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David Carradine: Still punchy after all these years

March 20, 2009 |  6:08 pm

It's still early, but it's pretty safe to say that the award for the "Craziest Post-Screening Panel Discussion of the Year" has to go to David Carradine and Haskell Wexler, who got to show everyone who stayed after an American Cinematheque screening of Hal Ashby's "Bound for Glory" just what it must've been like to have lived through the '60s.

Carradine It's not exactly a news flash that Carradine, best known for his many small and big screen roles ("Kung Fu," "Kill Bill," etc.) is a tad, shall we say ...eccentric -- he's up to, at last count, his fifth wife. But according to this marvelous blow-by-blow account from ex-Entertainment Weekly writer Chris Willman (posted on Hollywood Elsewhere, which offers a briefer account here), Carradine really went over the top in what was supposed to be one of those evenings devoted to affectionate reminiscences about working on a movie classic, a film that earned Wexler an Oscar for best cinematography.

According to Willman's account, the bizarre events began during the screening, when someone, whom the audience took to be a madcap heckler, started bellowing remarks like "I hate guys like that!" during key scenes from the film. The heckler turned out to be none other than Carradine himself. After the film ended, Carradine took the stage, bringing along an acoustic guitar. After being introduced by ex-Times film critic Kevin Thomas, who was the host of the screening, Carradine was joined by Wexler and Ronnie Cox, Carradine's costar in the film.

At first, Carradine was just odd, "in a had-too-many-highballs-before-dinner kind of way," as Willman put it. But when the subject of unions came up, he went completely gonzo, saying unions no longer served the same purpose they used to, which prompted a ferocious shouting match with a woman in the back of the audience. With all hell breaking loose, Cinematheque publicist Margot Gerber, who was in the front row, stood up and demanded that the woman be tossed out. Carradine continued his rant, saying he's had to cut back on buying groceries for his family because of the economy and the SAG labor tumult, adding for emphasis: "I AM NOT A RICH PERSON!" When someone in the crowd suggested that he let the lady heckler have the mike, Carradine half-heartedly tossed the mike into the audience, which instead of landing safely in the aisle -- wouldn't you just know it -- bonked Gerber right on the head.

That turned out to be just a prelude for a really contentious skirmish between Carradine and Wexler, a world-class cinematographer who doesn't suffer fools lightly, especially when they appear to be making light of his achievements. When Carradine complained that "Bound for Glory" "looks like it was shot through a glass of milk," claimed that Ashby tried to fire Wexler and joked that Wexler "got an Academy Award for ruining my movie," all hell broke loose.

Wexler explained that when Ashby sent someone to fire him, he stormed into the director's trailer and confronted him, saying, "Hal, just take a minute and STOP SNIFFING THAT STUFF UP YOUR NOSE!" A heated debate about Hollywood cocaine use ensued, with Carradine finally proclaiming that Ashby was a genius, explaining that his years of drug abuse "got in the way of him living longer, but they did not get in the way of his movies."

If you read Willman's account, there's even more good stuff, including a hilarious fight between Carradine and Wexler over "the guy who used the suitcase camera" that was apparently brilliantly operated by someone whose name neither man could remember. But for me, the best moment came when, after more yelling and cursing and wacky tirades, along with an impromptu performance of the song "Bound for Glory" by Carradine, Kevin Thomas offered a benediction of sorts by concluding -- tongue firmly in cheek -- that the evening had provided him with "some fresh insights into the collaborative effort of filmmaking."

Photo of David Carradine from the Los Angeles Times

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