the story of Mae and Eddie, half-siblings, haunted by the image of their father while sharing an incestuous relationship and their attempts to either reconcile or break away from each other. The father also seeks understanding and redemption in his children, although he is an imaginary character. The two other characters are less defined, both the Countess and Martin being instrumental in defining the relationship between the siblings and their father.
The end of the movie represents a violent and uneasy peace between the characters, and their final understanding of their relations.
The imaginary father haunting Mae and Eddie is left behind as both of them finally manage to reconcile with what they represent both independently and in relation to each other and then separate for the last and final time. The end arguably begins with the long shot of the Mercedes Benz through the motel windows. The shot represents the beginning of an event that has two values for the artistic continuity of the movie. First of all, in the context of the logical development of the drama it shall prompt the moment when the characters, after previously making their peace shall separate, all searching for their own independent existence.
The Countess blowing up Eddie’s truck will give him the means to leave the scene after his reconciliation with Mae. The aforementioned peace is not a sexual one. Mae and Eddie finally accepted both their sibling status and their separation, but in spite of the understanding none of them is likely to change without violently reacting to it. The violence unleashed by the Countess provides also for the setting that shall mirror the main character’s internal turmoil.
The ever-changing tempo of the movie, together with the camera angles and movement and the lighting and visual metaphors will allow the director to transpose a psychological conflict into a physical one. The slow motion Mercedes seen through the windows of the hotel provides a linkage between the previous scene, when Eddie and Mae come together, and the following one, when the old man obsession abandons them both. Such a change is bound to be violent, and the slow movement of the car manages to be both soothing and full of menace.
The emotional components are determined by an entire series of effects. The shot’s length is one of the characteristics responsible for the soothing and menacing feel of it. For seventeen seconds the black car passes in front of the motel windows, with no other sound that its wheels on gravel. Shot length spawns the rhythm of the film, and contributes to the emotional charge of the scenes. Thus, a shot of 1 to 3 seconds accelerates the heartbeat and causes excitement in the viewer, as a shot of 3 to six causes no change, and a over seven second shot slows the heart beat and causes relaxation.
A stream of shots with the same effect tends to emphasize tension or relaxation. The aforementioned 17second frame keeps the feel of still and calm that comes with Eddie and Mae embracing but also provides for an emotional and logic connection to the crisis about to unfold. The Mercedes moves left to right, which suggest its continued implication in the script. The sound of tires moving furtively slow on the gravel, together with the chromatic contrast between the motel inside (visible on the periphery of the shot) and the darkness outside offer the necessary tension to make the passage easier.
Contrast between warm tones of yellow, brown, red which dominates the inside of the motel and the darkness slashed by violent light outside shall be offer the metaphorical background for the following minutes of film. The violent break suggested by the movement of the Mercedes will occur in the next shot, while the movie maintains the same tempo. A medium long shot focused on the old man, although he is in the second plane dramatically marks the key tension moment of the ending. The old man is placed in the 1 and 3 nodal points, practically insuring that he is the first character to be perceived by the public.
Mae and Eddie are placed in the 2nd and 3rd nodal points, which, together with their location in the foreground suggests their direct implication in the action. The implication of the placement is not fulfilled in the following action, for during the entire shot none of the siblings move, which leads to believe that their importance to the scene is psychological. When the old man exclaims: “Well, I ain’t stayin'” he disappears beyond Mae and Eddie embracing for a second, during his diagonal left to right movement. The hysterical tone of voice and the meaning of the words are underlined by a symbolic visual construction.
The shot shifts to a Medium Long Shot as the camera does a Nodal Pan movement, and the old man exits the door. The tempo of the shot, combined with the sound and the different lines drawn across the screen both by the direction of movement and the set lead point out the tired apathy that set on the motel bar after the emotionally intense moment before. After the movie peaked with the embrace, a low was necessary to insure that the following scenes will have the desired effect. The shot under discussion has 8 seconds and all the sound components are the old man’s voce.
The voice and the fact that until he leaves the room the old man is in focus point out his importance. After the secondary characters of the scene come in focus through a Lateral Dolly combined with a Spin Shot. Mae, for Eddie is outside of the screen is devoid of expression, and the only moving object are Eddie’s fingers. The apathy of the scene combined with the objective camera provide for an unprecedented low in emotional charge. While the previous scenes had a connection with the next sequence of movie Mae and Eddie seem completely cut from the timeline, engulfed in their peace.
The following 14 shots will offer the complete antithesis of the last seconds of the scene. All of the shots will range from one second to a maximum of three, and sound and chromatic will support the violence of the tempo. After hitting an emotional low the movie will peak in violence. The old man provides the link between calm and agitation. During a 3 second shot, the old man traverses the scene leaving from the 2 – 4 nodal points in the second plane and arriving at the 1 -2 ones in the background.
During his diagonal revolution, the focus of the camera changes from him to the black Mercedes. The lighting and the sound of the shot also emphasize the old man’s loss of the position as the drama generating character. As his importance in the lives of his children faded, another factor of crisis had to replace him in the violent outbreak that would ensure a final separation of the characters. The father’s evolution in his children’s lives is also metaphorically outlined in the three-second shot.
His walk started lighted by the same warm glow that dominated the motel interior, only to change to brutal white from the headlights, and finally to disappear in the darkness. The Mercedes cutting across his path and stopping at the secondary nodal points takes over both the visual and aural fields, as the only audible sound is the bang of the door and afterwards a very strong engine sound. The 11 following shots prolong the movie time by jump cutting, intercutting and crosscutting from images outside to images from the motel bar, and having a duration of no more than 1 or 2 seconds.
The woman emerging from car alternates with Martin subjectivizing the shot by introducing a backward look of outward regard. The previous frame is transformed in a retroactive eye line shot by the repetitions in sound also, as the illusion of simultaneous perception of both the inside and outside of the motel bar is created. Martin will be the reference point for the intercuts, as all scenes from outside will be followed by a short image with Martin on the foreground. Another intercut for the shooting scene is Eddie’s truck.
The sequence of images presents the woman shooting for a second, two bullets hitting the truck windshield, the woman shooting again, after which the truck explodes. The intercut is used here to extend the time of the action, as the explosion will be first seen from a subjective camera shot (as if through the woman’s eyes) and later from an objective one (the reflection of the explosion on the woman’s eyes).
Nevertheless, as three very short scenes (a1 second, a 2 seconds one, and a 3 sec. ne) have as aural background the explosion, the illusion of seeing everything happen from there points of view simultaneously increases the dramatic effect, not to mention the duration. A very interesting scene, which will have a metaphorical follow through is the shot showing the woman’s face reflected in the rearview mirror. Although in the sequence it can be easily overlook and considered as a mere tension – increasing shot, a similar one later on will prove its importance in the ideological continuity of the film as well as the woman’s importance as a mere metaphor of the psychological life of Mae and Eddie.
Between the two aforementioned images, there is another series of short shots, this time alternating between 3 and 4 seconds and dominated by the violent chromatic of red and black created by the combination between darkness and the explosion light. They detail Eddie and May’s actions. Out of lack of space we shall not analyze them in detail, but offer only a few general considerations on them. The shots between the explosion and the final three images that center on each of the family members merely detail on the disaster and show the inconsequence of the other characters.
While the emotional and physical background is dominated by burning sounds, fire related chromatics and the general feel of destruction, the only ones that seem at ease are the Old Man, Eddie and Mae. The last image from inside the Countess’ car presents the same rearview that first mirrored the Countess now showing only flames, thus depersonalizing the already shapeless character. Martin is lost throughout the scene calling and asking questions of Mae that are left unanswered.
In all the confusion Mae packs her bags and leaves, Eddie goes to chase his own restless life and the old man remains inside their destroyed collective consciousness. The last three shots that present Eddie, Mae and the Old man are the longest (over 15seconds) and they give the feeling of finality. Eddie chasing the Mercedes in completely different background, during daytime is ontologically separated from Mae leaving at the crack of dawn and the old man going with a loud bang in his trailer. The end of “Paris, Texas” resembles the one in “Fool for Love” from two main perspectives.
The former has the same closed end, which insures that all future connections among the main characters are lost, and in the same time provides for the same pacification and forgiveness among the characters previous to their separation. The main difference between the two endings is that in “Paris, Texas” the breakup is not violent on the contrary it is fully accepted. Melancholic colors and background characterize the first shot of the rest of the ending. The dominating colors are dark blue and red on the skyline complemented by the black of the buildings and the tomes of grey in the landscape.
The point of view is established by a tilt shot down that makes Travis look even more insignificant. During the nine seconds of the shot the only moment is when he lets the hand resting from his hip fall. No future violent action is implied by the visual details, and the audio one s simply create a sad background. The shot simply establishes the image and feel of a sad, small man waiting intently for something alone in a deserted parking lot. The feel of tiredness and patience is exacerbated by the rhythm of shot.
Nine seconds of almost complete immobility establish both the presence and the peace of the character. The very long rhythms will characterize all the shots of the final part of the movie. As opposed to the 27 agitated shots in “Fool for Love,” “Paris, Texas” will only have six extremely slow ones. Consequently, the meeting between the mother and Hunter will a long shot, similar to the Tarkovsky ones. Another cinematographic difference between the two movies is that the; atter does not comply almost at all with the “golden rule.
The aforementioned requires each image to be as different as possible from the next one, and during the entire 2 minutes 10 second shot the director will only employ a spin shot, and a few nodal shots. The point behind ignoring the golden rule is twofold. First of all, unlike “Fool for Love,” “Paris, Texas” does not need to depict a violent conflict. Secondly, the mother and the child sitting in opposite sides of the screen, with Hunter being barely visible increases the tension by creating a sensation of discomfort in the audience, due to the strain it puts on the attention of the viewer.
The entire scene is from an objective point of view, and as mentioned before, the camera movements are scarce. Aural effects, eg. the siren sound that ceases as soon as hunter hugs his mother, augment the slight buildup of tension at the beginning of the scene. Nevertheless, the chromatic, based mainly on tones of dark green and black does not support the tension, the colors merely provide for an emotional parallel with the Close Up of the father later on, which will visually seal the tacit pact between the parents.
The reconciliation between Hunter and Jane is underlined by a series of cinematic artifices. The tightly embraced family is positioned this time in the main nodal points (1 and 3), and the camera starts moving following their actions. The awkward feeling linked to the immobility of the camera is subdued, and the shot ends. The following four scenes keep well within the extended tempo fixed by the first shot, but none of them is close to the length of the Jane – Hunter interlude.
Nevertheless, the chromatic changes kaleidoscopically from one shot to the other, in spite of keeping the continuity in the somber colors theme. The shot with the Travis sitting in front of his car, in the same parking lot is identical with the previous one with the exception of four key elements. The colors shifted to only black, tones of grey and violent white light from the public lamps, mirroring the character’s state of mind. Another change in the scenery is the car. As opposed to before, when the man was sitting in a completely empty parking lot, this time his car is nearby.
Thus, the car takes the value of a symbol. Whereas before knowing of the development of the Jane- Hunter relationship he was patently waiting, this time the car symbolizes his readiness to leave. The ending of the film is also suggested by the beginning of music. Based on dissonant tones, the latter seems to be ripping away at the whole fabric of the movie. The last, but not least important element is movement. Travis turns away and gets into the pickup at the end of the shot. The pervasive feeling of loneliness is also amplified by the changes in the shot.
Moreover, the next sequence of images underlines the effect of the previous one. A thirty-degree rule cut, together with the return of the previous chromatic tones (dominated by red and dark blue) place the character back in the objective world. The importance of the car as symbol of departure and break up is amplified by the camera placement (Tilt Shot Up) from ground level. The angle distorts the image of the car, amplifying its dimensions to the point it takes over the entire screen. Another element with metaphorical connotation is the path of the car.
The aforementioned does a complete U-turn, leaving seemingly in the same direction whence it came from. At this point, the initial image of a man tramping alone in the desert comes naturally to mind. The one before last shot is of paramount importance for the entire movie. Travis sits at the steering wheel, stone-faced from semi-profile for about six seconds real-time. Slowly, his face relaxes and he smiles. The dramatic effect of the scene is greatly improved by the chromatic black with Travis’ semi profile outlined in shades of blue, in the 2 – 4 nodal points.
The focus is completely on his face, the background being reduced to dark color blots passing on the down right edge of the screen. The chromatic, and the simple image effect combined with the repetitive music create the perfect harmony between what has happened and the final of the scene proves his full acceptance of the situation. Chromatics, music and the American Dream are the main elements of the last scene, as cars come towards the camera from the blue and red background, on the blue pavement with red headlights. The finality of the image points to a lot of endings.
Some of them concern Travis’ relation with Jane, with his family, and his deep understanding of this end. The purpose of comparing two movies’ endings that were concerned with finalities in character’s psychological lives was to set out the importance of cinematic as mode of conveying hidden valences and emotional undertones. Symbols, metaphors, and the simple emotional manipulations allowed but the wonderful medium of the movie camera and the editing room, offer the opportunity to the director to share the full extent of his artistic vision with the public.