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Ray Carney's Mailbag -- This section of the site contains letters written to Prof. Carney by students and artists, announcements of news, events, and screenings, and miscellaneous observations about life and art by Ray Carney. Letters and notices submitted by readers are in black. Prof. Carney's responses, observations, and recommendations are in blue. Note that Prof. Carney receives many more letters and announcements than he can possibly include on the site. The material on these pages has been selected as being that which will be the most interesting, inspiring, useful, or informative to site readers. Click on the first page (via the links at the top or bottom of the page)
to read an explanation of this material, why it is being posted, and how this relatively small selection was made from among the tens of thousands of messages Prof. Carney has received.
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Just a quick follow up from your last letter. If you're looking for
Dancer in the Dark, I think New Line is supposed to have the best DVD
available. Epidemic was released a few weeks ago by homevision, and there's
also a DVD out there of his version of Medea (from Dreyer's script).
I saw it in the theatre a while back. Really liked it. I don't know if
you want Dogville (I didn't like it very much) but the US relaes is supposed
to be good, and the edition from Nordisk (in Denmark) is supposed to
be even better. Can't verify it myself, but you can check out reviews
on DVD Beaver.com
As for Mike Leigh, Waterbearer has released two box sets so far for
his early films, but I think they are probably the same as their (cruddy)
VHS. I think Who's Who still has the same still from Grown-Ups on the
cover. He deserves better, and the discs aren't inexpensive to boot.
You can also get them as individual discs. Meantime was released by another
company, and I think the quality is a little better (I have the VHS).
If you have a region-free DVD, you might want to check out what's available
overseas Life is Sweet is available in England but not here). The British
version of Abigail's Party also has commentary from Leigh.
Also, I saw today at Masters of Cinema a link for Rouge, an online journal
which has a piece by Robert Kramer on Bob Dylan (he was trying to make
a film about him- Side note- it looks like Todd Haynes' version is gearing
up soon to do his version), and a piece by Mark Rappaport about the Paradine
Case (he writes the article as Hitchcock- I've only skimmed it). And
BFI is doing a monograph on Vampyr next year by David Rudkin, in case
Okay, I know you're very busy, so I'll leave it here. Let me know if
there's anything else you need to find and I'll try what I can. Thanks
for the recommendations- I'll try to see those films soon.
Hello Mr. Carney
I was quite surprised to see you published my letter on your site, but
My last film I made, was a disappointment. I am absolutely shocked at
chicken shit some actors are, it's a very sad story, but I have learned
At the moment I am confused and not sure what direction to take with
film. I have found out first hand why I must not copy other films, nothing
at all can come from it. The result of my final cut was fairly rambling
I was disappointed. I intend to remake it, changing the story quite a
but I just wish I could get some advice on how to approach this whole
I am starting to think that before I can do anything unconventional,
should be able to do the conventional stuff first and get good at that.
I am a big fan of Nicholas Ray and Samuel fuller and was wondering whether
or not you knew whether I should try something with a more constructed
and kind of more punch to it, go for a more conventional approach or
redo what I did before where the characters change in feeling is all
matters. You see my big concern is that I'm just gonna land up being
'Cassavetes wannabe' and not really find something that is from me.
I would appreciate your advice on the matter.
Shaun Katz from Australia.
P.S. I read a review that Stanley Kaufmann did for Mikey and Nicky -
moron. He was talking about how quirky and unusual the movie was with
'homo-erotic tones' then he republished the review a few months later
that he was wrong about his initial critisism and instead claimed it
the best American film ever made by a female director.
Ray Carney replies:
As I'm sure you realize, it's impossible to give you advice on what
or how to film. The only rule is that there are no rules!
All I can say is: tell the truth as you know, feel, and experience it
in your own life. That is the only way to be sure you will be true. Anything
else is pretend. All those crazy stories in Cassavetes' films were just
things he lived though and experienced himself. It would be totally wrong
to imitate him. But you know that.
Dig deep into you own life and the lives of the people around you. Your
understandings and reactions are what you should be putting on screen.
and Nicky is one of the best films of the 1970s. I have an essay
about it in Magill's Survey of Cinema. I didn't have to see it
twice to realize how amazing it was.
Dear Ray Carney:
I am an AFI graduate and recent
Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker, seeking a good mentor/teacher
in the art and craft of acting.
Can you recommend a good teacher in the Los Angeles area? Are there any
books you can recommend on the subject of film acting - and screenwriting?
I have read most of your books on Leigh and Cassavetes and have learned
a great deal! But here's my dilemma: it seems to me that what unites
the work of Robert Bresson, John Cassavetes, Abbas Kiarostami and Mike
Leigh is an exploration for truth and humanity in the actor's (or non-actor's)
performance. Each has their own unique approach. But I find it disheartening
when Mike Leigh, a director I admire very much, says in regards to Cassavetes: "I
find some of his work patchy - some of it very fine and some of it extremely
tedious - limited to the actor's really - spewing it out - which is the
antithesis of what I've been concerned with - getting the essence of
the real world". This leaves me somewhat confused because I hold
both of these artists dear to my heart. Ben Gazzara and Timothy Spall
are both wonderful. In regards to my training as a director competent
to work with actors (and non-actors), I hope you can point me in the
Thank you for your invaluable and important writings on the art and craft
of cinema as an expression of the human condition.
All my best,
P.S. Have you seen Kiarostami's
new documentary 10 on Ten where
he discusses film acting as he drives around Tehran? It is included as
a bonus feature on the new "Ten" DVD.
Ray Carney replies:
To respond to your second paragraph first: You can't expect filmmakers
to like all the same films you do, or even to like the right ones.
Mike Leigh is a genius level artist, but only a mediocre critic. Same
with Rappaport. Even Cassavetes. So Leigh doesn't like Cassavetes'
work. Well, Cassavetes would have hated Bresson's and Tarkovsky's.
Except it was worse than that. He didn't even know who they were. I
gave Mark Rappaport a tape of Woman Under the Influence once and he
told me it was so unbearably awful to him that he turned it off after
twenty minutes and couldn't watch any more. Moral: These guys aren't
critics, they are filmmakers. The history of other arts is no different.
Faulkner didn't like Joyce's work and Beethoven didn't appreciate Bach's.
To be an artist is to be a highly specialized individual. It is not
the same thing as being an intellectual or having wide-ranging capacities
of responsiveness to others' work. It's the same thing with my struggle
to educate Gena Rowlands about the importance of her husband's manuscripts
and alternate versions of his work. She may be a genius level actress
(and she is), but when it comes to understanding the value of her husband's
work, she's an ignoramus. (Sorry to have to say it, but I am trying
to tell you the truth.) Look at the movies she chooses to act in. Sentimental
garbage all. Well that's not really different from most other actors,
no matter how great. Lawrence Olivier's theories about Hamlet are balderdash,
while his acting is brilliant. Someone like Peter Falk is completely
clueless about the meaning of Woman under the Influence, even as he
turns in the greatest performance of his life in it! But enough on
this subject. The point is when you want art go to an artist and when
you want critical perceptions, appreciations, awareness, go to a .......
oops, I almost said critic, but we know that can't be the right answer.
Most critics are even dumber than the artists about new art. Go to
a good deep thoughtful friend.
And that leads me to a response to your first paragraph. First thing
to say is AVOID THE PROFESSORS, THE ACADEMICS, THE PH.D.S! Just because
someone has a Ph.D. doesn't make them perceptive about art. You'll
waste your time looking for professors who understand film. There are
almost none. That's because the skills that are required to get a Ph.D.
in film (mastery of arcane terminology; soul-killing research orientation;
theoretical hypertrophy; interest in abstractions; sociological reductionism;
etc.) are the opposite of what great art requires: humility, spiritual
depth, originality and freshness of response. Go to an artist. They
are much more aware of what art is than the professors. Read what Leigh
and Rappaport and Cassavetes say and write about art and then apply
it to other works. They will never lead you astray.
Or you could go to a good acting teacher. Non-Ph.D.s I mean. Non-academics.
Private teachers. They won't teach you theory of course, but practice,
acting, doing, being. But that's what matters. There are many out on
in L.A. The best way to find one is to find out who actors you know
and love study with. Who does Sean Penn study with? Who does Nick Cage?
Who does Chris Walken? Who does Christian Slater? Who does Crispen
Glover? Who does John Malkovich?
but, but—the ultimate teachers are the works of art themselves. Not
the acting teachers, not the artists, not the professors, not the
critics, and certainly not the reviewers—but the films, the plays,
the sonatas, the paintings, and all the rest. The great works of art.
Twister. Another Girl, Another Planet. Kiss of Death (Leigh's). Vampire's
Kiss. Indian Runner. Etc.
I know each paragraph contradicts each other, but to quote Tony: "That's
the best I can do, Mom."
Seldom do I regret not being properly educated. When I apprehend
and what it is - or isn't - I realize it's mostly fallacious and I
my satisfaction for not attending college. I am thirty-two years old
have lived in New York City for almost half that time. I have been
writing what I see and hear, weaving together stories for the screen
have kept me in obscurity and privation (convincingly, the very elements
which compel me to write in the first place).
I was doing research on Sunflower
Productions, an producing entity of Terence Malick's which fosters
stories outside Hollywood (anything outside
that insipid territory attracts me). The very first article of research
encountered was on your website - a letter from a Sunflower Productions
associate inquiring, with short-sight, about Mr. Casavettes' "how
and why" of movie-making. Your response to her was fantastic,
a decimating echo of
how I imagine Mr. Casavettes might respond directly. I was curious, no,
inclined to navigate your site and continue reading. At this writing,
have pieced together thirty-two pages of your thoughts about art/cinema
the unfortunate disparity between art and those who are "successful" and
have "made it" (how I loathe that term).
My correlation to academia
- and ultimately you - is this: had I attended college, I would have
wished to have you as a professor. Your thoughts,
insight and agreeable diatribes against artifice and falsities have me
thinking, confounded and yet affirmed. I have no literary representation
nor have I desired to earnestly seek it (as most "representation" champions
garbage). I live in Greenwich Village with my wife and live as close
bohemian life as our culture and capitalism will allow. I spend a lot
time bewildered at how blind and gluttonous our culture is. How they
off of the sugar-coated life presented in movies and on stage. How do
things get produced? How is it that so many people are deceived. The
mentality certainly is prevalent, especially in our country.
I feel lost and alienated. Not in life, because fortunately, my faith
defies hiding reality and masking the confusion and mess of a man that
the people that we are. I relate much of what you've had to say so far
my Christianity and how, even within that community, I am dispirited
blatant and gross lack of realness and truth. Everyone wants to be okay
seem okay and be perceived okay. That, to me, is bullshit.
Jokingly, I say to my wife that we should go to the South, open up a
hardware store, sell fertilizer and candy sticks, but then I'm sure Home
Depot would open down the street and put me out of business.
I suppose I have no real narrative
here, or point, for that matter. I am
trying to work out some things and wanted to extend my gratitude for
defiance against artifice in art. (peculiar how "art" is the
artificial). Thank you for your stance, your insight and convictions.
feel protected, in an odd way, by what little I've read. And, I feel
encouraged to continue writing the way I am and have been for most of
life. I haven't "made it" in the show business sense of the
word. But, I
am confident that I have made art, and for that, I am grateful. Like
Casavettes said, it's about pouring our life into something and giving,
seeing what we can take from it.
I wish I had gone to college and had had you as one of my professors.
maybe, instead, we can have a coffee if you're ever in New York City.
assume you're busy, but at least you're busy advocating art and not trashing
Thanks again. I don't even know if you'll read this. If not, I have
wasted my time as my thoughts are sincere and mean the same whether you're
aware of them or not.
If ever we meet, I'd welcome it.
Be well, Mr. Carney.
Dr. Carney, what, exactly,
is "scenery chewing?"
Ray Carney replies:
It's what Meryl
Streep, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, and Nick Cage (who could have been a
genius if he hadn't sold his soul to Hollywood values) make careers of
doing. It's what Orson Welles does throughout Citizen Kane. Going
over the top. Crying. Throwing tantrums. Screaming. In a word: overacting. It's worthless. It's bogus. It's a lie. Life is not all peaks. It has valleys, silences, quietnesses, smallnesses,
private intensities. The peaks and the Godawful extremity are the postcard
versions of our imaginative landscapes. Reviewers love it of course. And
it gets you an Academy Award. But it's a cheap thrill. Of course, that's
what Hollywood is all about.
Re: Our Class Featured In
Remember when I was a student
of yours and you let that pompous ass who directed Boondock Saints, Troy
Duffy, come into the class and talk to us? Well, if
you do, you may also remember that he had his friends
there with him filming a documentary about him. My
friend Neal Block (also BU class of '01) just saw the
finished documentary in New York and the scene in our
class room has made it into the movie. The finished
movie is called Overnight.
Basically his friends realized
how ridiculous this guy Troy was and have turned it into a movie offering
up as a sort of example of how to become an awful
person/filmmaker/musician. Neal cites one laugh out
loud moment where, in our class room, Troy says, "Most
of you in this room will never make it. (he starts
pointing at students) You'll never make it. You'll
never make it. And YOU will definitely never make
it." When he gets to that last YOU he points at Elon.
I'm not sure if you remember Elon.
Anyways, the movie's playing at Film Forum right now
and hopefully it will get Boston distribution. I
thought someone at BU should know about this.
Thanks for the head's up, Ryan. Of course I remember Troy Duffy. What a donkey.
I appreciate your telling me about the film. A surprising number of people have seen it and written me about it. Hundreds. It amazes me how many viewers certain films reach. Even stupid, idiotic ones. (All we have to do is look at Hollywood for proof of that.) But don't worry: no one at BU has mentioned it or is likely ever to see it, since (with the exception of my courses) indie films are not really that important here or viewed by most faculty members in the film program. So we'll just keep it our secret, ok?
Ryan and Ray,
My friend from Thinkfilm, the company that's releasing
OVERNIGHT, told me that the film is opening at the
Kendall Square on 11/26.
Ray Carney replies:
Ryan and Neal,
I remember. And I was trying to forget! I'll have to make sure I miss
it. Seriously, thanks for the info. I think. : )
i dare to write you because
i am looking for the scenario of A woman under the influence. in france,
we can only find movie's traduction
and i think it's very bad...
i've the project to bring
to theater an adaptation of the movie. i really admire John Cassavetes,
Gena Rowlands. My big wish is to bring
them, and all the characters they have built around them, on stage. i
mean i would love to see Cassavetes's reality on stage. and mostly
the work they've done together.I've spoken already with Gerard
Depardieu (he owns the movie's rights) and he's waiting for the
adaptation i've proposed to him. it would be an honor for me to bring
on stage the meaning of this film.
So, my question is : can you
tell me where can i find the scenar of a
woman under the influence?
Thank you very much for your answer,
All my greatings and admiration,
Ray Carney replies:
I have the script (actually many different drafts of it)—including,
believe it or not, several versions of A Woman Under the Influence
written to be mounted specifically as stage plays. They are qute amazing.
They were gifts to me from John before he died, but Gena would throw me
in jail if I sent you copies. If you think that's a joke or an exaggeration
see my web page urls:
You'll see I'm not kidding! Summary: Gena Rowlands is waging a campaign
in retaliation for things I have done and written that she doesn't agree
with: specifically for 1) my not agreeing to turn the first version of
Shadows over to her to destroy or suppress and 2) for my telling the
truth about John Cassavetes' life and work. (She is terrified of the
truth and focused on covering it up and denying it.) So she is retaliating
against me for revealing things she doesn't want revealed. Her treatment
of the Shadows and Faces finds, and her insistence that Criterion remove
my name from the Cassavetes box set are an attempt to shut me down.
taking legal action against me for finding and attempting to screen
the first version of Shadows, and I just can't handle any more
legal harassment, so I'm sorry, I can't pass the screenplays or plays
John wrote on to you. That would surely turn into one more thing she
would get the lawyers to hammer me with.
But I don't understand why you need the script. You have the film. Why
not use that as your script and do a better French translation? Surely
it wouldn't take much work to transcribe and translate it. I do much
more work than that when I write a book about John's work. Work is good
for the soul. It's good if things don't come too easy. But of course
you will still need Gena's permission to mount your translation as a
stage play. I have her address and phone number but she has told me I
am not allowed to give them out. But ask Gerard Depardieu. He surely
While you're talking to Depardieu, ask him if I would be willing to
attempt to persuade Gena to let the first version of Shadows be screened
in Paris. I'd love to show it there! She needs to hear it from someone
else. She won't listen to me. I have given up on trying to persuade her.
Quick note: Gena and Peter
Falk were on Fresh Air yesterday. Also I assume that you heard that
Gena, Ben, and Peter Bogdanovich were on Charlie
Rose. I was gonna watch, but when the first sound bite from Gena came
on as a preview: "Shadows, John's first film, was completely improvised" I
decided to not watch it. I went and read Crumb comics instead. He is
at home in the muddy water.
The tapes are available for download on their sites.
Hope you are well.
Ray Carney replies:
My computer is too old, my hard drive too overloaded, and my modem
too molasses slow to access such
sites. Translation: I have so many unpublished manuscripts clogging
it up that I don't enough free space to download audio or video.
So I'll have to remain in the dark I guess. If you ever cut a CD of
either appearance, pass a copy onto me. I get lots of emails that tell
click on links and download things, but I never can. Just too technologically
behind the broadband curve.
So Gena was
on both Charlie Rose and Fresh Air? I take the moral to be that when you're
a movie star, you can get on anything you want to promote anything you
choose or even nothing at all. Journalists will do anything to accommodate
a movie star. The whoredom after celebrity. These same shows—and
about twenty others—wouldn't even return my calls when I volunteered
to talk about the Cass on Cass book or wanted to announce the discovery
of the first version of Shadows..... I know I know I must have
been out of my mind even to ask. I don't even have a publicist!
Subject: John Cassavetes Criterion
Dear Mr. Carney,
I had planned to email you to let you know that I have been wearing
out a copy of Cassavetes on Cassavetes since the summer (is this available
in hard cover?). I won't go into my usual raptures about your books
(especially this one) and bore you and so on. To keep it simple, it
is great. I am learning so much from it and I find it so inspiring
from a humanistic point of view. This book has been like a bible to
me. It is rich in life lessons and philosophy. You could teach a course
on how to live life from it.
Ok, now I need to get to down to business here. I haven't been on your
site in a couple of months, and I came accross the news about your
battle with Criterion and Gena Rowlands. I am so sorry to hear about
what Criterion did and what GR is doing. After writing to you back
in June, I was actually thinking about finding out how I could write
to her (Gena) and possibly converse with her (as I had with you) about
John Cassavetes and his work. I guess there is no point now. It's probably
better I don't.
I am saddened about this news and disappointed by Criterion and GR.
I didn't know about the Criterion release other that seeing a listing
of it on Amazon as "John Cassavetes: Five Films". I assume
that this is/was the collection? After reading the two interviews you
gave, I now realize what a loss this is (it's not my intention to rub
salt in any wounds) for you, me and everyone. I know that if I knew
that you were at work on this project, I would have been bothering
you every month for updates on the release of the set. Without a doubt,
it would have been incredible to hear your voice over, see still photos,
liner notes, etc. Knowing your work, the richness and depth of what
you must have put into this collection would be second to none.
Mr. Carney, I wish there was something I could do to help. I really
do. I actually wanted to say that the first time I sent you an email.
This assistance is from the point of view of helping spread awareness
of the work of JC, towards art vs. mainstream Hollywood product. How
we are brainwashed by commercialism and have lost the ability to think
and feel for ourselves. How I could possibly do this, I have no idea,
as I am certainly not an authority or a scholar on this subject. I
am just someone who wants to delve a little deeper than the next person.
Now the issue seems to be Censorship, and the irony of where it is
coming from, in this instance. I do support your view and your actions,
as truth is the heart of the matter and in the end, the truth is all
If you feel I can be of assistance, please let me know.
Yours Sincerely and in support,
Ray Carney replies:
Thanks for the kind words. And the offer to intercede. I've already
tried everything I can imagine: from groveling apologies for any misunderstanding
to offers to give her the film if she promises to do the right thing
by it and not suppress it. But I've gotten nowhere. Even today, November
2004, Rowlands still (!!!!) denies there ever was a first version, treating
what I found as if it were a piece of embarrassing, junky rough footage
that deserves to be destroyed. And she hates that I tell the truth about
parts of Cassavetes' life that she wants to suppress. So her way of retaliating
is to call in the lawyers, to try to censor my work, and to get me fired
from the Criterion project and my name erased from it. So thanks for
the offer, but if she won't listen to someone who has spent two decades
celebrating, promoting, the singing the praises of her husband's work,
she certainly won't listen to you.
supporting my attempt at truth-telling. The world is so full of lies
and hypocrisy and deceit—particularly
when it comes to dealing
with the rich and powerful—that it shocks many people that I would
tell the truth about a movie star. I was talking on the phone with a
friend of Gena's recently, and she told me she thought it was "outrageous" that
I would dare to criticize her in public. But that's just what I call
the Norma Desmond world of Hollywood. The world of the Academy Award
acceptance speech where everyone so totally sucks up to everyone else
that they lose sight that there is anything called truth.
Rowlands is attempting to destroy my reputation and work. What she's
retaliating for is not only my not agreeing to turn the first version
of Shadows over to her, but also the truth-telling of my writing. She
is striking back for things I have written that she doesn't want said.
She is terrified of the truth about John Cassavetes' life coming out
and devoted to covering it up and denying a lot of it, and I am not not
playing along with her or allowing her to censor my work the way she
would like to. That's what it's about. Her treatment of the Shadows and
Faces finds, and her insistence that Criterion remove my name from the
Cassavetes box set are an attempt to silence and discredit me.
been pretty rugged. She has taken me to the cleaners legally. Tens
of thousands of dollars to defend myself from her attempts to seize
the print. How I hate lawyers! And her stupidity. For that's what it
really comes down to. To make things worse, an Iago figure named Al Ruban
is manipulating her. Feeding her all these lies. He's had it in for me
for years and this is his way to get me once and for all. But if she's
dumb enough to fall for it, the fault is still hers in the end.
Don't worry about me. I'm a survivor. And don't worry about the first
version. I will go to my grave before I'll turn over the print of Shadows (a beautiful, polished, finished work of art) to Rowlands to be destroyed.
I don't care what it costs me to hold onto it. This is for eternity—the
next generation and John's memory.
P.S. I posted
a new set of pages with a lot of the info on the "Ray Carney's Discoveries"
button on the bottom of the Films of JC section. (Click
here to go to that section of the site and then click on the items
in the top menu.)
From Ray Carney:
at least ten emails a day asking me to: 1) recommend movies to view; 2)
provide information about obtaining a video of a particular film; 3) send
the writer a copy of a film; 4) give my views on a trendy new film. I
often give the following reply, which I hereby share with all readers
who are about to write me in that vein. In hopes that this will cut down
on the "what movie to look at" queries:
advice. Skip movies for a year or two. You're being tricked by ads into
thinking your life is not complete without them. That they matter. That
you have to keep up with the hamster treadmill of hot releases. Hooey.
Ridiculous. If you never saw another movie for the rest of your life,
you'd be missing nothing. There are plenty of other arts to feed your
soul. And most of the works are a thousand times greater than all but
the very greatest films. With very few exceptions, maybe only one or two
films a year—some years fewer than that—movies are junk, trash,
idiocy, wastes of time. Read novels, short stories, poetry. Listen to
good music (classical not pop). Go to museums. Go to dance concerts. Study
real art. It will bring joy to your life, beyond anything a stupid movie
can do for you.
Re: Question about literature vs. film
From: Livefree XXXX @aol.com,
After reading through much
of your website and through one of the books I ordered and received a
couple weeks ago (the one containing "The Path of the Artist"
here to find out more about that material—I'm
itching in the most diabolical way to ask you a question.
Knowing that your schedule
is prohibitive, I'll get right to it: I was especially taken by the ten
suggestions for film makers included in the book. While the raison d'etre
of your writings I've read is film, so much can be applied to other pursuits,
but I just have to ask: do you have any similar suggestions tailored to
writers, specifically fiction writers, who are moved to try and live up
to the challenges you pose? And who do you feel has really nailed it on
the written page (I have a suspicion that Henry James may well top your
list, but I'd be curious who'd you'd suggest as good, solid examples).
I've always believed writers have it a hell of a lot easier than filmmakers,
as thousands of books get published annually while so few films ever see
the light of a projector, but better public access carries increased responsibility
to do something truly worthwhile. And still, when I try and look around
and make a list of contemporary writers who are really onto something
these days, I can name Denis Johnson (who is to me, lit-wise, as Cassavetes
has been to you, film-wise), Robert Stone (sometimes, mainly early on),
a few more if I'm thinking clearly, and then the list begins to rapidly
Anyway, I ask because I'm certain that your website gets hits from a
significant number of people like myself who derive a load of inspiration
from what they find there, but may not necessarily be chasing down their
visions on film. And hearing your opinion on the subject would be supremely
Ray Carney replies:
The best way
to find out the writers I'm crazy about are to look at my course syllabi,
a small number
of which are included on the site (see
the About Ray Carney: Course
I teach my passions. My work is made up of my obsessions. There's really
no other way to go This
spring, for example, I am teaching a "four twentieth century masters
of the short story" course that focuses on Eudora Welty, Stanley
Elkin, John Cheever, and Joyce Carol Oates. Last year I taught James
and Hawthorne. Other years I've taught dozens of other writers. They
are all ones I love. Plus hundreds of others other people at Boston U.
teach: Chekhov, Turgenev, Wordsworth, D.H. Lawrence, Emily Dickinson,
and a zillion others...... But there's no end to the list, so I'll have
to stop there....... My list grows like Topsy. It doesn't "dwindle." (Just
But there is too much to say. I get this question or some variety of
it a lot. I'll try to find some of the lists I've sent to other questioners
and post them on the site somewhere for you to find.... like an Easter
Egg. (Hint: look in the letters section!)
All best wishes.
P.S. I always have liked the New Hampshire license plate motto: Live
free or die. Too many people do the latter, alas.
I found a few
earlier replies (cut and pasted from emails to others):
short stories; Stanley Elkin's Greatest Hits or Dick Gibson Show; Faulkner's
The Hamlet; Emily Dickinson's poems; Melville's
Moby Dick; Emerson's Circles, Fate, Experience; Henry James's The Sacred
Fount and Awkward Age (two hardest novels ever written); Thoreau's Walden;
Hawthorne's Short Stories; Berlioz's Memoirs. Ask me any other time,
the list would be completely different, but those are on my mind right
Sound and Fury, Robert Lowell's poetry, Welty's One Writer's Beginnings,
Eliz. Bishop's poetry, Emily Dickinson's poetry, D.H. Lawrence's
Phoenix I and II, William James's Pluralistic Universe and Essays in
Radical Empiricism, D.H. Lawrence's poetry, D. H. Lawence's short stories,
start with volume 2 in the Viking Compass edition, vol 4 (something
like 1895-1903) of the Library of America edition of Henry James' short
Shakespeare's Othello and Antony and Cleopatra, Proust's Recherche,
Whitman's L of G. Unlike the hustlers who populate the film world,
these guys don't
have publicists working for them, shilling for them, convincing people
that they have to know their work to be considered fully alive, which
is why people aren't lining up to buy their books on Saturday night.
Our culture only promotes what makes money, money, money. And these
folks are low margin. You can't make six hundred million dollars off
But that's just our screwed up values. Our messed up way of measuring
things. What any one of them is doing is greater than all of Academy
Award movies ever made, greater than the work of all but five or ten
of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived. That's why its so ridiculous
that Charlie Rose rushes to interview some movie star while these books
sit in bookstores, largely ignored (not counting the college students
who are forced to skim them or skim the Monarch Notes version in a
must read the two Alices: Alice Munro and Alice Adams. Especially the
amazing Munro. Her Open Secrets, The Moons of Jupiter, The
Progress of Love, Dance of the Happy Shades, Lives of Girls
and Women, and all of the other books are astonishing—so deep
in their knowledge of life, so brave in their refusal to make human relationships
simpler than they are, so strong in their understatement.......
greatest novel ever written: Henry James's The Sacred Fount. Staying
in the flow of its language is a test of your intelligence. Not
James's—yours! Do you fail or pass? Do you avoid the stupidity
of the essays that have been written about it? Every essay I've read
wrong, wrong. Promise me you won't read anything about it by anyone
else. It will only pollute your mind. Study this voice, this range
The central character is the greatest, noblest, most deeply sensitively
aware of all of James's creations. But if you've been there done
that, go to The Awkward Age and The Ambassadors and let me know what
think of Longdon and Strether. What amazing creations of consciousness.
to thee Henry, the greatest writer who ever lived. (No offence meant
to Bill Shakespeare—and Marcel P., but move over guys, can you hear
footsteps, can you feel the heat?)
.... Charles Darwin of course, and a good organic chemistry text
too, and maybe something by Christian DeDuve. Bruce Alberts's
Molecular Biology of the Cell is a great beginning for beginners.....
are the sacred texts—and I don't mean the Bible,
the OED, or Shakespeare's plays. The great visionary scriptures,
seeings. But I'm sorry I can't share them with anyone by email.
We don't know each other well enough and some things are too
out in the light, too fragile to be touched with bare hands,
dangerous to be opened without sufficient preparation and warning.
You need a
course of study before you go there. Don't take it personally.
I don't even
talk about them with my friends. Some things are meant to stay
private. But you can find them on your own if you stay very
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