EXCLUSIVE: Keith Carradine breaks down his choice of films as guest programmer on Turner Classic Movies

Veteran actor and Oscar winner Keith gives a highly passionate, detailed breakdown of the cinematic leanings before taking over as guest programmer on TCM.


                            EXCLUSIVE: Keith Carradine breaks down his choice of films as guest programmer on Turner Classic Movies

This Monday, September 10th, Keith Carradine will take over the Turner Classic Movies channel as Guest Programmer for the evening. The self-proclaimed "TCM addict" has carefully hand-picked four classic films that will take the airtime between Monday, 8:00 PM to Tuesday, 5:00 AM EST. Keith sat down with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz to discuss the classic films he chose for the lineup, and between each of the films, viewers will get the chance to view their insightful conversations on each film.

Below is the schedule for the guest programming helmed by Keith Carradine, along with the year of release for each film (all times are in EST).

Monday, September 10 - Turner Classic Movies:

8:00 PM - 'Captains Courageous' (1937) 

10:15 PM  - 'Random Harvest' (1942) 

12:30 AM  - 'Performance' (1970) 

02:30 AM  - 'Thieves Like Us' (1974) 

Having starred in over 60 feature films and more than 30 cable and network television movies, Keith's prolific career began at age 20 in the original Broadway production of 'Hair.' Keith is best known for his role as Tom Frank in Robert Altman's 1975 satire 'Nashville,' for which he won a Golden Globe and the Oscar for Best Original Song, for writing and performing the song 'I'm Easy.'

Keith Carradine has won praise for his appearances on stage, including a Tony Award nomination for 'The Will Rogers Follies' (1991); and on television, where he was Emmy-nominated for his role in 'Chiefs.' You would have also seen Keith as Wild Bill Hickok in the HBO series 'Deadwood,' FBI agent Frank Lundy in 'Dexter' and currently, US President Conrad Dalton in the CBS political drama 'Madam Secretary,' which is all set to premiere its fifth season next month.

 

Keith Carradine (R) in conversation with Ben Mankiewicz as part of Turner Classic Movies' Guest Programmer segment. (Image Source: Turner Classic Movies)
Keith Carradine (R) in conversation with Ben Mankiewicz as part of Turner Classic Movies' Guest Programmer segment. (Image Source: Turner Classic Movies)

Keith's taste in cinema is as eclectic as his career, as is evident from the curious choice of films he picked for the evening - something I had the chance to discuss in great detail over a phone call with the veteran actor and Oscar winner. It was Wednesday morning, and Keith had just kicked his day off with two cups of strong coffee, and whether driven by the caffeine or just pure passion for cinema, the man held court on the topic of classic cinema, and the excitement and zeal with which he spoke about the four films was infectious.

Before we dove into the selections for Monday's TCM program, I quizzed Keith by putting him on the spot and shooting six rapid-fire questions. The rules were simple. Keith had to answer the questions as quickly as he could, without putting too much thought into them and he could pass if he couldn't find an immediate answer, and we would circle back to those questions. Here's what I got:

Your favorite genre of filmmaking.

"Epics. I think one of the greatest epic filmmakers of all time was David Lean. When you look at films like 'Lawrence of Arabia,' 'Doctor Zhivago, 'The Bridge on the River Kwai.' Epic filmmaking is simply great... I'm quite taken when that is accomplished successfully."

Your favorite film of all time.

"Oh boy! Depends on what day you ask me!"

Today. Right now!

"As of this moment, I would say 'Gandhi' (1982)."

The most underappreciated film of all time.

"Everything that I've ever been in!"

The most overrated film of all time.

"I don't have a quick answer for that. Pass!"

Your favorite director. Not someone you've worked with.

"It's a tough call between David Lean and Stanley Kubrick."

The best film of 2018 so far.

"Pass!"

That exchange pretty much sums up Keith's cinematic inclinations, proving why the lover of classic epics, who was a little too quick to pass on the questions about contemporary cinema, is the perfect choice for the guest programmer on TCM. Keith broke down his choices for the evening in great detail.

The evening opens with the 1937 film 'Captains Courageous,' MGM's black-and-white adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling novel of the same name, directed by Victor Fleming. The film took home the Oscar for Best Picture and starred Oscar-winner Spencer Tracy and Freddie Bartholomew. Keith's father, John Carradine (1906-1988), one of Hollywood's most accomplished and best-loved character actors from the yesteryears, plays the character of Long Jack in the film.

"'Captain's Courageous' was an obvious choice because it's been a part of my consciousness since I was a boy. My father's in the movie," Keith explains his pick. "I've always adored that film. Spencer Tracy is one of my heroes. From the Golden Era of Hollywood, he's one of the all-time greats. I love the story, it's a classic tale by Rudyard Kipling."

Keith, who is a multi-instrumentalist himself, revealed to me how the film inspired him to pick up the hurdy-gurdy, after watching his childhood hero play one in the film. "I was so inspired by it (the film) that at one point I actually found a hurdy-gurdy to play. At this little shop in northern California. So I have my own hurdy-gurdy which I pull out and play on occasion. I was entranced by Spencer Tracy playing it for Freddie Bartholomew when he was aboard the ship," Keith revealed.

Keith's second pick for the evening is yet another black-and-white classic screen adaptation from a novel. 'Random Harvest' (1942), adapted from the James Hilton novel directed by Mervyn LeRoy. It starred Ronald Colman as a shell-shocked, amnesiac World War I soldier, and Greer Garson as his love interest, who is also the main reason Keith picked the classic romance. 

"'Random Harvest' was for Greer Gerson. I had a thing for her ever since the very first time I saw her. I think she's amazing. In that movie, with Ronald Colman and Gree Garson... It's a classic romantic tale, and I'm a sucker for that stuff."

With the black & white classics out of the way, the next film on Keith's list makes a complete left turn from the theme of the evening. The third film for the evening is the 1970 cult film 'Performance.' Directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, the film stars James Fox as a violent and ambitious London gangster who, after carrying out an unordered killing, goes into hiding at the home of a reclusive rock star, played by Mick Jagger, in his debut on-screen performance. 

The film was produced in 1968 but remained unreleased for two years due to the reluctance of Warner Bros. to distribute the film because of its graphic violence and sexual content. It took even longer for the film to receive due recognition for its brave, experimental style and heavy themes.

Keith categorizes the film as a "psychedelic noir." "I think it was in the early 70s when I saw it. As I recall, I watched the film in a theater in Westwood, Los Angeles. And I was so amazed by it that I didn't leave. I sat in the theater and watched it a second time in a row. I was so taken with the filmmaking and the techniques employed, and the way the story was told. I thought Mick Jagger's performance was absolutely extraordinary. We actors, all we try to do is find a way to just be in front of the camera. That's actually a hugely challenging thing, and people don't realize how difficult that is. But I thought Jagger was masterful. And it was his first time acting in a film."

"I was fascinated by the themes explored in the film. The juxtaposition of violence versus sexuality, and what is acceptable and what isn't. I've always been fascinated by the fact that in our own society we seem to have such a more difficult time with human sexuality than we do with violence. I've always been mystified by that - why people are more terrified of sex than doing each other physical harm. The fact that it's more common to see someone's head blown off than to see two people making love. I've always been fascinated, particularly in our culture, that somehow violence is less frightening than the depiction of human sexuality. The word 'pornography' is used to describe sex, but I rarely hear it used to depict senseless graphic violence, which is truly pornographic."

"So I thought the way those two things were looked at in this film, it stands the test of time. It was very daring when it came out. I was delighted that TCM agreed with its place in history. I think it's on the AFI list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. I'm happy that they're showing it." 

"I thought it was quintessentially a film of its time when it came out.  As a society and culturally, in general, we were living through the cusp of the 60s era into the 70s. There are those who will say that culturally, the 60s didn't start till the 70s," Keith adds with a laugh.

"I just thought that film captured the scenes of that era in a particularly unique way and the way it explored the nature of morality. The mores at the time were in a state of upheaval. There was the Summer of Love starting in 1967, the arrival of birth control, things were changing very rapidly. There were also a lot of conflicts in the world at large- the Vietnam War was in full swing. There were cultural changes taking place rapidly. There were the riots of '68. The assassinations that occurred in the late 60s. Things were changing rapidly, and it seemed at times as though things were coming apart at the seams. That apparently is a recurring theme in the human condition, and here we are again," Keith adds insightfully, aptly weighing today's socio-political landscape against that of the Cold War era.

Indeed, history does repeat itself. And in this particular instance, the 1970 cult film 'Performance' manages to stay relevant in both eras, making it a true classic and not just a cult classic, one might successfully argue. Keith elaborates: "Obviously, the film is set in that moment of time, so it reflects the artistic tastes and the tastes in music of that moment. And it very much belongs to that time and place so you could call it a period piece. But by the same token, the themes that it explores are as relevant now as it was then."

"I think you would have a tough time getting that film made now. I think it was a tough time making it then. It was on the shelf for two years because Warner Bros. was very nervous about touching it. There were people who first saw it in 1968 (when it was first completed), and they were so disturbed by it. I think the way things have gone, in the last 40 years, the world has changed so dramatically. We've lived through so many cultural upheavals that the film might not have the same shock value as it did then. But I do think that the film still is as relevant now as it was then."

The fourth and final film in Keith's list is 'Thieves Like Us,' Robert Altman's ('M.A.S.H,' 'McCabe & Mr.s Miller') 1974  film adaptation of the Edward Anderson novel of the same name, which was also the source material for the 1948 film 'They Live by Night,' directed by Nicholas Ray. The film stars Shelley Duvall, and a young Keith Carradine plays an outlaw on the run who falls for her.

Keith revealed that he was hesitant to add this to the list, but since TCM requested something in which he stars, he went ahead with the pick. It's another curious choice because just a year after the release of the film, Carradine went on to work with Altman again in the satirical musical comedy-drama 'Nashville,' which landed him the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Song, as mentioned above.

Explaining the choice to pick 'Thieves Like Us' over 'Nashville,' Keith explains, "Well, only because 'Thieves Like Us' was such a personal experience. It was a much more intimate film. 'Nashville' was more like a sociological epic. There are so many characters in the film whose lives interact with each other. I wouldn't say there was a lead character in the movie."

"When we made 'Thieves Like Us,' we'd worked on one film before that ('McCabe & Mrs. Miller'). It was such a labor of love. Altman wanted to make that film, and he wanted Shelley Duvall and me to play the lead parts. It was an uphill climb at the moment. It was 1973, and neither Shelley nor I were movie stars. United Artists didn't want to put millions of dollars that starred the two of us. So it was a real uphill battle to get it made. It's always had a special place in my heart for that reason. I also think it's one of Altman's finest films. All of these factors contributed to my selecting it over 'Nashville.'"

Interestingly, 'Thieves Like Us' has no traditional score and most of the music is incidental, usually presented as coming from a radio. The technique, called 'source music' or 'diegetic music' was popularized in critically hit TV show 'The Wire,' but Altman was doing this a good 40 years earlier. Keith explained that it was the constrained budget that brought on the choice because it would have pushed the budget further to hire a composer for the score.

"I think Bob [Altman] is very inventive with the use of music and the use of sound in general. He had mastery over all the elements over what makes cinema. The cinematography, the choices with editing, location choices, production value, production design... all of that stuff."

"You know the old expression 'necessity is the mother of invention'? In the case of this film, I think Bob looked at what he had and made the choice to go to traditional source music. Basically, recordings from that era that would most accurately reflect the atmosphere being created on film and bringing that historical moment in American history to life - I thought it was genius. The way Bob pulled it off was really extraordinary."

Tune in to Turner Classic Movies on Monday, 10 September, 8:00 PM EST to catch Keith Carradine and his superb choice of four films for the night.