L.M. Kit Carson, the eclectic, fiercely independent Texas filmmaker best known for starring in the ahead-of-its-time cinéma vérité satire David Holzman’s Diary, shaping the narrative arc of Paris, Texas, and helping launch the career of Wes Anderson, died Monday after a lengthy illness, his son Hunter announced on Facebook. He was 73.
Born in Irving, Texas in 1941, Carson had a scattered youth: He spent six months in a Jesuit monastery and flitted in and out of various colleges before settling in New York to pursue a freelance work in magazine writing. In 1967 he teamed up with Jim McBride to star in the experimental, now cult classic David Holzman’s Diary, about a young filmmaker documenting his own life. (Carson wrote the script after the fact at the urging of Joan Didion, who screened the film at her house occasionally).
Through his founding and running of the U.S.A. Film Festival, where he encountered Hollywood types like Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese, Carson decided to pursue a career in movies. He shadowed Dennis Hopper while he assembled his film The Last Movie for the 1971 documentary The American Dreamer, but, in general, the only work he was finding was in script doctoring. Right around this time, though, things began to change after he met and married actress Karen Black in 1975, whom he met while interviewing her about her work with Robert Altman (they divorced in ’79).
In the ’80s, Carson wrote the screenplays to McBride’s unnecessary Breathless remake, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and helped co-write, finish and sculpt Sam Shephard’s Paris, Texas screenplay, in which he was starring with Black’s 9-year-old son Hunter. He also memorably appeared in the Sidney Lumet family drama Running on Empty as a radical activist and friend to Christine Lahti’s character.
While working on his own projects, Carson took it upon himself to mentor young filmmakers too. As a family friend of the Wilson brothers, Carson is credited for helping to get Wes Anderson’s short Bottle Rocket noticed and eventually made into a feature. A fixture on the festival circuit for the remainder of his life, Carson continued acting, writing, and working on experimental projects like his Sundance Channel partnership Africa Diary — a series of shorts filmed on his cell phone.
“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,” Hunter wrote on his Facebook page. “See you in the movies.”