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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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Dear Mr. Carney,
My name is Gopi Sait and I'm a film producer in NY.
Photo by Ray Carney
I'm Avid fan of yours and
your book "Cassavetes on
Cassavetes" sits by my bedstand as a bible and
inspiration to make the kinds of films I want to make.
Everytime I get depressed I turn to the book for ideas
and inspiration, and it totally puts the real
perspective back into life and what genuine filmaking
is all about.
I thank you for what you do to help young filmmakers
like me to reach deep down inside and find those
things that we all search to discover about ourselves.
I totally enjoy your ideas, thoughts and dialogue
about the films and what they represent to us in our
day and time.
There's a wonderful little
film that I'd like to bring to your attention, it's called ~ "indocumentados".
Written and Directed by Leonardo Ricagni
SHORT SYNOPSIS: INDOCUMENTADOS
is an intimate and spiritually evocative look at the lives of undocumented
immigrants - "those we don't
see in front of us" -
struggling to survive in post September 11th New York.
It is the story of how a bicycle destined to be
shared, brings together different people from
different cultures and religions and gives them an
enlightened promise of hope in the darkness.
I love to mail a copy of this meditational film on DVD
to you, would you consider a review?
resist a response to your "necessary experiences" response
on the letters postings on your web site. I find myself recently coming
to the opinion that I need to find a way to make enough money to be able
to have some measure of independence. Without it, I am more or less at
the mercy of whoever is in power... Long-term consequence of choices
(or rather non-choices) made long ago... Just thoughts for my own life.
I am trying to find the truth behind my self-delusions. It's a scary
process, coming face to face with what I've been trying to avoid... What
messes we deal with created by the past - by ourselves, our parents and
others! I am trying to find a way to work through them. Navigating dark,
murky waters... Hard work, looking at things that need to be changed
about oneself. None of these probably makes any sense to you, but it's
ok. I just don't want to be doomed to repeating the same mistakes over
Ray Carney replies:
Yes, the culture is designed to reign people in. To buy their souls.
That's that way it works. Faust is not fiction.
Saw this great quote by D.H. Lawrence. Passing it along to you.
»The essential quality
of poetry is that it makes a new effort of attention, and "discovers"
a new world within the known world. Man, and the animals, and the flowers,
all live within a strange and for ever surging chaos. ... But man cannot
live in chaos. ... Man must wrap himself in a vision, make a house of
apparent form and stability, fixity. In his terror of chaos he begins
by putting up an umbrella between himself and the everlasting whirl. Then
he paints the under-side of his umbrella like a firmament. Then he parades
around, lives and dies under his umbrella. Bequeathed to his descendants,
the umbrella becomes a dome, a vault, and men at last begin to feel that
something is wrong.
Man fixes some wonderful erection
of his own between himself and the wild chaos, and gradually goes bleached
and stifled under his parasol. Then comes a poet, enemy of convention,
and makes a slit in the umbrella; and lo! the glimpse of chaos is a vision,
a window to the sun. But after a while, getting used to the vision, and
not liking the genuine draught from chaos, commonplace man daubs a simulacrum
of the window that opens on to chaos, and patches the umbrella with the
painted patch of the simulacrum. That is, he has got used to the vision;
it is part of his house-decoration. So that the umbrella at last looks
like a glowing open firmament, of many aspects. But alas! it is all simulacrum, in innumerable patches.«
-- D.H. Lawrence
Ray Carney replies:
Yes, yes, yes.
See why I tell everyone to read Phoenix I and II? (See
a page or two back in my letters replies.) If you don't
already own these books, get both and read them cover to cover! I've
used this quote dozens of times in my courses. Funny story: I once
gave a presentation at a film festival about the meaning of the second
and had Rose Troche stand up and razz me about "parasols" and "meteors"!
Good old Rose. Yes, this is what it's all about. And what being an artist
is about. Lawrence understands. Thanks so much!
Subject: Cassavetes, Faces, and Dreyer
I just finished reading "Cassavetes
and I am without words. It was a deeply moving experience-- profound
on both the emotional and intellectual levels. Many of my own ideas
about film, acting, and art, I was surprised to find, were similiar
to those of Mr. Cassavetes-- only he followed them to a degree to
which I lack either the courage or skill to pursue.
I've also been reading
more of your site, and I found your analysis of symbolic and archetypical/non-specific
approaches to art to be
dead-on: it is a "high school" understanding, a trick
I often make fun. Usually, when watching some of my footage, my
will point out something amiss: for example, each of these three
characters has their own shot, and each of the shots have different
lighting. With my best psuedo-intellectual voice, I will pronounce
that it is Symbolic of the Disconnect Between the Characters and
their Levels of Understanding (TM). Symbolism is good for a laugh,
and that's all.
I've also recommended
one of my comrades to your site. He's in a contemporary culture
class and is doing a paper on the similucrum,
the copy that has no original. Though I haven't found any reference
to this directly in your work, I have found and recommended to
many useful pieces on aesthetics, cultural approaches to aesthetics,
and the difference between the sincere and facile in art.
Well, here I was, going
to talk about your Cassavetes book and I got started on something
else. Thank you for taking the time
these e-mails, and for responding to them: your responses are
full of insight, wit, and inspiration, just like the words
It was a very moving experience, almost spiritual. The only
thing I could compare it to is watching Ozu or "Umberto D." It
was the first time in a long time that I read a biography as
throughly researched as yours AND got a sense of the subject as
a man, as a
When I first tried to
watch Cassavetes's work, I watched "Faces" and "Shadows" and
tried to watch "Minnie and Moskowitz" and "Killing
of a Chinese Bookie". I was just out of high school. I thought
Shadows was okay and I struggled through Faces-- struggled hard.
After about ten or fifteen minutes, I couldn't take it and turned
it off. Later in the day, I started it again at the point where I
left off, and eventually I finished the film-- five minutes here,
ten minutes here. Something I had never done before or since. (Even
when watching a long movie like "Life and Death of Col. Blimp",
I'd rather start it over than watch it in two sittings. It
bugs my wife, but films don't have chapters just like plays
don't. It's meant to be seen in one sitting.) I was confused
by it, confounded. I didn't see the point (little realizing
that art doesn't
need to have a point, per se, to be profound or moving).
I spent the whole time waiting for the movie to start, for
the plot to kick
in. What was this? Just people babbling about Peter Piper
and other nonsense. And why did John Marley flick his tongue
at the dinner
table, and what was so funny about it? Why did the guy muss
up his hair in the bathroom?
A couple weeks ago, just
before I started reading "Cass on Cass",
I decided to try and tackle Faces again. I watched in one
sitting. I was not bored. I was mesmorized. What a difference a
Like you've said in your
writing, it requires knowledge, knowledge and experience of life.
I was a very sheltered
child (and teenager)
and eventually, I got that
experience: I learned about love and anger and life, about people.
( I don't think I'll ever understand people or have a
of common sense about
them, but I'll never cease to be fascinated by them and the things
they do.) And I started watching movies that, while not
great art, where a little
different, less about plot than about people. Movies (and books)
that studied behavior and didn't supply a pat, moral lesson.
It took me a while to train
myself-- to unlearn patterns picked up in high school,
reading for symbols and significant
prose and How It All Ties Together In the End: the point of it. I
had to learn that cohesiveness and tidiness were not the important
things. And I did that
by living, and by experiencing a wider range of works of art, and
by working against my gifts for plot structure and parrallelism
and fancy-schmancy dialogue,
to worry less about Having Something to Say or How to Say It and
people. It's much more difficult to write something now,
but I'm far prouder of the end
result, of the people I create. I love them more now, too. That's
out of the necessity of writing so slowly: it's easy when you're
quickly to be
mean and cynical and satirical about a person. But when
you're spending a lot of a
time writing something, you want to spend it with people you like,
you like them or you find ways to like them. The last film I did,
wrote before I fully matured, and I'm a little ashamed
of my hatred
for some of the characters.
But, that's how one learns.
Anyway, I watched Faces
again and I was in something of a state of shock: how could I have
dismissed this work, this seminal, important,
I was riveted to the screen. And the mechanical man bit-- THAT
was incredible. That was amazing. That touched me on such a level,
such a deep and
profound level, that I found myself surprised I hadn't noticed
it the first time.
I want to thank you for
your writing and your site. If not for it, I wouldn't have given
Faces or Cassavetes
a second look. And
thank you for
compiling and editing the words of Cassavetes, and putting them
into perspective with
your own insightful writing.
think I'm going to be getting your Dreyer book as a Christmas
present. I've only seen "Passion of Joan of Arc"-- which bowled
me over-- but I know enough from Schrader's (muddled and difficult-to-read)
book that it's
pretty different from his other work, especially his sound
work. Which of Dreyer's films would you recommend for such a Carl
Theo. virgin? Not necessarily the most
accessible or the easiest to grasp, just the ones that would
be ideal starting points? Also, what's the availability of Dreyer
on dvd? I know Criterion has
a rather pricy box set-- it's a little beyond my means at the
moment, but would you recommend that?
Ray Carney replies:
Sorry for the unconscionable delay in replying. I am clawing my
way through hundreds of unanswered emails. What's the Robert Frost
line from Servant to Servants? I shan't catch up in this lifetime
your questions: You don't particularly need the fancy pants Criterion
DVDs. Just any old Ebay videotapes will do. All that extra
stuff on most DVD sets is junk to lure you into buying it. Not necessary.
The films are what matter, not some idiot's program notes or something
I'd recommend starting with Day of Wrath, then doing Ordet, then
moving on to Gertrud. Then doing Two People. And the Passion of Joan
of Arc too of course. The David Bordwells and other art-is-its-own-self-sufficient-world
types have over-sold Vampyr. It's really overrated. Not that great.
Don't know if you can get Two People come to think of it. I got my
copy from the head of the Danish Film House, the Dreyer Archive.
It's as under-rated as Vamyr is over.
also for the kind words about my work. Though I wouldn't compare
our achievements, I'm difficult—and perverse—just the way
Cassavetes is, so it takes a little getting used to. I always try
to sail against the wind. It's the only way to go.
Gotta get to those other emails. Forgive the brevity. Keep looking
at new art. Keep changing your mind. Keep making new discoveries.
I just remembered your: "He's
in a contemporary culture class and is doing a paper on the similucrum,
the copy that has no original....." YES. YES. YES. I HAVE BEEN
WRITING ABOUT THAT FOR THE LAST TEN YEARS BUT NO ONE SEEMS TO UNDERSTAND
or worse yet, get it. The house of mirrors of contemporary life and
art. Most people live in a house that is ALL mirrors. No original
images at all. Just reflections of someone else's reflections of
someone else's reflections of someone else's reflections.There's
no there there..... Their laughter is canned. Their emotions are
processed. Their experiences are clichés. They think with someone
else's brain. But it's worse than that because that person too is
thinking with someone else's brain. And so on, mirror image after
mirror image in our culture of unreality, The culture of recycling.
The endless attempt to recreate the most imitated imitation, the
great Hollywood movie, the successful Broadway play, the ultimate
Superbowl halftime show forever and ever, per omnia secula seculorum.
O holy of holies. O hole of holes. There's a Zen koan about this
house of mirrors, this love of quotation, this need for approval,
this quest for instant identity. It's what Mark Rappaport's Scenic
Route and Local Color are about. It's what D.H. Lawrence was getting
at in the painted sun and sky quote I cite (just
above this on this page). It's what Leigh's comic figures are about—they organize their
lives around the pursuit of illusions.and their identities around
unrealities. Look at Abigail's Party. Look at Rupert and Letitia
in High Hopes. Aubrey in Life is Sweet. Sartre's waiter playing at
being a waiter. The nightmare of "referred" existence.
The quoted experience. The canned feeling. The plastic thought. The
cult of Hitchcock and Lynch. The weave of in-jokes and allusions
and self-parody in Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers. The echo
replacing the voice. The reproduction that makes the original seem
like a pale imitation. The press release that is more important than
the event. Memorex triumphant. Xerox forever. Turtles all the way
down.....We must get down to ground zero, back to the garden, the
place of truth, even if it is the "foul rag and bone shop of
the heart." Poor dear old Yeats in love.....
Subject: about "knives & other
I am a french theatr realisator, and i'm trying to find the text
the theatr pieces of John Cassavetes.
I will be really very happy if you can help me. I know that an
adaptation has been realised in Italian by Basilio Franchina for
Did east/west game was published?
Could you give me more informations about this subject. I may give
more informations about my work in France,
thank you for answer
Ray Carney replies:
As I note
on my web site letters pages, Gena Rowlands refuses to make Cassavetes'
work available. He gave me copies of almost everything
before he died, but she would toss me in jail if I started sending
them out or giving people permission to mount them. She has thousands
of pages of material she won't make available—to me, to you, to
anyone. I have offered to have this material published but Rowlands
has not pursued the possibility. So I'm afraid I can't help you.
Not good news I know.
If anyone in Paris ever invites me to come there and show the first
version of Shadows and discuss it, I'll look you up and explain more
in person. All sincere best wishes.
Dear Ray Carney,
I used to read your articles with much loathing and contempt. Almost
everything that you had to say, and more importantly the tone
in which you said it, sort of angered and annoyed me. The mere
mention of your name made me angry, in fact. I was liable to hit
things upon having read your work. Needless to say, I was irresistibly
drawn to your articles (such as "The Path of the Artist" Parts
1, 3, which served as my introduction to you) for no other reason
than my own desire to get angry at someone or something. After
all, who on Earth gave you the right to attack so many films, with
such smugness, as though your taste and your taste alone was all
Ultimately, however, what really got to me was your deification
of John Cassavetes, the films of whom, at the time, I'd never actually
seen. Regardless, who the Hell were you to write off every other
filmmaker who ever lived in favour of one guy who tried to bring
real life into the cinema? Who the Hell, Mr. Carney, were you?
And who wants to see real life in the cinema anyway?
Oh, Mr. Carney, I was wrong. I was so very, very wrong.
I'm writing to you today to tell you that I have finally seen the
films of John Cassavetes and that, finally, your work and what
you've had to say about cinema, and even, perhaps, the tone in
which you've said it, has begun to resonate deeply with me. Maybe
it was crazy of me to have written you off without having seen
any of Cassavetes' pictures (forget the 'maybe;' it was definitely
crazy), but now I've seen the error of my ways, so to speak.
I've not seen all of Cassavetes' films yet, mind you, but those
that I have seen (the first four with the rest to follow as soon
as possible) have been more enough to irrevocably convert me. I've
borrowed Cassavetes on Cassavetes from my University library and
am even revisiting those articles of yours that I wrote off so
long ago. I finally see where you were (and are still) coming from.
And not only this, Mr. Carney, but I'm actually beginning to agree
with you. It's a scary thing to admit, as you may appreciate, but
I thought that you might like to know.
Please forgive the quasi-ridiculous fervour of this e-mail, but
Cassavetes' films and method has, for the past two or three weeks,
served as a kind of a personal revelation for me, and quasi-ridiculous
fervour is sort of par for the course with such revelations. The
thing is that I was actually scared to approach Cassavetes and
his films before now; your articles, not to mention the near-mythical
aura that surrounds the man, were just so massively intimidating.
I was afraid that I wouldn't see it, wouldn't get it, wouldn't
love it. But I did and do and will continue to do so. Thus far,
at least, it's been amazing.
So, you were right about Cassavetes, Mr. Carney. For my disbelief, and for all that loathing, I offer my apologies!
Yours sincerely (and with much fervour),
Ray Carney replies:
necessary! And it doesn't bother me, since I get lots of hate mail.
And I am convinced anything that is sufficiently orginal
and different is always resisted at first.
Even Jesus had that problem.
And I'm no Jesus. And in my own life I was a slow learner too. Fought
Cassavetes' work when I first saw it, in fact. My packet of Cass.
essays has a couple stories about that. Glad you have discovered
Cassavetes. Try to make time in the next few months to look at lots
of other exciting filmmakers too. There's more in heaven and earth
than JC. Mike Leigh, particularly the early work, is another genius.
Check out Bleak Moments and Meantime and Abigail's
Party. I have
a book on him too if you are interested. Look at Jay Rosenblatt's
work. I Used to Be a Filmmaker. Human Remains. Period
Piece, A Pregnant
Moment. (Think that's the title.) Look at Su Friendrich's. Sink
or Swim is
a masterpiece. It should have won the Academy Award for Best Picture
the year it was made. Then cover the masters of course. Renoir. Ozu.
Bresson. But there's too much to say. Fare forward, voyager. You
have a great voyage of discovery ahead of you. And don't follow my
path. Or take my word for anything. Make your own way to your own
truths. Go off in your own direction and find new and different
works of art. Not the ones I have championed. New artists. New
works. They're out there, waiting to be discovered.
SHADOWS, 1st version
Sean Savage here. Hopefully
you'll remember me from the Olympia Film Festival. Presently I'm
at NYU, doing their masters program in film archiving and preservation.
The tale about the rediscovery of the 1st version of SHADOWS rivals
in excitement the one about finding THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC
in the closet of a Danish insane asylum. I've been following this
unfortunate drama, and am actually doing a project about the issues
around certain films going "out of circulation" (KILLER
OF SHEEP music rights, etc.). I want to include the first SHADOWS
and FACES as case studies and make sure I've got the latest on
'em. As you know, there's precious little news out there about
We may wait patiently
for Ruban and Rowlands to drop dead, but is their any hope for
reason out of the next generation of the family? Couldn't this
go on indefinitely? Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin had an interesting
idea about getting some video dubs circulated for "scholarly" purposes.
It may be time for an alternate means of dissemination. Do you
think that would help demystify the whole thing, or just further
infuriate the irrational powers-that-be?
Well, I know you get hundreds
of emails a day, but if you had anything to add it would be great
(It's a PowerPoint to a dozen people and a paper with some other
case studies). Maybe I'll show up in your classroom one day just
to see the damn thing.
Thanks, be well, and carry
p.s. The best part about
sneaking the Cineastes de notre temps into the box set is that
Rowlands is present in the room when Cassavetes says he doesn't
oppose screenings of the first version! But even if the whole thing
has slipped her mind, how can she demand possession of something
she insists doesn't exist?
Ray Carney replies:
for your kind words.
you've read my recent postings on the issue. Try the new Discoveries
section, accessible through the Films of John Cassavetes splash
page at the bottom, and read the second "interview"—the
one I did with George Hunka—for example. ((Click
here to go to the
interview with George Hunka.)) Also the Faces postings.... ((Click
read about my Faces discovery.)) And the "Who
owns an improvised work" page ((Click
the intended flattery of the comparison but this is really much
greater and more important than the Joan of Arc discovery. This
is a whole new film by a major filmmaker. Like finding a new Dreyer
film. Not just a better print and edit of an old one.
to some of Rosenbaum's ideas in a few of the letters responses.
Gena would take legal action if I released anything, anyhow, pirated,
surreptitious, bootleg copies or anything at all. The legal situation
is interesting (and favorable to me): Remember Sh. I was improvised.
John doesn't (didn't) own the script or the final work in the usual
way. The actors do. That was in writing when it was made. ((Click
see the new posting on that.))
moral for me is how little "right" counts when you have
a millionaire (a la O.J.) willing to hire a team of lawyers to
threaten and harrass a lowly paid opponent (me). It's not about
who's right or what's right. It's about her lawyers being able
to annihilate mine with suits and threats and letters that cost
a thousand dollars an hour to be replied to. As one of my lawyers
actually told me: "When it comes to the law, you get what
you pay for." I thought it was a disgraceful thing to say,
but she said she was just cluing me in to the way things work legally.
disappointment in the whole thing is that no scholar or archive
or programmer has rallied around the cause. Would you believe that
other than George Hunka and one or two other low level people (like
you!), no one has even asked me to tell my side of this? None of
the authors of articles (by Jonathan Rosenbaum or Adrian Martin
or Tom Charity or Manohla Dargis or anybody else—in Time
Out or The New York Times or Sight and Sound or
anywhere else) that alludes to my situation—not one of them—has
written me a single email or phoned me to have me tell them my
side of either the Shadows or the Criterion stories. How
can they claim to be interested in the truth if they don't even
ask me what happened? That's how little they are interested in
getting at the truth, let alone trying to mount a campaign against
the kind of censorship that Rowlands is exercising. There are dozens
of articles that mention the Criterion firing or Rowlands's refusal
to let the first version of Shadows be screened, but almost
all of them get the facts wrong because the writers didn't even
care enough to research the story. It says a lot about what passes
for journalism in film. A real journalist would be fired if he
or she wrote an article about what had happened to someone without
even trying to interview the person involved.
Gena started squawking, not one American film festival programmer
has invited me to show the film (which I am willing to do, as long
as it is done right, I mean not a stupid quickie screening but
a big event to discuss and present it properly). They're all afraid
of Gena I guess. So that's a lesson too. A lesson in how it's not
about who's right or what the principles of a thing are, but about
how movie stars set the priorities at film festivals. If Gena won't
attend the screening what's the point in having it? American festivals
are about celebrity appearances and ticket sales, ultimately; not
about showing the most important films.
stars are the new royalty in America. Deferred to, bowed down to,
worshipped no matter how badly they behave, even if they want to
suppress a work. Where are the angry editorials about her conduct?
Where are the outraged protests? Where are the letters or emails
to me offering support or help? It's a sad lesson in how the world
actually works. Money and power talk. Keep that in mind in your
future career. I wonder if they teach that in your preservation
My general point is that I AM able to show this film outside of
my classroom, but no one will go near it (let alone help me make
a duplicate of it) for fear of "alienating Gena." That
is the celebrity whoredom that besets our culture. To heck with
a new film. To heck with a major discovery. To heck with a harrassed
discoverer. Just don't upset a movie star! I offered Shadows I
to Peter Scarlet for free to show at Tribeca last year and he ran
the other way when he realized he might "make Gena mad." I
offered the print to the Film Foundation, but Scorsese vetoed preserving
it for the same reason. Don't want to risk "alienating Gena." I
offered it to UCLA and they told me they were afraid of "losing
her support" if they helped me with it. This is the part of
film preservation that is not written about. The suck up part.
The make friends with Hollywood movie stars part. It's not ultimately
about preserving the great works. It's about who the AFI and UCLA
want to make friends with.
Kramer is not on the hot button list, forget preserving his work.
If Barbara Loden is not, give up her work. It's about celebrity
you go into preservation, watch out that you don't cross Beatrice
Welles or the keeper of the Bette Davis estate either! It's simply
appalling to me how celebrity sets the agendas of our major film
archives and places like the Library of Congress too. (That's explained
in my Faces find description, where you can see how the
Library of Congress collaborated with Gena to suppress the discovery.) Click
here and here for
information about how the Library of Congress is more interested
in staying on good terms with a celebrity than announcing a discovery.
Hope your teacher allows these issues to be discussed. Noam Chomsky
calls it "the institutional control of discourse." And
it's a real issue. Not a figment of my imagination!
Subject: Thank You
Thank you for sending me the What's Wrong with Film Courses packet back in late
learn how to obtain it.)) You are right about skipping
movies for a year or two. I skipped them for about 5 years and now see the cinema
in an entirely new way. However, there was hope for me back when I was in film
school. I saw Schindler's List my senior year and thought it was a manipulative
piece of crap. In class, my teacher and several classmates told me to re-examine
my life to even suggest that the movie was bad. If only I knew then that I was
headed in the right direction! All I can say is keep fighting and keep pissing
people off! As you know the truth hurts.
All the best,
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