Monday, July 27, 2009

Round Table Discussion: YOU AND ME and AMERICANA



CHRIS POGGIALI: Not long after David Carradine passed away on June 3rd, I contacted John Charles of Video Watchdog and Marty McKee of Johnny Larue’s Crane Shot who, like me, are big fans of Carradine’s work, and suggested the three of us do something special related to the two rarely discussed independent features Carradine directed, YOU AND ME and AMERICANA. John and Marty liked the idea, and now -- a few dozen e-mails and nearly two months later -- Temple of Schlock proudly presents its first ever round table discussion. We realize these aren’t the easiest movies to get hold of and that not many people have seen them, but hopefully this post will inspire a few of you to seek them out and at least one interested party to restore and properly release them; YOU AND ME has never been issued on videocassette or DVD in North America, while the terrible pan-and-scan DVD of AMERICANA is currently going for $75 on Amazon.com. Carradine’s autobiography, Endless Highway, contains a wealth of information on both films, but that too is out of print and fetching high prices on Amazon, eBay, Bookfinder and other sites.

JOHN CHARLES: I have not read Endless Highway (much to my shame), so I would be interested to know more about the history of these projects and what inspired them.

MARTY McKEE: The two films are so similar thematically and stylistically that it’s tempting to treat them as one long journey.

CHRIS: And that journey begins with YOU AND ME, which was shot in 1972 and released three years later. Carradine’s producing partner, Skip Sherwood, originally wanted another actor-turned-director, Steve Ihnat (THE HONKERS), to helm the picture, but Ihnat was on his way to Cannes to meet with exhibitors to get a deal for his first film, DO NOT THROW CUSHIONS INTO THE RING, and ended up suffering a fatal heart attack during one of the screenings. It was decided that Carradine would direct YOU AND ME himself. He and Sherwood started with only $5,000 and a promise of more financing as long as Barbara Hershey was cast in the film. Hershey was pregnant with Carradine's child at the time, so her scenes had to be shot first anyway, before she began to show. On the strength of those scenes with Hershey, Carradine and Sherwood were able to secure the rest of the financing. YOU AND ME took 6 weeks to shoot, at a cost of just over $60,000.


MARTY: My initial thoughts on YOU AND ME are that its director is a highly smart, sensitive filmmaker with a strong visual sense and good musical taste. Obviously a labor of love that recruits Carradine's actor brothers as not only performers, but also musicians, it's a rambling road picture with little point, perhaps, but lots of affection.

JOHN: I wonder how much Carradine's work on BOXCAR BERTHA might have engendered an interest in tackling his own rural drama.


CHRIS: Carradine wanted to make completely independent films, perhaps because of his experiences on BOXCAR BERTHA, an "indie" but one in which Samuel Arkoff of American International Pictures had the final word. When Carradine completed the KUNG FU pilot and it looked like a series would be likely, there was talk of a 5-year commitment and he was afraid he wouldn't have time to make his own films once he got wrapped up in the series. So he very quickly got YOU AND ME rolling before shooting on the KUNG FU series began.


MARTY: Are you sure this was made before KUNG FU? Zeto's Harley is a 1974, so I figure Carradine may have made YOU AND ME during a summer hiatus.

CHRIS: No, it was made in 1972, after the pilot but just prior to the series. A rough cut of YOU AND ME was ready by the summer ’73 hiatus between the first and second seasons, which was when production on AMERICANA was started. In Endless Highway he wrote: The reason I was doing YOU AND ME in the first place was because I felt that a television series is potentially destructive to a young artist. One of the things that’s wrong with it is that you get rich doing it. It’s a trap. You set up a source of goodness in your world, and then you have to continue at it to maintain the goodness. The yearning for creativity becomes secondary, and one day you wake up and you have lost the dream.



JOHN: Carradine's words about how instant success can compromise a young artist are quite appropriate given how a major theme in each of these movies is the rewards of traditional work done for no financial gain beyond the basics of survival. Both biker Zeto (in YOU AND ME) and The American Soldier (in AMERICANA) are most at peace when performing seemingly mundane tasks and because the films' depiction of rural life is so natural and appealing, this philosophy is very well communicated to the viewer.

MARTY: It’s interesting that Carradine, born and bred among the Hollywood elite, has a knack for portraying rural life. It’s rare to see a Hollywood film where anyone living between the coasts isn’t portrayed as an ignoramus, a hillbilly, or a violent redneck. There are characters like that in AMERICANA, but it isn’t because of their environment.

JOHN: Small town prejudices and hateful rednecks are present in both movies, but they are not the main catalysts. After being hassled at the gas station in AMERICANA by some local bullies, Carradine is told by Michael Greene to pay them no heed. "I don't," he replies, and that seems to be the attitude in both movies. Such obstacles are presented as facts of life and ones that must be dealt with primarily through a man's character and fortitude, rather than the traditional revenge route seen in most genre pictures.


CHRIS: Well, Zeto does dish out some payback to those truckers for running over his motorcycle, and the next morning there’s that disturbing drive-by shot of their truck parked by the side of the road with the police surrounding it. We never get a look at the crime scene, but I had the sick feeling that Zeto killed them both.

JOHN: I agree about the shot you mentioned, though in the back of my mind, I remembered that Zeto did not participate in the bar fight that led to Keith Carradine's death at the beginning of the movie, so I suspected that he would not actually kill these men (one of whom is a young Gary Busey).


CHRIS: I'm not sure I agree with you as far as Zeto sitting out the bar fight at the beginning as evidence that he wouldn't have killed those truckers. After Keith Carradine is killed, one of the witnesses runs out the door and Zeto takes off after him like he's going to rub him out. It's only after he realizes he can't catch him that they all jump on their bikes and take off.






JOHN: I think Zeto ran after the man instinctively and given how old the target was, I think Zeto could have caught him if he was really motivated to.


We're left to discern the character's back story, but I got the impression that Zeto lived the life he did more because he wanted to drop out, than to have the standard biker existence. Or maybe by that point, like The American Soldier, his violent experiences in the past had left him in a place where no longer wanted any part of such things.

CHRIS: I could’ve done without the constant news reports about how the police were still looking for the bikers. I don't think it was needed, and it got silly after a while. It seemed to me like something that was added later in an attempt to produce some kind of "forward momentum" or sense of encroaching threat to a movie that really didn't need it.


JOHN: I agree about the news reports and it does not help that it sounds very much like Carradine himself doing the voiceovers as the radio host. Also, it sure doesn't say much for the local law enforcement that they took so long to catch up with these two.

MARTY: I also thought Carradine was playing the radio host! I wonder if it was an economic decision or is there something deeper?

CHRIS: What do you think is the significance of repeating the opening shot? We see Zeto and his two friends pull up on their motorcycles against a sunset, pause, and then silently ride off.


A few minutes later, after Keith Carradine is killed in the bar, we see the same shot again, only this time the bikers quickly decide to go their separate ways for fear of being caught. After the other two bikers ride off, Zeto has difficulty time starting his motorcycle.


On the soundtrack we hear a police report about the murder. Zeto finally starts his motorcycle and rides off.

JOHN: I'm not sure about the significance, though it struck me as an economical and attractive way to show that time has passed. Perhaps it could be viewed as a pivotal moment in their friendship, as the actions that follow in both cases have what is likely to be a permanent effect on their lives. While it might be interpreted otherwise, I think Carradine's motorcycle problems were just a way of introducing the imminent breakdown that leads to him encountering the boy. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

MARTY: Carradine favors long takes and naturalistic acting, which is maybe to accommodate all the amateurs among the supporting cast. At one point, his child co-star (Richard "Chipper" Chadbourne) flubs a line, but Carradine keeps the scene going and incorporates the blooper into the moment to make the scene more realistic.


JOHN: Both films have nice little character touches. I loved how, when Carradine was forced to use the child's undersized bicycle, he inadvertently went to kick start it and tried to dismount like he was on a chopper.




CHRIS: What did you think of that bit with Dennis Fimple giving the boy a ride in his truck? His character could just be a harmless kook, but he looks around nervously as he lets the boy out of his truck, says something like "If I see you around later I’ll give you a ride,” and then shoves cherries into the boy’s mouth!


JOHN: The bit with Fimple helps establish what a dangerous world this boy has wandered into and reinforces how different Carradine's character is from what one would expect, given his history and colors...which I understand have been seen previously?


CHRIS: Yes, the “Born to Lose” emblem on Zeto’s jacket was worn by Jeremy Slate's gang in THE BORN LOSERS, and the biker who kills Keith Carradine is wearing the colors of the Devil's Advocates, a gang created by producer Joe Solomon for a handful of his productions (RUN ANGEL RUN, THE LOSERS, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS, GIRLS ON THE ROAD).

MARTY: I also admired the backdrop of the unfinished interstate highway behind the scene in which Carradine drives Barbara Hershey in her convertible -- another example of the institutionalized world Zeto (and Carradine) are trying to escape.


Remember that, even at the height of his KUNG FU stardom and the hundreds of thousands of dollars he earned, Carradine and Hershey still lived in a rural setting much like Bobbi Shaw's in YOU AND ME. Not a ranch, but a small farmhouse.

JOHN: It's also fascinating that both Zeto and The American Soldier, respectively a biker on the run from the law and an emotionally damaged Vietnam vet, are also dedicating themselves to the restoration of traditional, neglected elements of life (the merry-go-round, the tractor, the abandoned three wheeler, etc), which is certainly a contrast from the norm.

MARTY: As I said before, as wealthy as he was during his KUNG FU years, he lived far off the beaten path, away from the parties and the glitter, on a dirt farm. He appears to have inherited his father’s work ethic, which is reflected in his characters in the films he directed.




CHRIS: Marty, you mentioned Bobbi Shaw a moment ago. When I watched YOU AND ME for the first time earlier this year, I saw it back to back with PIPE DREAMS without realizing that she’s in both movies -- which struck me as odd because I had never seen her in anything that didn’t have the words “bikini,” “beach, or “party” in the title prior to that afternoon!


Robert Carradine makes a brief appearance as a gas station attendant during the opening credits.


Lynne Moody also turns up as a social worker, in what I believe is her first movie.


YOU AND ME was barely released to theaters and never issued on video or DVD in North America and is therefore not an easy movie to see.


On the other hand, AMERICANA has been available on video and DVD for a long time and I've found that many people who are David Carradine fans have never seen it. I didn't watch it for the first time until 1993, ten years after it was finally released, even though I knew it was out there and I considered myself a Carradine fan.


JOHN: I saw AMERICANA on Pay-TV in the mid-80s because I was (and partially still am) a John and David Carradine completist. It's a crying shame that Rhino's DVD of AMERICANA is mastered from the same ancient, horrible pan&scan transfer. Even with its stop and start production history, it was clearly filmed with a great deal of care and is filled with some very lovely compositions.

CHRIS: I think there's a prejudice against these movies, a tendency to label them sight unseen as "vanity projects" because they were made with the help of friends and family members, when in fact they're both based on pre-existing works that Carradine simply found worthwhile; YOU AND ME was a screenplay by Robert Henderson, while AMERICANA was based on a WWII-era novel called The Perfect Round, by Henry Morton Robinson (who also wrote The Cardinal). These are real movies, truly independent movies, and ultimately very positive movies. Definitely part of that “New Hollywood" movement of the late '60s and early '70s, but without the bummer endings that seemed to be a requirement starting with COOL HAND LUKE.

MARTY: Interesting you mentioned the "positive" message of YOU AND ME. From the beginning, I feared an EASY RIDER-style ending, not just because Carradine was playing a biker on the lam, but also because the frequent snippets of radio newscasters broadcasting their police bulletins seem to foreshadow a violent climax. I hope I'm not giving away much by saying that Carradine and his young friend receive the release they deserve.


JOHN: Indeed. About 75 minutes into YOU AND ME, a series of events occurs that had me thinking, "OK, here goes," and yet the movie did not end at all as I was expecting. Likewise, the conclusion of AMERICANA might be interpreted as bittersweet, but it really is a triumph for the lead character. As with the prototypical hero who rides into town, the soldier overcame great hardship, accomplished what he wanted to, and now has no reason to stay. It's interesting that, in both movies, Carradine shows no interest in striking up a relationship or even having sex with any of the women. His seeming aloofness is clearly a reaction that is masking something much deeper and Carradine leaves us with much to consider about both men.

CHRIS: Carradine and Hershey fell in love with The Perfect Round without even knowing it was a novel. Screenwriter Richard Carr pitched a five-minute version of the story to them while they were shooting HEAVEN WITH A GUN in the late ‘60s.


A few years later, Carradine hired Carr to write a script of “that merry-go-round story” -- and was shocked to discover that he first had to option the novel it was based on. Carr’s screenplay reflects the five-minute version he pitched to Carradine and Hershey rather than a faithful adaptation of the more complicated novel.


MARTY: I admit I’m perplexed by the last 20 minutes or so of AMERICANA. The introduction of newer footage (though it probably couldn’t be helped) is jarring, and the American Soldier’s actions near the end seem out of character.

JOHN: Some viewers are really put off by the fact that the soldier would enter into the ring with the dog, after showing disgust at having been dragged to the cockfight. I think it's completely in character with a man scarred by his war experiences (again, we are left to fill in the blanks, told only that he has "a condition"). He enters into this because he needs that last part for the merry-go-round and is out of other options. His reactions afterward show tremendous remorse.


MARTY: John, he isn’t really out of options to get the part -- he could have spent the $90 for it. As a guy who seems to have had little use for money, it’s not like he was saving that $90 for a rainy day. Of course, he’s remorseful, which is in character, but I think I missed the point.

JOHN: Yes, I think you did -- no offense!

CHRIS: I think AMERICANA is Carradine's attempt to come to grips with the senseless animal slaughter he witnessed in Mexico during the filming of MACHO CALLAHAN, when director Bernard Kowalski purposely ordered the killing of several horses on camera for effect.




MACHO CALLAHAN was a big movie for Carradine, a career break he'd been waiting for, and he needed the money, so he didn’t dare speak out against Kowalski at the time.


The horse killings, and his perceived complicity, haunted him for years. In fact, Kowalski was slated to direct AMERICANA at one point, but Carradine refused to work with him again (The original title of the film was AROUND, possibly alluding to the situation coming full circle). Michael Greene's character seems like a Hollywood type, always offering the American Soldier drinks while giving him a lot of slick talk -- "I know the right people" and "I can get you what you want in this town,” that sort of thing – and his involvement in the dogfight is multi-layered: it’s almost like he’s the talent agent, the director and the studio publicist rolled into one.


Meanwhile, fighting the dog is a necessary evil for the American Soldier; he must sacrifice the dog in order to complete the merry-go-round, as Carradine himself had to step back and watch the horses die on MACHO CALLAHAN in order to further his own career. The first image we see in AMERICANA is a dog in the middle of the road...


...while the last image is a wooden horse atop the finished merry-go-round, ascending to heaven or being held high as something that should be respected.


On the poster, Carradine is holding one of the carousel horses in his arms the way he cradles the dead dog at the end of the movie.




JOHN: That is a terrible poster.

MARTY: I prefer the other one that harkens back to the opening shot of the picture -- which, by the way, looks a lot like the opening of FIRST BLOOD.

CHRIS: I don’t mind the Crown poster [shown above]. I prefer painted one-sheets, even when the artwork isn't great, and I have this one in my collection.

JOHN: I'm guessing that Crown International picked this movie up cheap in the hopes of making some money from ancillary markets. I don't remember them putting much into a theatrical run for the picture. AMERICANA's prolonged production schedule is certainly evident in the sequence where Carradine goes to collect his back pay, but I wonder if the fate of the town shopkeeper (a fairly prominent character up to this point, we're told he has died of a heart attack) was also the result of the man simply no longer being available.




CHRIS: I laughed out loud when Fran Ryan said "You haven't picked up your check in 6 months." It was more like 6 years! Ryan, by the way, had just been in THE LONG RIDERS with David and took this small role as a favor. One of the other female officers in the scene was a United Artists executive who took an interest in Carradine's independent films during the making of THE LONG RIDERS and helped him finish AMERICANA. The scene with Ryan and the one right before it, where we see the American Soldier retrieve his uniform from the trunk of his demolished car, were shot in 1981 (The film wasn't released until October 1983, over ten years after production began).


I think Carradine did a damn good job of matching the footage. Yes, he's visibly older in that scene, but because he's just been roughed up by the local troublemakers, I think most people unfamiliar with the production history will think he's just tired and battered. It also helps that in the very next scene, there isn’t a close-up or a clear shot of his face.


MARTY: Not much has been said yet about Carradine's visual style. He shows a very nice eye for country settings. Maybe it was a happy accident [in YOU AND ME], but as the camera pans along the crime scene along the highway, it rests on a billboard that reads "Conquer Boredom" or something like that, which may signify that Carradine's nomadic lifestyle is just his way of avoiding the 9-to-5 existence most of us are locked into.


CHRIS: The sign reads “Suzuki Conquers Boredom.” Speaking of motorcycles, I think it’s interesting that biker gangs are featured in both of these movies when the genre had pretty much died out by 1972. Michael Greene's character in AMERICANA is a former Hells Angel who got into an accident while passing through town and stuck around to operate the garage because he found he could make good money as a mechanic (Greene had played the lead in NAKED ANGELS for Roger Corman a few years earlier).


JOHN: I don't know if those elements were in the original sources (the novel for AMERICANA, the screenplay for YOU AND ME) or if they were elements Carradine added. Unlike Roger Corman or Sam Sherman, I'd imagine that Carradine was not worrying so much about the commercial aspects of the pictures. Just speculation, but again I wonder if Carradine chose to make Zeto a biker not so much because the character necessarily desired that lifestyle, but because he was an outsider who fell into a group of other outsiders he could more closely relate to.

CHRIS: Carradine wrote, co-produced (with Sherwood), and starred in a country rock musical titled A COUNTRY MILE that was directed by Greene and filmed simultaneously with AMERICANA in May and June of 1973. However, Carradine was so unhappy with Greene's rough cut that he shelved it. I'd love to see that one as well as Carradine's third feature, MATA HARI, a 30-year labor of love starring his daughter Calista.

JOHN: I have read that Carradine was finally able to finish MATA HARI awhile back and, on the basis of YOU AND ME and AMERICANA, it will no doubt be quite interesting. I hope that we all have the chance to see it soon.

CHRIS: John, Marty, thanks for stopping by. We'll have to do this again -- hopefully soon, when A COUNTRY MILE and MATA HARI hit DVD!

Special thanks to Marc Morris for supplying us with copies of YOU AND ME!

9 comments:

Kris Gilpin said...

great discussion!

can't remember if I ever saw Americana--but if I did I guess I should remember something about it...

I did read Carradine's huge auto-bio, tho, very entertaining & perfect for a couple unending flights to/from London!

I have & look forward to reading his Kill Bill Diary one day, too ;-)

Anonymous said...

Ha! Marty, the bike Carradine rides is a Harley 74 -- meaning a 74 cubic inch engine. Not a 1974 Harley!

Marty McKee said...

Doh! Thanks for the clarification, Anonymous. I'm not a motorcycle guy. Unless Peter Fonda is riding it.

Mike Malloy said...

Ever wonder why, during Keith's death scene in YOU AND ME, the jukebox is playing something that sounds like Carl Perkins' classic studio version of "Blue Suede Shoes" but then the song ends with applause? David told me that he had wanted to license a particular live Elvis version of the song, but Colonel Parker refused. So Carradine used the Perkins version instead, and then he added the applause from the Elvis version just to thumb his nose at The Colonel.

Also of interest: Apparently the sound for A COUNTRY MILE was recorded as live stereo -- one of only two films that had used the process at the time (the other being ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE).

And: The dog killing scene in AMERICANA ruffled some feathers with the ratings board because of the cracking-spine noise. They wanted the crack to be lower in the mix. Carradine complained that that would require a whole new sound mix; couldn't he just shorten the noise instead? The MPAA said that would be okay. When he re-submitted the film, they approved it -- without knowing that he had left it unchanged!

Check out my article/Carradine intvw on YOU AND ME/A COUNTRY MILE/AMERICANA/MATA HARI in FILMFAX #106.

I always wondered about this exchange -- about the gang patch on Zeto's vest -- from YOU AND ME:

Wynona: Why do you wear that awful thing, that awful thing on your back?

Zeto: 'Cause that's where it's at.

Do you think this is Zeto's then-hip way of saying motorcycle gangs are the bee's knees?

Or is he being clever, responding more literally with "that's where it's at" as a response to why he wears it on his BACK?

Dot B. said...

I was in the middle of re-watching the "Kung Fu"series on DVD when David Carradine died. Although I have always considered myself a fan, it turned out that there was a lot I did not know about him until after his death. Since then, I have been indulging in catching up on all that I had missed.

I recently obtained "Americana" on VHS (I just could not spend the $70+ it costs on DVD). I also obtained "Endless Highway" . I had come across it before his death and put of purchasing it. When I finally decided to get it, it was at least $80. I waited for the price to come down to $50. I have read the first 500 pages, the rest appears to be about his relationship with Gail Jensen and I'm not sure, at this point, that I care about that (I think she should have kept her mouth shut when he died).

It is interesting how much from that book had been misquoted elsewhere. I have heard that DC blamed every one else but himself for his shortcomings. I don't get that from the book. In fact, I think he is tremendously forgiving to his parents for giving him one of the most horrible childhoods I have ever heard of. And he treats all his ex-wives with respect in the book (especially Jensen who was not yet his ex)The book is large, and I guess you have to be a true fan to get into it, but I rarely find a book that I feel I cannot put down and I have found this one fascinating.

About "Americana": I think the later footage is very obvious, but it was necessary to pull the story together. My poor husband, who has suffered a lot through my DC obsession, says he likes David's performance in "Americana" better than "The Serpent's Egg". I think he was brilliant in "The Serpent's Egg", but I liked "Boxcar Bertha" the best. And I have to say, after reading about each and everyone of them, I like Barbara Hershey the best out of all the women he screwed over.

It is great to have some contact with other Carradine fans. I hope there is enough of us that the powers that be feel enough pressure to make "Mata Hari" and "You and Me" accessible to the the general public.

Anonymous said...

I think David made a motorcycle movie because he and Peter Fonda were acquaintances, perhaps friends, and of the same social milieu. I remember being in one of David's places down in the Canyon where he had the American Flag gastank from Easy Rider mounted on the wall or a replica of it. I know he admired the hippie image. Some of us were a little too old but we embraced it nonetheless. You can see David did. But it's relative; he was only in his 30s.

Merrill

Anonymous said...

I worked in a movie theater in North Carolina when "You and Me" was released. I wish I'd kept the posters, stills, pressbooks, trailer, etc. It opened on a Friday and the following day, Carradine made an appearance with Skip, to perform songs before the packed house (mostly kids who were fans of the "Kung Fu" series.)

The limo arrived VERY late. I held open the entrance door to the theater for David and his entourage, and even at my young age at the time (15) was able to recognize the pungent stench of marijuana on his leather jacket, so it was clear why they were so late.

Carradine struts into the busy lobby, only to be ushered into the manager's office where a few reporters were waiting to ask some questions. Arrogantly, Mr. Carradine lays down on the manager's desk and awaits the questions. The door was shut and I missed the rest of that show, but I remember the manager later telling me what an asshole everyone thought he was.

I was able to see some of his musical performance, which was just him on a stool singing and strumming his acoustic guitar. I remember having a 45 at that time that featured two Carradine tracks from the movie, the title song and on the flip side was something like "Now's the Time to Tell", I'm not sure. It was a yellow obscure label.

During his performance, I was able to speak with Skip at the concession stand. He was very nice and impressed that I liked his film so much. Then David joined him. A little boy, maybe age 8, approached David and asked for an autograph. He looked at the kid, laughed and used some kind of profanity to him like, "I'm not signing any f***ing autograph", then walked away to the water fountain, took a drink and left. I was stunned and looked at Skip to see what his reaction was. You could see an apologetic shrug in his face, no words were necessary.

And that is my "You and Me" story.

Marty McKee said...

Thanks for the Carradine story. I think "David is an asshole" stories were common around that time. The DEATH RACE 2000 DVD has a good one from the film's costume designer.

Anonymous said...

A little known bit of trivia: the shopkeeper in "Americana" was Barbara Hershey's real father Arnold Herzstein.