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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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A note from Ray Carney: As regular readers of the site know, much of the site content is devoted to questions and concerns about the value of education and the classroom experience in the American university. A regular site reader, Lucio Benedetto, sent me a link to a fascinating article on this subject by former Yale Professor William Deresiewicz that appeared recently in The American Scholar: "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education -- Our best universities have forgotten that the reason they exist is to make minds, not carerent from the culturallers."

By sheer coincidence, last spring I spoke to a group of students in several of my classes about some of these same intellectual issues (and especially about the importance of solitude and inwardness as an alternative to group solidarity and group thinking). And I have many other related mediations posted at various points on the site. (Use the search engine and enter the words "career," "university," or "education" to find them.)

A few excerpts from Deresiewicz's essay appear below, but I recommend that interested readers consult the entire essay on the journal's web site at this link on The Alar web site.

* * *

William Deresiewicz, "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education -- Our best universities have forgotten that the reason they exist is to make minds, not careers"

My education taught me to believe that people who didn't go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren't worth talking to, regardless of their class. I was given the unmistakable message that such people were beneath me.... I never learned that there are smart people who don't go to elite colleges, often precisely for reasons of class. I never learned that there are smart people who don't go to college at all.... I also never learned that there are smart people who aren't "smart." The existence of multiple forms of intelligence has become a commonplace, but however much elite universities like to sprinkle their incoming classes with a few actors or violinists, they select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic....

* * *

But if you're afraid to fail, you're afraid to take risks, which begins to explain the final and most damning disadvantage of an elite education: that it is profoundly anti-intellectual. This will seem counterintuitive. Aren't kids at elite schools the smartest ones around, at least in the narrow academic sense?... But being an intellectual is not the same as being smart. Being an intellectual means more than doing your homework. If so few kids come to college understanding this, it is no wonder. They are products of a system that rarely asked them to think about something bigger than the next assignment. The system forgot to teach them, along the way to the prestige admissions and the lucrative jobs, that the most important achievements can't be measured by a letter or a number or a name. It forgot that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.

Being an intellectual means, first of all, being passionate about ideas-and not just for the duration of a semester, for the sake of pleasing the teacher, or for getting a good grade. A friend who teaches at the University of Connecticut once complained to me that his students don't think for themselves. Well, I said, Yale students think for themselves, but only because they know we want them to. I've had many wonderful students at Yale and Columbia, bright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it's been a pleasure to talk with and learn from. But most of them have seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul. These few have tended to feel like freaks, not least because they get so little support from the university itself. Places like Yale, as one of them put it to me, are not conducive to searchers.

Places like Yale are simply not set up to help students ask the big questions. I don't think there ever was a golden age of intellectualism in the American university, but in the 19th century students might at least have had a chance to hear such questions raised in chapel or in the literary societies and debating clubs that flourished on campus. Throughout much of the 20th century, with the growth of the humanistic ideal in American colleges, students might have encountered the big questions in the classrooms of professors possessed of a strong sense of pedagogic mission. Teachers like that still exist in this country, but the increasingly dire exigencies of academic professionalization have made them all but extinct at elite universities. Professors at top research institutions are valued exclusively for the quality of their scholarly work; time spent on teaching is time lost. If students want a conversion experience, they're better off at a liberal arts college.

* * *

Students get to college, they hear a couple of speeches telling them to ask the big questions, and when they graduate, they hear a couple more speeches telling them to ask the big questions. And in between, they spend four years taking courses that train them to ask the little questions-specialized courses, taught by specialized professors, aimed at specialized students. Although the notion of breadth is implicit in the very idea of a liberal arts education, the admissions process increasingly selects for kids who have already begun to think of themselves in specialized terms-the junior journalist, the budding astronomer, the language prodigy. We are slouching, even at elite schools, toward a gorified form of vocational training.

* * *

Being an intellectual begins with thinking your way outside of your assumptions and the system that enforces them. But students who get into elite schools are precisely the ones who have best learned to work within the system, so it's almost impossible for them to see outside it, to see that it's even there. Long before they got to college, they turned themselves into world-class hoop-jumpers and teacher-pleasers, getting A's in every class no matter how boring they found the teacher or how pointless the subject.....

* * *

What does it mean to go to school at a place where you're never alone? Well, one of them said, I do feel uncomfortable sitting in my room by myself. Even when I have to write a paper, I do it at a friend's. That same day, as it happened, another student gave a presentation on Emerson's essay on friendship. Emerson says, he reported, that one of the purposes of friendship is to equip you for solitude. As I was asking my students what they thought that meant, one of them interrupted to say, wait a second, why do you need solitude in the first place? What can you do by yourself that you can't do with a friend?

.... So there they were: one young person who had lost the capacity for solitude and another who couldn't see the point of it. There's been much talk of late about the loss of privacy, but equally calamitous is its corollary, the loss of solitude. It used to be that you couldn't always get together with your friends even when you wanted to. Now that students are in constant electronic contact, they never have trouble finding each other. But it's not as if their compulsive sociability is enabling them to develop deep friendships. "To whom can I expose the urgency of my own passion?".... My student was in her friend's room writing a paper, not having a heart-to-heart. She probably didn't have the time; indeed, other students told me they found their peers too busy for intimacy. What happens when busyness and sociability leave no room for solitude? The ability to engage in introspection, I put it to my students that day, is the essential precondition for living an intellectual life, and the essential precondition for introspection is solitude. They took this in for a second, and then one of them said, with a dawning sense of self-awareness, "So are you saying that we're all just, like, really excellent sheep?"

Copyright © 2008 The American Scholar

A request for help: As I've noted, I receive hundreds of unsolicited videos a year from filmmakers from all over the world, and cannot keep up with the onslaught. A few nights ago, I dug into the overflowing pile and viewed Sam Neave's Cry Funny Happy, more or less at random, and nearly had a life-changing experience. I received his DVD long ago, several years back in fact, and didn't realize what a ticking time bomb I had sitting on my coffee table. The request: Has this movie been released? Has it been received well? Who is writer-director Sam Neave? What else has he made? Can anyone out there put me in touch with him? I am temporarily away from internet access right now so can't check for myself. Cry Funny Happy is a beautiful, complex ensemble work and contains some of the greatest acting performances I've seen in the last five or ten years in low budget indie film (especially from actors Tif Luckinbill and Amy Redford). I'd like to try to help the filmmaker or the actors if I can. Can anyone tell me more about who Neave is or where he lives? -- R.C.

Professor Carney,

I know that you receive an absurd number of emails very similar to this one, but I still feel obliged to write a sort of "thank you" note for everything your writing has meant to me. Before I was lucky enough to come across your website, Cassavetes was just another director on a long list of directors I had been meaning to watch. Now, my whole notion of what film should be, what it can be, has been tossed upside-down. You should see how different my Netflix queue looks: gone are the Lynch's, the De Palma's, the Haneke's, the Leone's, replaced with the Ozu's, the Kiarostami's, the Leigh's, the Bresson's. Just a few hours on your website has made me realize the truth about things I always knew but could never articulate, or could never legitimize because I couldn't find a friend or publication that agreed with me. Anyway, I just wanted to add another voice to the multitude of devotees who have you to thank for so much.

As far as BU trying to shut down your website is concerned, keep fighting the good fight. There are only so many places for people to go to find pure, undiluted truth.

Thanks for everything,
Jeff Killinger

Subject: Minority positions

Thanks, Jeff. You're right. There is a lot of "received knowledge" out there. A lot of cant. A lot of bumper-sticker thinking. The directors on your first list make fake art. They rely on shock or some other kind of trick to hold people's attention. Shock and violence and narrative twists are great artificial stimulations; great ways of making people think they are having important emotional experiences. These artists tart up ordinary ideas with fancy stylistic gimmicks and narrative shocks. The fancy name for imitation art is kitsch. And kitsch thrives in a culture where real art is so rarely encountered. We're all so hungry for a deep experience that when Tarantino or the Coen brothers -- or the filmmakers you mention and dozens of others -- give us even a bad imitation of it, something just a little different from the ordinary dreck that mainstream filmmakers offer, we become absurdly grateful.

I can't blame the ones who don't understand what real truth looks like in a work of art. It's harder to process than it is when it appears in kitsch. It can be confusing. It doesn't stand out as an italicized meaning the way it does in kitsch. It's not necessarily metaphoric or symbolic. It usually, God help us, doesn't have ANYTHING to do with tritely fashionable issues like race, class, and gender. Real artistic truth doesn't plug into those sorts of cultural cliches. It may be strange or unpalatable. It probably won't make sense to a viewer at first. In short, it's different from the culturally sanctioned, easy-to-read, non-threatening meanings you get in Citizen Kane or so many other fashionable works that are taught in the American classroom. But those cliched ways of making meaning are the most "artistic" way of making meaning that most people know. My point is that these viewers just don't know what to look for. They are doing their level best (many of them professors of film or graduate students studying film; many of them people I know). Our culture is so full of substitutes for thought that when real thinking, real creativity comes around, they don't even realize it. They don't know what real creativity looks like since they so seldom encounter it or hear it discussed in class.

Yesterday I did a unit in class on DJs -- you know: the guys and gals who spin disks in clubs and make surprising, wonderful, beautiful mixes. I was trying to show my students that ART -- AND THE ARTISTIC IMPULSE -- CAN BE ANYWHERE. It's not all high culture. Or even "adult culture." It can happen in a club at 1 AM to the backbeat of the Clash or the Cure. But even the DJs talk about how FM radio and iPod downloads and people who want them to play "requests" cramp and limit their programming and are mistaken for creativity by the club rats. Art is always the minority position. But there's nothing wrong with that. All of virtue, all of morality is in the same minority position. You can't look to popularity to judge anything's importance. In fact, popularity is almost always wrong. There are some things we don't vote on to decide if they are right or wrong. Jesus knew that. Buddha knew that. Moses knew that. Every great religion understands that. Keep taking the road not taken.


Jeff Killinger replied:

Thanks so much for the response. That unit you did in your class about DJs sounds interesting; I could have certainly used a professor like you. I just got my degree in English a couple years ago, and my professors were more interested in emphasizing the importance of scansion or spending whole classes rehashing the plot of Mysteries of Udolpho. One of my Shakespeare professors would read Juliet's lines in a piercing falsetto, and I'm still glad I switched my major from Film.

"Bumper-sticker thinking" is a great way of putting it. I can't count how many arguments I've gotten into where my adversary reduces his position to a soundbyte he pulled off the evening news. Our attention spans are so fragmented that we can't even focus on something of the greatest importance for more than a minute. I'm afraid that I'm a product of my environment: even my emails to you contain four-sentence paragraphs, then on to the next topic...

In this type of culture, where kitsch thrives (as you said) as a result of the desolate artistic landscape, where do you turn for information on new artists? Or news in general, for that matter? There's probably an answer in your mailbag; I'll look through it in a bit. I'm just having a hard time finding a journal or website that searches for truth, no matter where it hides, without also celebrating mediocrity. Even news magazines that I've respected in the past can't help but reference pop culture or celebrity news in every issue. The pseudo-intellectuals are so keen to prove their superiority that they can't help themselves from picking at the cultural waste, instead of leaving it where it belongs.

Anyway, I noticed that I forgot to mention some of the main reasons I wrote my original email. I recently finished Cassavetes on Cassavetes, and underlined or highlighted so much of the book that I might as well reread the whole thing. Also, you've inspired me to throw my old, hackneyed half-finished screenplays into the trash (where they belong), and remember the pleasures and frustrations that come with writing poems, short stories and plays. Thanks again,


A few more reflections on the classroom experience (see the first selection on this page and many other pages on the site for much more on this subject). This was submitted by a former student of mine about his/her current experience teaching film as the culmination of an AP art history course at the high school level. There are lessons to be learned here. Deep and important lessons, and they go far beyond high school. What do want from our art? Why are we afraid to see ourselves in certain works? Why are we so addicted to flattery, so fond of looking good? What would an unsentimental work of art that was devoted to love look like? We have many works about fear and danger and powerlessness; but why do the works about love turn into junk like Mama Mia! and popular songs? Why do we treat love so poorly, and why do most so-called "serious" movies avoid it altogether? What would a "really true," a "really honest and unsentimental" work about love look like? A separate, different question: What is it for an artist to show love for characters and their situations in his or her work? How can an artist not just depict love, but demonstrate it in a work? How rare that would be. How would an artist do that? Not create suspense or fear or another simpler emotion in the viewer or listener, but love for the characters or their predicaments? (Hint toward an answer: Read Shakespeare's Henry V or Henry IV, part 1 or 2. Look at Rembrandt's paintings. Look at Frans Hals's paintings. Look at the novels of Henry James. Look at the films of Abbas Kiarostami and John Cassavetes and Mike Leigh.) -- R.C.

Subject: Teaching openness to the "whatever" generation

In the last three weeks of my AP Art History course, I thought I'd delve into film. The kids, mostly high school seniors, are all so interested in film, so I thought I'd give them a taste of what film could do in the hands of masters, or artists like Rembrandt or Sargent. Of course, they all wanted to watch Magnolia or American Beauty or Fargo or There Will Be Blood. No way, I said, we supposed to be beyond that now, we've studied art for a year, so let's see what true artists can do with film. I hope you don't mind, but I copied your lecture to high school students on film and had them read that and we had a discussion about it. (A note from Ray Carney. This lecture, which I delivered to a group of high school students several years ago, is available on the site. Use the search engine in the left margin of this page to find it, using "high school" in quote marks as the search term.) As usual, all but a couple of them were intrigued by what you had to say. "Jeez, it's only movies," most said, but I'd grown used to this. "Jeez, it's only a painting... so why are you making such a big deal over it? I mean, are they going to ask us this stuff on the AP Exam?" or, "it's not even pretty, why do you think it's such a great painting?" Why don't they think their souls, their hearts, their liberation is important? Why don't they get excited about exploring other possibilities or being and knowing? Why are they so obsessed with what's "pretty"?

Anyway, I started off with something easy, Ghost World. We discussed it today. Sadly, many of the responses didn't surprise me. Enid's a bitch. They're all losers. Seymour's a buffoon. I still remember that elderly gent in one of the classes I had with you where we watched True West and he said something to the effect of why did have to watch this play about a couple of losers. But one girl, only one, said the film was about love. It was about how people struggle with very little guidance to make a connection, to find love, who for whatever reason, for a moment, let go of their cynical, ironic posing, who are able, however clumsily, to embrace a moment of love and compassion for another human being. She said if they would be honest, the rest of them could see themselves in all those characters. But no one wants to admit not knowing or being confused. Of course, everyone else looked at her like she was crazy. I interjected at that moment to answer a question they had been dogging me with all year. They kept asking me about what was beautiful, why didn't I talk about beauty, and so I said, yes, she's right, and you know what, this film was what I think is beautiful. It doesn't have any postcard sunsets, swelling violins, or any of that Hollywood glitz, it's just what it is, people trying so hard to love and be loved, trying and failing, but all the while discovering what it is to be alive, to be human. One guy laughed, I mean, really, laughed at me. He said the film and the people were just stupid. And he's mister "Ivy League," perfect SAT scores, going to Tufts, a real wiseacre. Some others shook their heads in agreement. But that one student, the girl, held me steady. I felt a quiet joy that I had reached one.

It's wonderful but sad at the same time. Out of 18 students, only one -- well, a few were silent, so I don't know what they may have thought -- felt any compassion, or had the courage to speak of her feelings. Why are people so afraid to feel, to explore, to accept? To see themselves as they are -- as opposed to seeing themselves as a super gangster or Iron Man? But I guess if you're Iron Man, you don't have to feel, right, you can deflect any chance of being seen as vulnerable or insecure or unsure of yourself. I mean, Ghost World was supposed to be the easy film! I couldn't help thinking of you and what you've been trying to do on such a larger scale, the raw courage it takes. That one icy peal of laughter sent chills through me. But anger, no, just sadness and compassion. And I thought the young were supposed to be adventurous and open, not so black and white, so Manichean. I swear, often it's the elderly folks I talk to who seem more open and embracing than the young ones. I suppose that's why other cultures revered their seniors, while we box them up and hide them away in nursing homes or "senior living" compounds. (omitted personal material) And I've been watching Su Friedrich's work as well. I loved Sink or Swim, I loved watching how she worked out her love for her mother and father, for herself. I actually cried at the end. I seem to be talking a lot about love these days, in all my classes. I'm sure my students think I'm nuts, but it all comes down to that, doesn't it, love. Maybe Lennon was right -- Love is all there is. Thanks for your inspiration and example.

With love and gratitude.

Name withheld

A note from Ray Carney (and a thought experiment): There are two fundamentally different ways to understand the human condition. In the first view, individuals are affected by and controlled by institutions and cultural organizations of knowledge and forces larger than themselves. In this view, our identities are "constructed" by the society in which we live, and our problems are caused by (or solved by) the social systems around us (sexism, racism, classism, fascism, liberalism, etc.) In the second view of the world, individuals largely create their own identities and destinies. Their problems, if any, are caused by themselves, not by their culture or society. Their imaginations and their emotions create their unhappiness, their discontents, their spiritual crises -- not society. There are many different consequences to the two understandings of life. The first view of our lives focuses on cultural and social systems and asks us to change them; the second view focuses on our hearts and souls, and says that if we would change our world and our lives, we must change ourselves. The first view is sociological; the second view is religious. The first view creates victims; it creates the culture of complaint that we live in and that the media focus on and write stories about. The second view says that each and every one of us is ultimately responsible for our own fate, our own life, our own soul. Our problems, if any, are self-created, and their solutions are up to us. We have no one but ourselves to blame.

The films of Ken Loach might be taken to illustrate the first way of understanding the world and our place in it; the films of Mike Leigh might be taken to illustrate the second way. First question: Which view is closer to your own? Which filmmaker shows you a world that you recognize? Which is the way you view yourself -- the sociological or the religious?

Second question (and thought experiment): Compare two "victim works" that are both representatives of the first view of life. Compare Ken Loach's Ladybird, Ladybird with Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest. Both films depict an individual beset by systems and powers beyond individual control. Both films show a world of superpersonal forces which the individual has very little power to fight or triumph over. What are the similarities and the differences between Hitchcock's and Loach's works? Specifically, what is the difference between the non-particularity of Hitchcock's vision (it's generic, cartoon, abstract, allegorical quality) and Loach's socially specific, institutionally and personally particularized narrative? The two films are both expressions of the first view of life, but they are as different as night and day. What are the differences? Why do they matter?

I believe these are extremely important questions, or I would not be asking them. I invite reader responses to both questions (and to the comparison of the Loach and Hitchcock films). I will publish the most interesting on the site. -- R.C.

From: Andrew Brotzman
Subject: OPENING NIGHT On the Boards

Just on the off chance you're not aware of this, I thought I'd give you a heads-up about the theatrical staging of Cassavetes' Opening Night going on at BAM later this year.

RC replies:

Subject: right you are


Guess what? I did some advising work for and saw (and commented on in a presentation) this production in Copenhagen a couple years ago. The company flew me there to look at it on stage and to do some events with the director, Ivo van Hove, since I was advising them on other Cassavetes film adaptations. (They previously brought an adaptation of Wenders's Wings of Desire to the US at Harvard's ART Theater, and I wrote the program notes for the event. They should be linked to on my web site. Search under Wenders's name.)

Ivo van Hove and this company have specialized in film adaptations and wanted to do even more Cassavetes ones. We/they wanted to do productions of Husbands and Love Streams, but the Cassavetes estate turned them down. And a few years back they also did a Faces stage production. There might be info on this on my site. Do a search under the name of the company or the director: TONEELGROEP, AMSTERDAM and IVO VAN HOVE. I'm pretty sure I have some other references to their work posted.




A note from Ray Carney: I know nothing about the following film, but as a believer in free expression I am glad to include the link. If the film is racist or sexist, don't blame me; read John Stuart Mill. He says that ALL expression is valuable; even the speech we hate we can learn from and develop arguments to refute. Censorship is the only true abomination. (I wish someone would tell that to some of the folks here! Ah, just kiddin' guys. Don't shoot me for saying it.) -- R.C.

Subject: one third of the holocaust (a film you must see!)

Hi Ray,

I'm a student at the University of North Texas majoring in film and European history, and an avid reader of your work. I was wondering if you'd had a chance yet to see a documentary available online called One Third of the Holocaust. It was banned from last year but the director has hosted it on his own website in 30 parts. It has also become available recently on google video in its entirety which you can watch here: [link removed]

I really cannot recommend this movie enough. It will probably shock you and force you to question things about the world and yourself etc. but I know those are the things which you look for in a film. You must watch this movie!


RC replies:

Thanks for the link, but my compuer is too old to access video (and I am too poor to buy a new one right now--saving my pennies). Let me know if a disk becomes available.

Best wishes.

Subject: Thesis: Dogme 95

Hi Ray

I'm sorry to see that your site seems to still be on some kind of hiatus but I hope you don't mind taking an e-mail all the same. I'm currently preparing a thesis proposal on Dogme 95. I don't think you've ever written about the Dogme movement but seeing as you are an admirer of some of the film makers-Lars Von Trier, Harmony Korine and Thomas Vinterberg all have films on your list of recommended viewing- and you must be aware of the movement, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on it.

I'm at a very early stage with the project and I'm still trying to come up with a few suggestions about what the movement was really about. Obviously it was not a list of rules that every film should abide by but I don't go along with the dismissive idea that it was just a publicity ruse by Von Trier or, as some have dubbed it, "low-budget chic". I think Von Trier was trying to achieve several things, apart from attempting to demonstrate the nature of artistic movements by taking a movement to extremes, he was, among other things, trying to challenge Hollywood's use of auteurship as a publicity tool (Tarantino springs to mind) and the really shallow use of the word "indie" as a genre (again Tarantino, or perhaps Miramax, has something to answer for). In a wider sense I think Von Trier was trying to challenge the dominance of Hollywood's sensibilities over the mindset of film makers internationally.

Anyway it would be great to hear your take on Dogme. Surely you don't dismiss it as just a publicity stunt? Also, what do you think of the fact that Von Trier seemed to purposefully make sure that it couldn't last. The Dogme Secretariat was dissolved in 2002 because Dogme had turned into a genre in itself, totally undermining the Manifesto's rule, "Genre movies are not acceptable". Von Trier must have known this would happen. If the movement were to take off, as it did, it would in a very crude way become a genre in itself. As the father of the movement, Von Trier gave himself a useful get-out clause. Was this a cop-out on his part or was he making the point that no movement in art should be permanent?

I hope this finds you well and I look forward to your reply.

All the best

Sean Plunkett

RC replies:


It's a very important manifesto and movement, more about ideas and conceptions of art than about rules.

Many Amercian indie works are Dogma films avant la lettre. They were there before the proclamation, the theory, the movement.

My friend Rick Schmidt, an important American indie, still calls himself a Dogma filmmaker, and teachers others to be, here in the USA. But he didn't need Dogma to know what's important and what isn't.

The genre film prohibition is about Hollywood. You have to read between the lines. Genre film is code for a certain kind of story-telling. Calling Dogme a "genre" is a mistake and a misunderstanding. (Sorry.) Don't let words trip you up. Use them, don't let them use you. The concepts you invoke are unrelated. Proclamations and pronouncements are fought and argued over. Never forget that none of that matters. What matters is the work. That is why I am unsure about your project. Why write about theory? To deal with theory when you could deal with art is to be trapped in the mazes of contempoary post-postmodernism. It's to damn yourself to the hell that the Dogme filmmakers were trying to point a way out of. You are yourself in this sense making your work part of a fashionable genre ("film theory"), if you look at it dispassionately. Why do that? Why prefer ideas to actions? Theories and movements to films? Oh, how fashion warps our understandings, especially in school. (In the interests of full disclosure, I have to add that BU, like every other film school, has its share of film theorist teachers and students who would love, love, love the idea you propose, and the teachers would be glad to supervise a theoretical project like the one you propose. And when you were done writing it, what would you have accomplished? Trust me, I've read dozens of these essays: You would have discussed -- in depth and detail -- no films, no works of art, no shots, no scenes, no discoveries about life or the imagination. You would have written 100 pages about ideas, movements, periods, and counter-movements, counter-issues, counter-ideas. A bunch of abstractions. Almost nothing about life and emotion and experience. Almost nothing about how art works and what it does to us. You would have avoided all the mysteries. That summarizes all that I dislike about film theory. These people have no real interest in or understanding of art. They should be teaching politics or sociology. But boy are they in fashion. Ideas are so much clearer and easier to deal with than experiences.)

Forgive the candor, but there is some truth in the preceding. Please think about why contemporary students prefer theory to experience (film experience). Something has gone wrong with our culture. Our lust for theoretical answers is part of the problem.


A personal note (and request) from Ray Carney: To the Boston University graduate Film Studies student who wrote on the final course evaluation for the American Independent Film course that he or she had a profound "opening" or deep insight into the nature of art at some point during the semester, despite initially resisting the material and fighting the approach, could you please tell me what classroom experience or screening or discussion prompted the new vision? Write me anonymously if you feel that is necessary. This is the kind of experience a teacher lives to make possible, and it would really help me in my teaching if I knew what contributed to your breakthrough (so rare and so precious in any situation, and all too rare in a lecture hall in particular). Thanks and happy start of the fall term! -- R.C.


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© Text Copyright 2008 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.