Carradine's "Americana" was one from the heart

Fri Jun 5, 2009 1:34am EDT
 
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By Kirk Honeycutt

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It was doubly sad to learn of the death of actor David Carradine in an apparent suicide Thursday in Bangkok, having witnessed one of the more crushing failures in his artistic life.

In 1981, when he came to the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes with his handmade film "Americana," Carradine was at the top of his game. He was the star of a smash TV series, "Kung Fu," and such fine films as "Bound for Glory" and "The Long Riders."

But Carradine wanted to be a filmmaker. Tenaciously, he put together a clutch of film projects for himself to direct and planned to use his acting pay to finance his films, just as John Cassavetes was doing.

He hoped to launch this career with "Americana." The film was a poetic fable about an ex-Green Beret, played by Carradine, who drifts into a small Midwestern town in 1973 and impulsively decides to repair a broken-down merry-go-round. An allegory about the joy of work, the loneliness of an artist and small-town prejudices, "Americana" is a snapshot in time: Here we see a country, still caught up in the Vietnam War, struggling to restore a sense of decency to its collective soul.

"Americana" won an award in Cannes, but Carradine needed American audiences to see the film. When he told me about the project at a dinner party, I asked to see the film. Most impressed, I got an assignment from The New York Times to do a profile on Carradine the filmmaker.

For all his reputation for wild times and hard living, he was sincere and earnest about this fledgling career. This, remember, was long before lightweight cameras and digital cinema made it easy for just about anyone to make a movie.

TESTING THE LIMITS

"You don't have to be a millionaire to make a movie, but everyone always feels there are limitations," he said. "I wanted to see if it were true. I found that shooting in sequence and working with a small crew were all simplifying factors."   Continued...