What critics and reviewers have said about
Ray Carney's The Films of John Cassavetes

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The Boston Globe “A Cinematic Maverick”

Over the past ten years, in a torrent of essays, articles, and interviews, Ray Carney has established himself as one of America's most brilliant and merciless critics of the American film establishment in all of its crass commercialism—from the producers and directors who package “star vehicles” to maximize profitability, to the distributors and exhibitors who see to it that the same ten titles play at every multiplex from coast to coast, to the television, radio, and print journalists who all too often function as mindless extensions of the studio ad campaigns. His sharpest barbs, however, have been reserved for the academic critics and university film programs that give Hollywood the sheen of intellectual legitimacy by bringing its celebrities into the classroom and its movies into the curriculum.

Of course, we've heard much the same thing in the past decade from neo-conservative image-phobes like Allan Bloom, William Bennett, and Hilton Kramer, all of whom apparently equate the rise of the movies with the fall of Western civilization. But what makes Carney's critique completely different from theirs is that Carney, a professor of American studies and film at Boston University, does not despise movies. His complaint, in fact, is not that film reviewers, critics, and college teachers take movies too seriously, but that they don't take them seriously enough. In Carney's view, if they really cared about the art of film, they wouldn't waste their time being trash collectors in the ghetto of pop culture genre studies.

Yet being a nay-sayer is too easy. The hard thing is to show how do it right, to say what you would put in place of what you are criticizing. That is why it is a special event, every few years or so, when Carney publishes a book that illustrates what film study and analysis can be at their most visionary and inspiring. Carney is clearly a born teacher, and here as in his four previous film books his vast learning (which takes in a wide range of American art and philosophy) and his obvious love for his subject seem almost enough to win figures like Bloom, Bennett, and Kramer to the cause of film study.

Every page of The Films of John Cassavetes is informed by the passion of a man on a mission to change the way movies are thought and written about. Carney has an extraordinarily exalted view of the function of cinematic art. Film is, for him, neither escapist entertainment and recreation (as many journalistic reviewers regard it) nor an intricate stylistic game played off to one side of life (as most film professors treat it), but a way of exploring the most important and complex aspects of the human experience. What he writes about Cassavetes' work here summarizes his approach to all of the films he cares most deeply about: “[Cassavetes'] films explore new human emotions, new conceptions of personality, new possibilities of human relationship. He explores new ways of being in the world, not merely new formal 'moves.' His films are not walled off in an artistic never-never land of stylistic inbreeding and cross-referencing. Cassavetes gives us films that tell us about life and aspire to help us to live it.”

While most film scholars are haggling over the date when deep focus photography was invented or how many shots are employed in the shower sequence of Psycho, Carney roves over the entire history of American film—from Griffith and Capra, to Welles and Hitchcock, to Kubrick, Altman, and Allen—and addresses ultimate questions of meaning and value. One of the most exciting aspects of this book is the impression it conveys that absolutely everything is open to reappraisal and revaluation. In a series of extended analyses, Carney takes up many of the canonical figures in American film history and offers stunningly new and controversial reinterpretations of their work. Orson Welles's Citizen Kane is criticized for its “rhetorical tendentiousness” and stylistic flamboyance, and judged to be an example of “kitsch modernism.” Hitchcock is taken to task for the “shallow mystifications,” emotional manipulativeness, and denial of physicality in his films. Even Robert Altman, currently the darling of many contemporary critics, is knocked for the superciliousness, snideness, cynicism, and negativity of his work.

Cassavetes, the no-budget, maverick independent, is the book's heart and soul. In his characteristically iconoclastic way, Carney argues that Cassavetes was the greatest genius of recent cinema, and unapologetically positions his films (which include Shadows, Faces, Husbands, Minnie and Moskowitz, A Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Opening Night, and Love Streams) alongside the work of many of the most important nineteenth- and twentieth-century American writers, artists, musicians, and philosophers. Not the least innovative aspect of Carney's writing is the degree to which it is radically interdisciplinary, and he sketches a series of strikingly original (yet persuasive) connections between Cassavetes' work and that of other American artists and thinkers: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry James, John Singer Sargent and Willem De Kooning, William James and John Dewey, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, George Balanchine and Paul Taylor. Since Cassavetes' achievement is still virtually ignored by academic film scholars, Carney is undoubtedly aware of the apparent outrageousness of the claims and connections he is urging. But I'm sure that is one of the reasons he wrote the book. His goal has always been to overturn academic apple-carts, to rock institutional boats, to gore intellectual sacred cows.

The Films of John Cassavetes echoes with the cadences of Emerson, one of Carney's most resonant intellectual sounding boards. As I turned the pages, almost holding my breath at moments, startled by the depth, power, and unexpectedness of the argument, emotionally suspended between exhilaration and fear, I found myself remembering one of my own favorite Emerson quotes: “Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk.”

The San Francisco Review of Books  
“Any reader of [The Films of John Cassavetes] will be driven to reassess any notion they have ever held about the cinema.... Carney invites us to be as emotionally open as Cassavetes' figures and snap out of the Hollywood-induced trance of critical detachment in order to clear the space between heart and mind.”

Newport This Week  
“[The Films of John Cassavetes] digs deeper into the soul of works by the late John Cassavetes than anyone ever has, and it offers a challenging, interdisciplinary approach to analyzing film form and text.... [The Films of John Cassavetes] will, no doubt, also please the inquisitive movie buff who seeks a well-rounded analysis of a provocative body of work that has left an indelible mark on the American film scene.”

Carole Zucker in Film Quarterly  
“Shortly after the death of John Cassavetes in 1989, I organized a panel in his honor at an upcoming Society for Cinema Studies conference. To my chagrin, the call for papers elicited only three responses—one from noted Cassavetes scholar Ray Carney. The incident is emblematic of the way Cassavetes has been elided from the film studies canon, for reasons that have as much to do with the nature of Cassavetes' films as with the present constitution and leanings of the film studies community.... As an unrepentant auteurist, Carney asserts [in his book] that Cassavetes “is not only one of the most important artists of the twentieth-century, but that the originality of his work was what doomed it to critical misunderstanding.” Carney views Cassavetes in adversarial relationship to what he calls the “visionary/symbolic” film. By this he means films which foster fixed, detached, intellectual ways of knowing.... The characters...have an essentially contemplative relationship and existence....”

David Sterritt in The Christian Science Monitor 
“Carney's approach to Cassavetes is shaped by the depth and discipline of scholarly analysis, and also by the out-and-out enthusiasm of a movie-lover writing about some of his favorite pictures.”

The following scholarly review of my Cambridge University Press critical study of Cassavetes’ life and work indicates the academic marginalization of his work that existed as recently as 1996. As far as the academy was concerned, seven years after his death, Cassavetes was still an almost unknown director:

A book review by Wheeler Winston Dixon, Professor of Film at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, published in The Journal of Film and Video, vol. 48 (Spring/Summer 1996), pp. 88-94.

Carney, Ray. The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism and the Movies (New York and London: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

John Cassavetes’ work as an actor in such films as The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Fury (1978), and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is well known, along with his numerous appearances on television series of the 1950s and ‘60s. What is less known is that Cassavetes, from 1957 on, was far more interested in the work he could accomplish as a director than as an actor.

It was as a director that Cassavetes felt he accomplished his most important work; as an actor, he would appear in almost anything that would help him pay the bills to support his art, because the Hollywood studios were unremittingly hostile to his directorial vision. Ray Carney’s The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism and the Movies is a long-overdue tribute to this great artist, whose works have been generally neglected by both the critics and the public. Meticulously researched and superbly detailed and indexed, the book emerges as a deeply personal and warmly engaging study of the filmmaker as an artist.

Before his death in 1989, Cassavetes directed a series of memorable films on shoestring budgets, starting with Shadows (shot in 1957 and released in 1958, then completely reshot and re-released in 1989) and continuing on with Faces (shot in 1965; released in 1968), Husbands (shot in 1969; released in 1970), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), A Woman Under the Influence (shot in 1972; released in 1974), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (shot and released in 1976, then recut and re-released in 1978 “in a completely reedited” version [(Carney 314]), and Love Streams (shot in 1983, released in 1984).

Carney argues that, as a body of work, Cassavetes’ completely “independent” films (as opposed to Too Late Blues, A Child is Waiting, and even Gloria [1980], to my mind the most interesting of his “studio system” films) “participate in a previously unrecognized form of pragmatic American modernism that, in its ebullient affirmation of life, not only goes against the world-weariness and despair of many twentieth-century works of art” but further, precisely because of their unconventional structure and content, resist “the assumptions and methods of most contemporary [film] criticism” (i) which emphasizes formalist concerns over humanist ones.

The author cites the directorial style of Welles, De Palma (who directed Cassavetes in The Fury), Hitchcock, Capra, Coppola, Griffith, and others as mechanisms of control and stylistic elegance, as opposed to the “pseudocumentary” (77) approach employed by Cassavetes, which used rough, hand-held camera work, directly recorded sound, available or minimal lighting, and meditational editing that lingered on the characters long after the tension of a conventional “scene” was dissolved.


For this unconventional approach, Cassavetes paid dearly. During the director’s lifetime, his eight most personal films (Shadows, Faces, Husbands, Minnie and Moskowitz, A Woman Under the Influence, Chinese Bookie, Opening Night [shot in 1977, released in 1978, then withdrawn and released in 1991], and Love Streams) were ruthlessly marginalized by poor distribution and phantom availability in 16mm or video formats. Even now, Husbands, Minnie and Moskowitz, and Love Streams are unavailable on videotape (28). None is available on laser disc.

This inadequate distribution insured that the films would never reach the public at large; confined to “art house” openings in major metropolitan centers, Cassavetes’ films were never given the chance to attain any kind of commercial success. But, then again, given their problematic structure and subject matter, did Cassavetes ever have a hope of reaching a general audience? As the director himself observed, “All my life I’ve fought against clarity – all those stupid definitive answers. . . . I won’t call [my work] entertainment. It’s exploring. It’s asking questions of people” (184). He realized that certain people would like a more conventional form [in cinema], much like the gangster picture . . . they like it ‘canned.’ It’s easy for them. They prefer that because they can catch onto the meanings and keep ahead of the movie. But that’s boring. I won’t make shorthand films. . . . I want to shake [the audience] up and get them out of those quick, manufactured truths (282).


This responsive, humanly chaotic visual style is directly at odds with conventional cinematic framing, giving the viewer of Cassavetes’ films “unbalanced relationships, mercurial movements, unformulated experiences slopping over the edges of the frame, bubbling over the intellectual containers, breaking the forms that deliver them to us” (91). Resolutely noncommercial and anti-narrativistic in the best sense, Faces is nothing so much as a working out of Cassavetes’ view of human fallibility as a visual as well as a situation/social dilemma. the characters in Faces are grandiose and theatrical, yet they are one with the audience, so ordinary and unexceptional that we embrace them out of a common bond of shared experience.


In [Minnie and Moskowitz], as in his other works, Cassavetes asks his audience continually to revise their interpretation of both the events and the characters they are watching on the screen and, above all, never to become complacent viewers of the human experience. According to Carney, this unwillingness to rely upon cinematic convention sealed Cassavetes’ commercial doom . . . the supreme challenge of his work is directed at the viewer. [His audiences must] keep tearing up each of the understandings that emerge in the course of the film in order to remain fresh. Like the characters, we must open ourselves to a state of not-knowing (138).

Carney argues that this open-endedness, this lack of solid ground, is a fact of existence of the human experience. Yet nearly a century of cinematic practice has trained us to accept only the knowable, to follow a certain trajectory, to have faith in certain patterns of narration, to believe that events will move to a certain, predictable closure. This reliance on the moment, this willingness to embrace the inexpressible, to allow for the constant shifts in tone that make up, as Cassavetes puts it, the “life . . . [of] men and women” (139), also alienates a good number of professional critics in their responses to his work. If a situation can’t be trusted, then who’s to say that any resolution of a scene is more reliable than any other?

That’s just Carney's point here – there is no solid ground, there is no ultimate authority. Life continually moves away from its mooring, seeks new paths, refuses to do what we expect (and/or desire) of it. Only in the movies can we escape to a predictable narrative “logic.” Nor does Cassavetes’ visual style call attention to itself in an attempt to concretize and stabilize the narratives he allows to unfold. As the author states:

According to Carney, most avant-garde films don’t arouse the degree of resistance from a viewer or a critic that Cassavetes’ work does because they implicitly marginalize their own insights. They stylistically contain the dangers dramatized; they do not release them into life. Their assaults are formal, their fragmentations are stylistic, their disorientations are intellectual. Cassavetes moves avant-garde imaginative disruptions off of the screen and into the world (134).

Carney demonstrates that for Cassavetes, it is not the practice of distanciational cinematic technical devices that is the hallmark of his work – it is his embrace of the erupting and unexpected narrative shifts of existence, told in a self-effacing, nonpyrotechnical style, that holds the viewer.


Carney compares The Killing of a Chinese Bookie with Citizen Kane, but points out a critical difference between the two films and the aesthetic premises of the two directors:

Unlike Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie criticizes PR forms of human relationship without collapsing into PR forms of presentation. . . . It shows the fatuousness of Cosmo’s quest for contentless stylishness, charm, and elegance without itself playing the same game in its visual and acoustic effects. . . . Welles’s work is organized around a contradiction. He was guilty of the very thing he indicts in his protagonist. He was in love with stylistic razzle-dazzle. He was captive to rhetorical flourish and grandiosity. [Cassavetes] in contrast gives us an art devoid of gorgeousness and forms of acting that reject melodramatic enlargements. . . . He creates an art that repudiates stylistic virtuosity and special effects.” (230-31).

The result is a film that is dark, murky, and altogether harrowing, a view of life as a series of lies, manipulation, frauds, and tawdry spectacles. At 135 minutes in its first version (1976), and even at a reduced 108 minutes in Cassavetes’ 1978 recut, the world of Chinese Bookie is one of unrelenting nightmare, the embrace of tinsel and flash as the emptiness that lies behind the creation of packaged performance, Cosmo’s world is unendurable, except that by documenting it, Cassavetes has forced us to witness that which is simultaneously fascinating and appalling – the death of humanism created for mass consumption.


As Carney demonstrates, Cassavetes showed us the multivalent possibilities of existence as we are forced to live them on a daily basis, without resorting to tricky camera moves or self-conscious editing, without following predictable narrative scenarios, instinctively eschewing the easy way out. Cassavetes’ work exists beyond the boundaries imposed by conventional narrative cinema – it even exists beyond the supposed freedom of the avant-garde.

At its best, Cassavetes’ cinema is raw, unvarnished, and deeply positive. If we can just see things pragmatically (as the title of Ray Carney’s book suggests), then perhaps we can live without delusion. Cassavetes’ deeply undervalued films are the personal testament of a director who paid for his art with his body (as an actor) and who compromised his artistic integrity. He emerges in The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism and the Movies as one of the most important and essential American directors the cinema has given us; certainly the films he directed constitute a cultural legacy of which any creative artist would justifiably be proud.

© Wheeler Winston Dixon and The Journal of Film and Video. Copyright 1996. All rights reserved by the copyright holders.

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What young filmmakers and students have said about Ray Carney's The Films of John Cassavetes

“This book changed my life. It wasn't a pretty experience, either. I argued with it. I dismissed it. I fought it tooth and nail. But in the end, reading this book and seeing the films it discusses represented the single most important educational, emotional, and artistic experience I've ever had. I tell you, the thing is a mental a-bomb. I broke down. It literally caused me a crisis of the faith regarding everything that I thought I knew or held dear about filmmaking, and maybe even the world. I lost friends. Not only does this book chronicle in deep, loving detail the films, working methods, and world-view of one of the most important (yet underappreciated) filmmakers in American cinematic history, it is a manifesto, articulating and illustrating an entirely original and brain re-wiring theory of flimmaking, present in the films of John Cassavetes; a theory at odds with 99% of the films EVER MADE. Everything you though you knew is suspect in the glaring light of Ray Carney's prose. Forget Citizen Kane. Forget Casablanca. Forget Vertigo. They're like fingerpaintings next to a Picasso. Neither lightweight nor academically verbose for its own sake, Carney's tone is as friendly as if he were chatting with you over a beer, yet what he says is nothing short of revolutionary. It was simple: I was blown away. Finding precedent for Cassavetes' work in the long-standing American Romantic tradition of Walt Whitman, Emerson, William James, John Dewey and others, Carney's book gives film its proper due as the greatest 20th century artform. An artform, it suggests, still in its infancy. What Cassavetes' films did to me was simple and profound — they showed me a new way to experience the world. A new attitude. A new awareness. Carney did the same thing, articulating those ways, and celebrating them with the reader. I read a lot of film books, but this is the beat-up, dog-eared one I go back to time and time again. No plain-Jane film text is as insightful or inspirational. Read it and you will never be the same again. I wasn't.”
—Matthew Langdon (Mlw8330@aol.com)

"I'd like to corroborate Matthew Langdon's review (above this one). I had the advantage of having Ray Carney as a professor at Boston University. By some stroke of genius (probably by administrative accident), all entering film students were required to take a survey course from him on film art before taking anything else. Carney started with warhorses like Hitchcock's "Psycho" and made the roomful of us (vocally) do exercises during the screening that exposed the highly polished but rather ridiculously superficial artifice of the "classic film". We all thought he was crazy. Here was this man -- that one friend described as a combination of Andy Warhol and Orville Reddenbacher -- unsubtly undermining a number of the most globally revered films! He then paraded a host of highly experimental films (many from the library of Congress that practically noone outside of a Carney class has ever or will ever see) before us that were appallingly difficult and often downright confrontational. It's pretty safe to say that practically none of us really "got it" until long after that semester, possibly years. At some point I did. Carney loves film just like we all do, however he had recognized something that we (and, most likely, you, too) had not, that film can be so much more than anything we had imagined (or yet been exposed to). That's largely what he wanted to show us in this class. Film is still a nascent art, highly immature in scope and depth. So far, Cassavetes -- one of the EASIER filmmakers Carney introduced us to -- is one of the handful of film artists that has done something deeply new with the form since its inception. If you develop an interest in Cassavetes, you will find this book essential, and you will return to it after every screening."
—Martin Doudoroff

“I have been involved in cinema for nearly 15 years. In that time I have not placed much value in the books that have proclaimed to have such a strong knowledge on film theory and criticism. But there is one book that stands out for me. This book not only delves into the mind of one of America's most brilliant filmmaker's in the last 30 years, but also offers invaluable insight into the birth of the true independent cinema. Raymond Carney is considered the foremost authority on Cassavetes, and this work clearly shows his prowess in this area. Carney delves deep into the language and imagery of this great filmmaker, showing how his characters were constantly at the center—and not the emphasis on great camera set-ups, or brilliant lighting. Carney gives us the critical analysis that is so vitally needed. A great relief from the candy-coated Pauline Kaels, Vincent Canbys, and Roger Eberts who tend to get all the press in this area. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is serious about independent filmmaking.”
—Christopher Brown (cbrown@designmedia.com)

“A vital and inescapable work of film criticism. One of the best books I've ever read about anything. A deeply resonant investigation into the life's work of American Cinema's greatest explorer. The book faces every major convention in film studies and with the deft precision of its argument turns each of them on its head; it challenges the reader to discover for themselves what film is ultimately capable of as an examination of our lives. Heretical, unorthodox, and superbly written. Carney is the strongest and the most imaginative film critic in the English language.”
—Christopher Chase (chasecj@yahoo.com)

The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism and the Movies by Ray Carney has fundamentally changed my relationship to art. The book begins with the most eloquent and precise shredding of current Hollywood filmmaking and then proceeds to give incredible insights into Cassavetes' filmmaking methods. Each sentence paves new inroads to understanding Cassavetes as one of the great artists of the twentieth century. I have learned more about acting, editing, and writing from Carney's brilliant analysis of Cassavetes' most important films than from any other book (filmmaking books included). This book is absolutely essential to anyone who is struggling with expressing our inner turmoil—as with all watershed works it teaches you about life much more than just the apparent topic of Cassavetes' films.”
—Lucas Sabean (lsabean@bu.edu)

“Carney offers an utterly convincing critical analysis of the great artist's work. The author compares Cassavetes to Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Dewey in consciousness-shifting ways useful to anyone interested in media, culture, philosophy, and art. Now, Carney, the leading Cassavetes expert, MUST (I hope) offer the definitive biography of this great artist: clearly one of the most original, courageous, and mature American filmmakers. See Cassavetes' work on video (A Woman Under the Influence and Love Streams are absolutely wonderful; shockingly good), and then read this book. I heartily endorse it and sincerely hope for that definitive biography. Viva Cassavetes (and Carney)!”
—scott693@hotmail.com from Los Angeles, June 9, 1999

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And, for a role-reversal, John Cassavetes on Ray Carney
(in a letter to him)

“Energy bursts out of your writing. I've been thinking about you. The unknown adventurer. Blasting forth through concrete. Blast them. Then love them. Then blast them again.... ”

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John Cassavetes: Autoportraits

On Ray Carney's Autoportraits (Cahiers du Cinema)
“A beautiful coffee-table sized book of b&w and color photographs of the Cassavetes' friends and family. Also an introduction by Ray Carney. Photos by Sam and Larry Shaw, and beautiful they are too. An expensive but essential book. Literally do anything to own this book.....” (quoted from: The Unofficial John Cassavetes Page )

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Ray Carney, The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
(New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 48 illustrations, paperback, 322 pages.
This book is available directly from the author for $20.

The Films of John Cassavetes tells the inside story of the making of six of Cassavetes' most important works: Shadows, Faces, Minnie and Moskowitz, A Woman under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and Love Streams.

With the help of almost fifty previously unpublished photographs from the private collections of Sam Shaw and Larry Shaw, and excerpts from interviews with the filmmaker and many of his closest friends, the reader is taken behind the scenes to watch the maverick independent at work: writing his scripts, rehearsing his actors, blocking their movements, shooting his scenes, and editing them. Through words and pictures, Cassavetes is shown to have been a deeply thoughtful and self-aware artist and a profound commentator.

This iconoclastic, interdisciplinary study challenges many accepted notions in film history and aesthetics. The Japanese Edition of <em>Cassavetes on Cassavetes</em>Ray Carney argues that Cassavetes' films participate in a previously unrecognized form of pragmatic American modernism that, in its ebullient affirmation of life, not only goes against the world-weariness and despair of many twentieth-century works of art, but also places his works at odds with the assumptions and methods of most contemporary film criticism.

Cassavetes' films are provocatively linked to the philosophical writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James, and John Dewy, both as an illustration of the artistic consequences of a pragmatic aesthetic and as an example of the challenges and rewards of a life lived pragmatically. Cassavetes' work is shown to reveal stimulating new ways of knowing, feeling, and being in the world.

This book is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your local bookseller, or, for a limited time, directly from the author for $20 (in discounted, specially autographed editions). See below for information how to order this book directly from the author by money order, check, or credit card.

Clicking on the above links will open a new window in your browser. You may return to this page by closing that window or by clicking on the window for this page again.

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Ray Carney, Cassavetes on Cassavetes (Faber and Faber in London, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux in New York), copiously illustrated, paperback, approximately 550 pages. Available directly from the author for $25.

Cassavetes on Cassavetes is the autobiography John Cassavetes never lived to write. It tells an extraordinary saga—thirty years of film history, chronicling the rise of the American independent movement—as it was lived by one of its pioneers and one of the most important artists in the history of the medium. The struggles, the triumphs, the crazy dreams and frustrations are all here, told in Cassavetes' own words. Cassavetes on Cassavetes tells the day-by-day story of the making of some of the greatest and most original works of American film. —from the “Introduction: John Cassavetes in His Own Words”

Click here to access a detailed description of the book and a summary of the topics covered in it.

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Cassavetes on Cassavetes is available in the United States through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and in England through Amazon (UK), Faber and Faber (UK). It is also available at your local bookseller, or, for a limited time, directly from the author (in discounted, specially autographed editions) for $25 via this web site. See below for information how to order this book directly from this web site by money order, check, or credit card (using PayPal).

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Ray Carney, John Cassavetes: The Adventure of Insecurity
(Boston: Company C Publishing, 1999), 25 illustrations, paperback, 68 pages.
This book is available directly from the author for $15.

  • New essays on all of the major films, including Shadows, Faces, Husbands, Minnie and Moskowitz, A Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Opening Night, and Love Streams
  • New, previously unknown information about Cassavetes' life and working methods
  • A new, previously unpublished interview with Ray Carney about Cassavetes the person
  • Statements about life and art by Cassavetes
  • Handsomely illustrated with more than two dozen behind-the-scenes photographs
Click here to access a detailed description of the book.

This book is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your local bookseller, or, for a limited time, directly from the author for $15 (in discounted, specially autographed editions). See below for information how to order this book directly from the author by money order, check, or credit card.

Clicking on the above links will open a new window in your browser. You may return to this page by closing that window or by clicking on the window for this page again.

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Ray Carney, Shadows (BFI Film Classics, ISBN: 0-85170-835-8), 88 pages. Available in the United States in August 2001. This book is available directly from the author via this web site for $20.

“Ray Carney is a tireless researcher who probably knows more about the shooting of Shadows than any other living being, including Cassavetes when he was alive, since Carney, after all, has the added input of ten or more of the film’s participants who remember their own unique versions of the reality we all shared.”—Maurice McEndree, producer and editor of Shadows

“Bravo! Cassavetes is fortunate to have such a diligent champion. I am absolutely dumbfounded by the depth of your research into this film.... Your appendix...is a definitive piece of scholarly detective work.... The Robert Aurthur revelation is another bombshell and only leaves me wanting to know more.... The book movingly captures the excitement and dynamic Cassavetes discovered in filmmaking; and the perseverance and struggle of getting it up there on the screen.”Tom Charity, Film Editor, Time Out magazine

John Cassavetes’ Shadows is generally regarded as the start of the independent feature movement in America. Made for $40,000 with a nonprofessional cast and crew and borrowed equipment, the film caused a sensation on its London release in 1960.

The film traces the lives of three siblings in an African-American family: Hugh, a struggling jazz singer, attempting to obtain a job and hold onto his dignity; Ben, a Beat drifter who goes from one fight and girlfriend to another; and Lelia, who has a brief love affair with a white boy who turns on her when he discovers her race. In a delicate, semi-comic drama of self-discovery, the main characters are forced to explore who they are and what really matters in their lives.

Shadows ends with the title card "The film you have just seen was an improvisation," and for decades was hailed as a masterpiece of spontaneity, but shortly before Cassavetes’ death, he confessed to Ray Carney something he had never before revealed – that much of the film was scripted. He told him that it was shot twice and that the scenes in the second version were written by him and Robert Alan Aurthur, a professional Hollywood screenwriter. For Carney, it was Cassavetes‘ Rosebud. He spent ten years tracking down the surviving members of the cast and crew, and piecing together the true story of the making of the film.

Carney takes the reader behind the scenes to follow every step in the making of the movie – chronicling the hopes and dreams, the struggles and frustrations, and the ultimate triumph of the collaboration that resulted in one of the seminal masterworks of American independent filmmaking.

Highlights of the presentation are more than 30 illustrations (including the only existing photographs of the dramatic workshop Cassavetes ran in the late fifties and of the stage on which much of Shadows was shot, and a still showing a scene from the "lost" first version of the film); and statements by many of the film's actors and crew members detailing previously unknown events during its creation.

One of the most interesting and original aspects of the book is a nine-page Appendix that "reconstructs" much of the lost first version of the film for the first time. The Appendix points out more than 100 previously unrecognized differences between the 1957 and 1959 shoots, all of which are identified in detail both by the scene and the time at which they occur in the current print of the movie (so that they may be easily located on videotape or DVD by anyone viewing the film).

By comparing the two versions, the Appendix allows the reader to eavesdrop on Cassavetes' process of revision and watch his mind at work as he re-thought, re-shot, re-edited his movie. None of this information, which Carney spent more than five years compiling, has ever appeared in print before (and, as the presentation reveals, the few studies that have attempted to deal with this issue prior to this are proved to have been completely mistaken in their assumptions). The comparison of the versions and the treatment of Cassavetes' revisionary process is definitive and final, for all time.

This book is available through University of California Press at Berkeley, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and in England through Amazon (UK) and The British Film Institute. For a limited time, the Shadows book is also available directly from the author (in discounted, specially autographed editions) via this web site. See information below on how to order this book directly from the author by money order, check, or credit card (PayPal). The Japanese edition of <i>American Dreaming</i>

Clicking on the above links will open a new window in your browser. You may return to this page by closing that window or by clicking on the window for this page again.

For reviews and critical responses to Ray Carney's book on the making of Shadows, please click here.

Ray Carney, American Dreaming: The Films of John Cassavetes and the American Experience (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985). $20.

[From the original dust jacket description:] John Cassavetes is known to millions of filmgoers as an actor who has appeared in Rosemary’s Baby, The Dirty Dozen, Whose Life Is It, Anyway?, Tempest, and many other Hollywood movies. But what is less known is that Cassavetes acts in these films chiefly in order to finance his own unique independent productions. Over the past 25 years, working almost entirely outside the Hollywood establishment, Cassavetes has written, directed, and produced ten extraordinary films. They range from romantic comedies like Shadows and Minnie and Moskowitz to powerful, poignant domestic dramas like Faces and A Woman Under the Influence to unclassifiable emotional extravaganzas like Husbands, The The Hungarian edition of <i>American Dreaming</i>Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and Gloria.

This is the first book-length study ever devoted to this controversial and iconoclastic filmmaker. It is the argument of American Dreaming that Cassavetes has single-handedly produced the most stunningly original and important body of work in contemporary film. Raymond Carney examines Cassavetes’ life and work in detail, traces his break with Hollywood, and analyzes the cultural and bureaucratic forces that drove him to embark on his maverick career. Cassavetes work is considered in the context of other twentieth-century forms of traditional and avant-garde expression and is provocatively contrasted with the better-known work of other American and European filmmakers.

The portrait of John Cassavetes that emerges in these pages is of an inspiringly idealistic American dreamer attempting to beat the system and keep alive his dream of personal freedom and individual expression – just as the characters in the films excitingly try to keep alive their middle-class dreams of love, freedom, and self-expression in the hostile emotional and familial environments in which they function. His films are chronicles of the yearnings, desires, and frustrations of the American dream. He is America’s truest historian of the inevitable conflict between the ideals and the realities of the American experience.

"By far the most thorough, ambitious, and far-reaching criticism of Cassavetes' work has been accomplished by Raymond Carney, currently Professor of Film and American Studies at Boston University. Carney wrote the first book-length study of Cassavetes, who languished in critical obscurity until the publication of Carney's American Dreaming in 1985.... In Carney's view, to settle the accounts of our lives, to decide once and for all, is, for Cassavetes, to tumble headlong into the abyss of nonentity upon which we incessantly verge. Carney argues that Cassavetes has re-invented the craft of filmmaking in ways that drastically alter our casual habits of film viewing. To adapt William James' terminology (which Carney is indebted to) Cassavetes' works are concerned less with the events and finished episodes that make up the 'substantive' parts of our experience and more with the moments of insecurity, the 'transitive' slippages during which our habitual strategies for understanding and stabilizing our relationships with ourselves and others cease to function in any useful way.... Carney's work with Cassavetes, placed within the context of his later book, American Vision, on Frank Capra, can be viewed as an attempt not only to further the understanding of American film, but to forge a new synthesis of understanding in American Studies, making his critical works valuable not only to film scholars, but to students of American culture generally."Lucio Benedetto, PostScript Magazine

American Dreaming: The Films of John Cassavetes and the American Experience (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1985), the first book ever written about Cassavetes' life and work, in any language. It has long been out of print but is now newly available through this web site for $20 in a Xerox of the original edition. You may order with a credit card through PayPal or through the mail with a money order. See below.


In addition, two packets of Ray Carney's uncollected essays on John Cassavetes (material not included in any of the above books) is also specially available through this web site. The packet contains the texts of many of his notes and essays about the filmmaker. Available for $15.00.

Collected Essays on the Life and Work of John Cassavetes (a packet of essays by Ray Carney previously published in magazines, newspapers, and periodicals and now unavailable). Approximately 130 pages.

A loose-leaf bound packet of Ray Carney's writings on John Cassavetes is specially available only through this web site. The packet has the complete texts of program notes and essays about Cassavetes that were published by Ray Carney in a variety of film journals and general interest periodicals between 1989 and the present. It contains more than fifteen separate pieces – including the keynote essay commissioned by the Sundance Film Festival for their retrospective of Cassavetes' work at the time of his death as well as the memorial piece on Cassavetes awarded a prize by The Kenyon Review as "one of the best essays of the year by a younger author."

This packet also contains the text Ray Carney contributed to the "Special John Cassavetes Issue" of PostScript edited by Ray Carney, including "A Polemical Introduction: The Road Not Taken," "Seven Program Notes from the American Tour of the Complete Films: Faces, Minnie and Moskowitz, Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and Love Streams."

The Collected Essays on the Life and Work of John Cassavetes is not for sale in any store, and available exclusively on this web site for $15.00 under the same credit payment terms or at the same mailing address as the other offers.The Spanish Edition of <em>Cassavetes on Cassavetes</em>


"Special Issue: John Cassavetes." PostScript: Essays in Film and the Humanities Vol. 11 Number 2 (Winter 1992). Guest editor: Ray Carney $10.

Handsomely illustrated. 113 double-column pages (50,000 words).

A memorial tribute to the life and work of John Cassavetes. Essays by Ray Carney, George Kouvaros, Janice Zwierzynski, and Carole Zucker. Interviews with Al Ruban and Seymour Cassel by Maria Viera. A history of the critical appreciation of Cassavetes' work and a bibliography of writing in English by Lucio Benedetto. The issue is illustrated with more than 40 behind-the-scenes photos of Cassavetes and his actors and contains many personal statements by him about his life and work.

This issue includes eight essays by Ray Carney about Cassavetes' life and work: "A Polemical Introduction: The Road Not Taken," and "Seven Program Notes from the American Tour of the Complete Films, about Faces, Minnie and Moskowitz, Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and Love Streams." But note that Ray Carney's contributions to the special Cassavetes issue of PostScript magazine are also available as part of the packet, The Collected Essays on the Life and Work of John Cassavetes, which contains many other pieces by Prof. Carney as well. The Collected Essays packet is listed separately above at a price of $15. But if you would like a Xerox copy of the entire PostScript magazine issue (which includes the other additional material by the other authors listed above), the PostScript issue is available separately for $10. You may order it with a credit card through PayPal or through the mail with a money order. See the instructions below.


A packet comparing the two versions of Shadows is available: A Detective Story – Going Inside the Heart and Mind of the Artist: A Study of Cassavetes' Revisionary Process in the Two Versions of Shadows. Available direct from the author through this site for $15.

This packet contains the following material (most of which was not included in the BFI Shadows book):

  • An introductory essay about the two versions of the film
  • A table noting the minute-by-minute, shot-by-shot differences in the two prints. (In the British Film Institute book on Shadows, this table appears in a highly abridged, edited version, at less than half the length and detail presented here.)
  • A conjectural reconstruction of theshot sequence in the 1957 print
  • A shot list for the 1959 re-shoot of the film
  • The credits exactly as presented in the film (including typographical and orthographical vagaries indicating Cassavetes' view of the importance of various contributors)
  • An expanded and corrected credit listing that includes previous uncredited actors and appearances (e.g. Cassavetes in a dancing sequence; Gena Rowlands in a chorus girl sequence; and Danny Simon and Gene Shepherd in the nightclub sequence)
  • Notes about the running times of both versions and information about dates and places of early screenings
  • A bibliography of suggested additional reading (including a note about serious mistakes in previous treatments of the film by other authors)

Very little of this material was included in the BFI book on Shadows due to limitations on space. This 85-page (25,000 word) packet is not for sale in any store and is available exclusively through this site for $15.



The five books, two packets, and issue of PostScript magazine may be obtained directly from the author, by using the Pay Pal Credit Card button below, or by sending a check or money order to the address below. However you order the book or books, please provide the following information:

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©Text Copyright 2003 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.