Word is going around among his friends that actor, producer, screenwriter and director L.M. Kit Carson has passed away at the age of 73.
Sam Adams interviewed Carson for the AV Club in 2011, noting that he’d “left his mark on some of the most important films of the last half-century. As the co-writer and star of 1967’s David Holzman’s Diary, he and director Jim McBride crafted a potent and funny critique of cinéma vérité’s claim to truth that doubles as a pre-emptive strike against the culture of YouTube confessionals. He watched the ’60s counterculture’s romance with Hollywood go down in flames on the set of Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie, filming the proceedings for the fascinating documentary The American Dreamer, and later filled in for an absent Sam Shepard by completing the script to Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas. A Dallas native,” Carson would also help out “a trio of local unknowns turn a handful of film scraps into a short, and then a feature, called Bottle Rocket, launching the careers of Wes Anderson and Owen and Luke Wilson.”
OK, fact is—1967: Me and Jim McBride were writing the first-ever book about cinema-verite—it was an interview/theory book for New York City’s Museum of Modern Art; we were calling it: THE TRUTH ON FILM. We were interviewing the roster of new-documentary filmmakers from Robert Drew to Leacock and Pennebaker to the Maysles Brothers—including interviewing Andy Warhol for his pop-verite. Halfway through the book-writing, McBride says to me: “There is no Truth on Film. Basically as soon as you turn the camera on—everything changes—to not real—gets like unreal.” So we decide it’s more quote/unquote “un-truth-ful” to write this book—we decide not to write this book.
We take the $2,500.00 book-advance—and over the 10-day Easter Break from college—we make a cinema-verite mock-documentary—we figure it’s the strongest way to question cinema-verite: David Holzman’s Diary.
McBride and Carson teamed up again in 1983 to co-write a remake of Godard‘s Breathless, directed by McBride and starring Richard Gere and Valérie Kaprisky. Paris, Texas (1984) stars Hunter Carson, son of Kit and his wife at the time, Karen Black. Among L.M. Kit Carson’s acting credits is the role of Gus Winant in Sidney Lumet’s Running on Empty (1988).
Three years ago, Carson returned to Dallas and spoke about filming his Africa Diary on a cellphone, co-founding the USA Film Festival and other highlights of his career:
Updates: “I got to know Kit—born Lewis Minor Carson, the grandson of a Texas Ranger with whom he shared the name—quite well about two decades ago, shortly after the wandering filmmaker moved back to Dallas,” writes Robert Wilonsky for the Dallas Morning News. “He’d gotten involved in the Deep Ellum Film Festival, the first to fete the local-born great. In 1999, we spoke about why he founded the USA Film Festival with Bill Jones, the SMU film professor: because he needed a place to show his movie, simple as that. During his brief ride there, the fest was among the most influential in the country.”
Wilonsky also quotes from Hunter Carson’s Facebook page:
RIP dad. Your light was and always will brighten the pathways of our future. It will never be extinguished. You did everything the way you wanted and never let anyone else do less than they were capable of doing. You mentored, taught, learned, fought, excelled as both athlete and student. I loved and loved and will love every moment we spent together. Thanks for everything. See you in the movies.
“I knew him for twenty-some years,” writes Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com. “I never quite got a handle on him, and I don’t think anyone else did, either. You weren’t supposed to. He was one of those guys who just did his own thing for decades, quietly pursuing his muse, and in the process coming up with innovations that other people would integrate into their own work—not in a thieving way, but innocently, the way you’d pick fruit from a tree in the wild.”
More from Matt: “The American Dreamer paints a portrait of Hopper at this wild period of his life, when he was so famous and successful that he believed his own hype, and started thinking of himself as a guru and revolutionary rather than as an artist with a particular way of seeing things. It’s one of my very favorite documentaries, and I think about it every time I interview another person. ‘The camera is always a questioning instrument,’ you hear Carson telling Hopper from somewhere offscreen. ‘It is an observer, it as an outside thing, and abrasive thing that comes in.'”
“I knew him well over the years, hanging with him in L.A. or at various film festivals from Sundance to Vail,” writes Anne Thompson. “Carson was an energetic, enthusiastic, generous, eager, curious man always in pursuit of the new. He embraced life, people, movies, and new technology—he was shooting films on smart phones before anyone else I knew.”
Update, 10/22: Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson at RogerEbert.com: “He was the only person we had ever met who actually worked in the movie business, and we had never come across someone who so automatically and instinctively turned any idea or experience or suggestion into a story—a pitch. Sometimes it was only at the end of the story that you realized: this has a purpose. He’s advising us. These are ‘notes.'”
Updates, 10/23: Photographer Robin Holland‘s posted two shots of Carson snapped during the making of Paris, Texas, one with Hunter, the other with Wenders.
In the Hollywood Reporter, Tim Appelo recalls the night Carson took Wes Anderson out for a night in Hollywood, where they met “Oscar-winning producer and druggie Julia Phillips,” who promptly got the Texans sick on her latest concoction, “Ecstasy soaked into a joint in a microwave oven.”
At the Dissolve, Nathan Rabin notes that one of The American Dreamer‘s “many unfathomable perversities is that it probably contains about 10 times as much footage of Hopper talking about his sexual fantasies, acting out his sexual fantasies, pontificating about the nature of sexuality, and jabbering on and on about being a cunnilingus-obsessed male lesbian as it does Hopper actually working on or talking about The Last Movie.”
Update, 10/29: “As a writer for Esquire, Rolling Stone and other magazines in the 1960s and ’70s, he was an early advocate of young American directors like Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma,” writes Bruce Weber for the New York Times. Carson’s wife, Cynthia Hargrave, tells Weber that he’d “intended to make more films featuring Africans telling their own stories. ‘Kit rarely did anything for the money of it,’ Ms. Hargrave said. ‘He did things for the “aha!” of it. And nobody could ever convince him he was wrong.'”