David Carradine’s death in Bangkok, Thailand was a huge shock that no one could have seen coming. It also served as another example of how the media can be all too presumptuous as to the cause of death. I have a hard time believing his death was a suicide, but that’s all I will say about it at this time. Of course, everyone is reporting on his death, and a retrospective of his career will come before we all know it. At this time, I would rather look back at a book he wrote that I read a few years ago back when I was vacationing with my family in Kauai, Hawaii…
“The Kill Bill Diary” by David Carradine is one of those books like “The Firm” by John Grisham which got me back into reading books more often than not. I go through periods, as I’m sure we all do, where I feel like I have no time to read any books at all. It can feel like you have to plan out a period of time where you can take the time to read a book that you don’t just pick up and put down. But in the end, it is not a question of whether or not you have the time to read a book. If it is important to read, you make the time. “The Lord of the Rings” may not be a book that you just pick up and put down, but you can do that with a book like this one, which gives us an enthusiastic look at the making of a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Carradine is now known as one of those actors whose career was miraculously brought back to life by Quentin Tarantino. Indeed, his performance as Bill in the “Kill Bill” movies was nothing short of brilliant. To think that Warren Beatty almost had this part instead of him is (with all due respect to him) almost unthinkable. But at least Warren, after turning down the role, had the good sense to recommend David for this role to Quentin. Best known for his role in the TV show stolen from Bruce Lee (“Kung Fu”), David Carradine ended up creating one of the most memorable villains of this past decade; One that you couldn’t quite hate, but one whose presence (even when he was not onscreen) sent shivers down your spine.
I am sure that Tarantino would prefer to be known as a writer/director who always managed to cast the right people in each movie he does. But whether he admits it or not, he managed to bring stars from the past to a new generation. In “Pulp Fiction,” he managed to resurrect John Travolta’s ailing career, and it marked one of his many comebacks in film history. Later, he went on to give Pam Grier and Robert Forster a whole new set of fans with their performances in the underappreciated “Jackie Brown” (Forster’s performance still blows me away to this day). David Carradine is one of the more recent additions to that list of actors Quentin was such a big fan of as a kid, and of whom became a star again in one of his many exhilarating movies.
All of this makes Carradine’s book entitled “The Kill Bill Diary” all the more enticing to read. Tarantino may have resurrected many a career, but this particular actor is the first one to write about that. David’s diary chronicles what lead up to him being cast in the movie as well as the making of which had its ups and downs. To see everything occurring through his unique perspective makes this book a must read for fans of the “Kill Bill” movies as well as fans of Tarantino and Carradine.
Any good writer can write a diary that puts you right into their shoes and vividly captures what they went through. Carradine more than does that with his “Kill Bill” diary as he goes from has been to an audience that was bigger than the one he had before. The book starts off with him more or less describing how he got the role of Bill, and of the state of his career before that. David had become one of those actors relegated to doing nothing but B-movies, many of which went straight to video, and who subsisted on endless convention appearances which helped keep a roof over his head. Carradine even talks about how he ended up canceling some convention appearances in order to get the part of Bill in the two movies, and of how it affected him financially. Reading about that in this day and age makes the book a bit scary. Indeed, many actors end up making their incomes from endless convention appearances, and they have been so typecast to where they cannot get work elsewhere. You can feel the depth of risk that Carradine takes to get cast, and it illustrates how difficult it is for anybody to make it in show business.
Several books have already been written about the making of a Tarantino movie (“Killer Instinct” being the most infamous) and it is entertaining to see Carradine’s perspective on that. During post-production and the training period for the actors, he captures how hard Tarantino can be on the actors. His drive to make his actors do the best work they can ends up getting the ire of Vivica A. Fox (Vernita Green in “Kill Bill Vol. 1”) who makes him ease up. I got a big kick out of reading that section of Carradine’s diary.
At the same time, David also defends Tarantino from his many critics who claim that all he does is copy scenes from classic movies and puts them into his own. Indeed, Tarantino has done a lot of that in his career, but so have Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg among others. Carradine ends up comparing Tarantino to a chef who takes all the familiar ingredients made available to him, and who ends up creating a great feast. Anybody can steal, but it takes a real talent to take something and then make it their own. Tarantino has managed to do that for over a decade now, and “The Kill Bill Diary” captures that fact perfectly.
But moreover, “The Kill Bill Diary” captures David Carradine at a point in his life where he seems to be the most relaxed with who he is as a person. At different points, he mentions how he went off the deep end with relationships and drugs and how this almost ended his life. You believe Carradine when he writes of how he has put all that behind him, and that he is more than prepared to move forward with his life. We see how he has found a happiness with his 5th wife (eat your heart out Billy Bob Thornton) Annie Bierman. You feel his satisfaction of where life is at for him, and you share his excitement as his career is revived through the making of this brilliant movie.
“The Kill Bill Diary” also features a lot of great photographs taken by Andrew Cooper, Annie Bierman, and David Carradine himself. David got a class photo of a crazed looking Quentin Tarantino which you can find on page ten of the paperback version. His wife Annie always seems to get his best side while Andrew Cooper does his best to make him look like one cool dude. David himself captures some great shots that take us behind the scenes, and he gives a look at how the actors are preparing themselves behind the scenes. The photos included here are another great reason to buy this book.
I don’t want to give too much else away as it would spoil some of the diary’s best moments. It is safe to say that any fan of David Carradine, Quentin Tarantino, or of movies in general would be doing themselves an unforgivable disservice by not reading this book. It’s not necessarily a book of great literature, but it is a fun and entertaining look at the making of a Quentin Tarantino film, and it serves as an illuminating look at an actor who is about to see his dormant acting career be born before his very eyes. At a time where I just couldn’t get myself to pick up a book (let alone listen to an audio novel), “The Kill Bill Diary” turned out to be endlessly entertaining.
David Carradine may have been in his 70’s, but that does not make his sudden death any easier to take. There is no doubt that he lived a good life, and there is also no doubt that it ended far too soon. RIP.