Relating to an Irrelatable World: Melinda Camber Porter in Conversation with Wim Wenders

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.50.42 PMI assume that like many others, my initial interest in this book was in Wim Wenders. It also caught my attention that this was about my favorite movie of his, Paris,Texas (1984), and that the interviews were done during filming. I was hoping that the book would then be a peek into the process that Wenders was using for the film, and there the book doesn’t disappoint.

For example, Wenders and Sam Shepard, one of the screenwriters, are full of doubt and concern that the film may fail artistically and monetarily. Neither artist was a total unknown at this point, both were fairly well-established in the industry, though not necessarily household names, which didn’t seem to be their goals anyway. The takeaway, particularly for young artists, is that even established creators work in self-doubt and struggle. Wenders, who had been making movies for almost a decade-and-a-half at that point, says, “I mean if you make a movie that questions its own ideas all the way, you realize that questioning your ‘ideas’ really means questioning yourself.” For him, this means that he has to maintain confidence in those around him, even “mankind,” (though I’m not quite sure what that means–maybe that the film will find its audience?) rather than himself.

While not always discussed blatantly, much of the thematic material shines through the conversation. Wenders discusses the “discrepancy” in the title, Paris, Texas, and you realize how much that illuminates the film. Wenders, a European, telling this story written by Shepard, an American, sometimes iconic for his loner/rambler status. This discrepancy, really a beautiful tension, gets carried over into the film in which the viewer encounters the visuals of the American landscape set to a European cinematic pacing.

Initially, I thought that this was more or less like many “on set” books, but opening it up to the title page I noticed that it was labeled as part of the “Melinda Camber Porter Archive of Creative Works Series in Journalism” as “Volume 1, Number 3.” I was wondering if Porter was someone I should know or had read before, but didn’t remember her name. Reading her bio I realized she had died of ovarian cancer in 2008 and “left a significant body of work in art, journalism, and literature.” When I had casually flipped through the pages previously, I wondered why there were pictures of the tapes and cassette recorder that Porter had used to record the interviews. It just seemed odd, but the backstory helped me make sense of them.

There are photographs in the book by Porter that are spare and gorgeous, reminiscent of O’Keefe’s desert paintings, yet more abstract. Her husband, Joseph Flicek, also has photos, though his remind me more of Andrew Wyeth in terms of color and composition. When I carve out some time, I’m interested in seeing her paintings.

After reading the book, I was directed forward in a couple of ways. One, it made me interested in Porter’s work, an artist that I knew nothing about. Two, the conversation made me go back and watch Paris, Texas for the first time in about twenty years. Not only did it look much better, since I wasn’t watching it on a rental VHS, but the movie was even better than I had remembered. And that’s probably the best praise I can offer a book that is a transcribed conversation, that it is an impetus into the creative works under discussion.

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