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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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Subject: Knives, The Third Day Comes and Love Streams
Dear Ray Carney,
I am writing you in the hopes that you might be able to help me find the three plays that Cassavetes put on at the Center Theater in the eighties (Knives, Love Streams and The Third Day Comes, by Allan). All three of them have been really hard to find, even The Third Day Comes. I was wondering if you might be able to point me onto the road to finding them. I would really love to find a way to put them on in a way of learning a bit more about Cassavetes and the difficulties in what he was trying to do, to help me find what I'm trying to do.
I wanted to say this first in the letter but I wanted to get right to the point off the back, but you have really helped me while I was going through school and learning what film was and is. Your books on Cassavetes, Capra and especially Dreyer really helped guide me to the right films to learn from and that could actually change me in a lot of ways. His films and life are really something to learn from in really unconventional ways. I've only just started going through the writing and interviews you've done about the Rowlands conflict and that Cassavetes documentary. Even that tension and denial has started to inform the way his work was reflected in the world and on the people involved in it in a really interesting way, in the way that all work exist in an inter-subjective time frame/spiral/flow. But most importantly the lasting effects of a drive like his.
Anyway, I wanted to say thank you again for all that and all that direction I received from you and your books. I would really appreciate even the smallest response you could give to help me find these plays because I really want to learn what they have to teach me about the moment and Cassavetes' view of the moment and time. Thank you again and I hope to talk or hear from you soon.
Please feel free to contact me any way you wish (omitted contact information).
Subject: water and a rock
Good to hear from you. Nice to meet you, even via electron! I appreciate your kind words about my writing. I get many similar emails, you might imagine, but most don't understand the other, deeper point you are making about how the current states of "denial" and "resistance" (by Gena Rowlands, Al Ruban, Seymour Cassel, and others) to my discoveries concerning Cassavetes are actually very important in helping us understand his films and career in general. Yes, as Freud was not the first to observe, resistance is a very very telling fact. Or, as I put it in an essay somewhere: "The lies tell us much more than the truth ever could have." Cover-ups are very revealing. I have had some experience with that at my own university. Considerable experience. I am currently putting the final touches on a book about that by the way. But enough on that subject for now. Suffice it to say that Cassavetes' battle was an uphill one, a battle often waged against even those who might presumably be thought to have been closest to him in spirit and art.
As a point of information, connected with your inquiry: Keep in mind that Cassavetes wrote many other plays beyond the two you mention. You don't want to limit your search only to those titles. And, beyond the plays, he left many other unproduced film scripts behind at his death, many of them even more important artistically than the two plays by him and the one by Ted Allan you name. Here's a shopping list: She's Delovely (no relation to the dreadful Nick Cassavetes - Sean Penn movie), Friends and Enemies, Dead Silent, South of North, Begin the Beguine, Son, East/West Game, Woman of Mystery, the 16-years-later sequel to Gloria, and many many others. And many treatments and a few sketches or short short stories. And there is also the Husbands novel, of course. All 413 pages of it.
To your specific question: I have copies of all of the major works named above and many others (many of them gifts from the filmmaker) but as you can piece together from the accounts on the site about her previous treatment of me, Gena would fry me, destroy and ravage and ruin me (legally and financially speaking I mean) if I started distributing copies (which as you are well aware would certainly be published -- in violation of copyright laws -- on the internet or elsewhere within nanoseconds of being sent to all of the people who have requested them from me). Or, just as bad, put up for sale on eBay. (Ah, the lure of money. Who can resist it in our culture? Do you have a single friend you could really really trust not to ever xerox this material and distribute -- or sell -- it, if you sent it him or her? I'd be hard-pressed to name anyone even in my circle of friends. People are so weak. And the twin pull of money and popularity is so powerful, so morally compromising.)
I have practically begged Rowlands on bended knee to make these written materials (and other works, including the new works and outtakes and audio material I have discovered which I have not announced) available to researchers, scholars, and the general public. I have offered to contact publishers on her behalf. I have asked her to deposit the material in a scholarly archive. I have offered to advise her on the presentation and editing of it. Etc. Etc. Etc. In short, I have done more than you or the rest of the world will ever know to try to let others see these things. But, alas, I have gotten nowhere. Nowhere. At this point she refuses even to respond to my inquiries. Even the courtesy of a simple reply to my letters is now being withheld. So that's where Gena is on the subject.
So I'm sorry to say that that's how things now stand. I'm sorry I can't be more encouraging. Or more helpful. The works I have named above (less the two you are attempting to obtain than the others I have listed) have the potential completely to change our understanding of Cassavetes' life and work. But I guess the world will have to wait longer for that to happen.
All best wishes,
P.S. Oops. I forgot to mention a whole other group of material: The early drafts of the scripts -- e.g. the play versions of Woman Under the Influence and Faces, and the drafts of many of the films from Too Late Blues through Love Streams. These scripts are often completely different from the shooting scripts and the released films, and constitute, in effect, new and unknown works by Cassavetes.
P.P.S. I taught a course a few years ago that used a lot of this material. Click on this link to read the syllabus. It may contain information of use to you.
A note from RC: This arrived in my Inbox from Hisham Bizri, a former Boston University film student (one of the best ever to study in the program) who is currently a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome. He wrote me, and we had an exchange about the difference between "Vermont wooden" and "Roman marble" winters and about the joys of teaching and being able to pursue new artistic interests throughout life and to forever keep growing. In my response, I also made a brief comment about the triviality of most films and most American film education (including the education offered to students at my own institution), and about the difference between the silliness of what passes for art in film and the true depths of artistic expression in older and more mature arts like literature, drama, music, and poetry. I wanted to share Hisham's brief reply to my comments, and especially his list of favorite films, which like everything else about him, is the product of a lot of thought and experience. (I invite readers to submit their own "top ten"lists.) -- R.C.
Yes, it is a wonderful thing to have the time to constantly grow.
Film is increasingly in decline and becoming really silly.
I keep making short films and I love doing it. I recently finished a silent film called SONG FOR THE DEAF EAR and I am working on a feature script and another short shot here in Rome. I am closer than ever to Brakhage and Max Ophüls.
I miss seeing you. You left a marvelous love for cinema in me. I am forever grateful to you. And by the way the longer I am away from you the more I understand what you were doing 20 years ago in the classes I took with you. Thank you.
Enjoy the snow. Now all you need is a good Sirk film.
I think you will enjoy my list of favorite films:
1. Arabic Series (Stan Brakhage, 1981)
2. Au Hasard, Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)
3. Gertrud (Carl Theodore Dreyer, 1964)
4. Genroku Chushingura (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1942)
5. Red River (Howard Hawks, 1946); Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)
6. Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965)
7. The Tarnished Angels (Douglas Sirk, 1957)
8. Viaggio in Italia (Roberto Rossellini, 1954)
9. Schwechater (Peter Kubelka, 1958);
Angel (Joseph Cornell, 1957)
10. Lola Montès (Max Ophüls, 1955)
Strictly for larks and laughs and fun. (However unusual the question she asks me, I love this writer's spirit and sense of humor!) -- R.C.
Subject: QUICK question!!!
Wow, I just came across your site.... YOU ARE A MANIAC!!!
AMAZING, so much to read and take in. I'm thrilled by your enthusiasm and desire to uncover and preserve the work and related information to Cassavetes' life and films.
NOW... don't worry - I don't have any longwided question about anything I can probably find the answer by reading through your site.
The DEPTH and DETAIL you go into regarding all the information, the way you connect all of it and are so thorough in presenting it... this might sound weird but, I have to know - what astrological sign are you!?
Sorry if that is weird or personal, it's not on Wikipedia. Me and my sister google people's birthdates and things like that often. I am no astrology expert but I want to take a guess... your extreme detail and passion for the truth, thoroughness and analysis makes me want to think you are a Virgo (also being one myself - I hope you are) BUT my backup guesses would have to be if not Virgo, you are a Gemini or Aquarius??
Please let me know! QUICK answer!!!
I could not find this on the internet.
I don't know what other sign would devote this much time, effort and PRECISION on such a task and life work. I'm glad you exist and am excited to learn more about JC through your site and books. Time tryeth truth. Keep fighting the good fight.
I may be a MANIAC, but (based on the energy level of your email), I must say back at ya: SO ARE YOU, Nicole! And that's a compliment! All the best people are crazzzzzzzzy! It's the only way to go. Read what I say about God's love on one of the last pages of the Mailbag for more on that subject. All real love, real feeling, real existence is--as I recently told a friend who wrote to me about seeing extreme skiing on TV --extreme living. Why should the extremity be left to the athletes? Our lives should be LIVED and FELT and EXPERIENCED the way my friend's skiers went down the slopes. The problem with most people is that they live from their heads and ideas too much, and keep their emotions under glass. So, in short: Go girl, go! And stay crazy! (Above all: avoid plugging your brain into any fashionable "ideologies"--racial, gender, cultural, or any other. They are strictly for zombies -- dead-end destinations for the brain-dead!)
To answer your question: My b-day is Feb. 28 and that makes Pisces my sun sign. A tiny wriggly flowing frisking frolicking fishy. See? It's a water sign. That's the key to understanding Pisces: flow, flexibility, freedom, movement. (Read Emerson's "Circles" for more on the liquidity of the universe. It was a little joke to myself when I posted it. Click here to read it.)
Please tell me about yourself. What are your wishes and dreams? What are your interests, weaknesses, fears, doubts, hopes? What is your point of craziness? What is your enforced sanity? Those things are all more interesting to me than facts because they represent the inner life, not the unimportant outer. But look who's getting personal now. Don't reveal anything you want to keep secret. We're all bundles of black dark holes and it's ok that we're that way and stay that way. All of life is a great mystery. Praise be for that.
There is an ongoing if sporadic thread that runs through the last five or six pages of the Mailbag relating to audience responses to different kinds of cinematic experiences. Viewers can be so stupid sometimes -- so easily manipulated with cliches, or so easily frustrated or confused by anything a little different from what they are used to. To illustrate the point, the following notes about screening experiences came in from a student I recently had in a Boston University course on indie film. -- R.C.
.... I liked the posts on Rachel Getting Married. I also just saw Milk, and when I didn't love it as much as everyone surrounding me, I started to worry that I might have actually learned something in the process of getting my film degree. Milk had more nuance than a typical biopic, certainly, but I just felt like it was Hollywood latching onto an important figure in the hopes that the film would be important-by-association. I remember you talking about this a bit in the indie film class. There were moments when I could hear the audience laughing or crying or something, and it seemed like the movie didn't earn those reactions but it got them simply because it was a movie about someone who people care about. Kind of a scam.
Also just saw Happy Go Lucky and really enjoyed it. But what I enjoyed more were the row of people in front of me who actually walked out in the middle of it and said, and this is an exact quote, "This sucks. Let's go shopping." Wait, did I say I enjoyed that? I meant it depressed me horribly.
.... I would love to see a discussion of Slumdog Millionaire. (A note from Ray Carney: see the invitation for commentary on the film on the preceding Mailbag page 121.) Personally, I think it's a sign of just how unremarkable (or maybe remarkably awful) 2008 was for mainstream cinema that what is basically a super-glossy children's fairy tale is being lauded as the best film of the year while Rachel Getting Married and Happy-Go-Lucky are dismissed as "small." At the same time, at least it is a film sort of about human beings, unlike The Dark Knight, which I guess was Product Placement: The Movie.
American indie news: Andrew Bujalski's new and eagerly awaited film, Beeswax, will receive its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February. Advice to German site readers: Skip the glitzy parties, glamorous VIP events, and glittery movie star appearances, and fight for a ticket for this screening. The writer - director of Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation is one of America's most important filmmakers and a new work by him is an important cultural event. He is taking the pulse of the young and the idealistic, painting a group portrait of what we can look forward to from the best and the brightest. Be there or be cubical. -- R.C.
Dan Schneider sent me the following quote that I wanted to share with site readers:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world;
the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.
Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
-- George Bernard Shaw
I received an email from someone asking advice on getting his work shown at a specific film festival -- one of many I make programming recommendations to. Since I don't want to jeopardize his chances of getting his film accepted by revealing his name, I am only printing my reply (slightly rewritten and edited to remove references that would identify the specific festival). The advice may be of use to other young filmmakers. -- R.C.
It's a terrific festival. I advise them on programming. But bear in mind like every fest (I know of no exceptions) they are very conservative. Aesthetically I mean. It's the kiss of death if something looks "amateurish" or "cheap" or if it looks like a "student film." I don't know about your film, but this describes most of the movies I've loved in the past ten years. Even the best of them -- if they are ragged, jagged, rough, or unkempt -- have been rejected from that fest, so don't take it too hard if yours doesn't make the cut. It's the old-fashioned desire to present "beautiful," "pretty," "well-made" art. The art museums got over it around 1910, but film appreciation is still in the grip of the 19th century cult of beauty and virtuosity. (That's why Cassavetes still loses out to the Coen brothers for the David Denbys and Tony Scotts of the world. Gorgeousness, prettiness always wins with Philistines.)
XXX is the person to write. I'm sure the address is on the site. If you send your disk in he is the one who will personally l look at it. But please, please---DON'T EVER SAY I said the fest. was aesthetically conservative! XXXX will just get mad at you and me both. That's the way the world of adults works. No one, not Bush and Cheney, or Bin Laden, or Hitler, or the people I work with can take criticism. No one ever thinks he or she is doing things wrong, has made a mistake, or is "conservative" -- in my metaphor. Humankind cannot take too much reality or truth. Write that backwards on your forehead and read it every morning in the mirror. It's the sad truth of the world and the human soul. Criticism is never acceptable no matter how constructive or noble its motives. Never!
Received this in the mail the other day. I print the research request and my reply. To her credit, I must add that the researcher wrote back and said that she understood and, to some extent, agreed with my comments and did not take offense at them. That's one for the calendar. -- R.C.
Dear Professor Carney
This is an invitation for you to take part in an academic research study on Reality Television conducted by Cheryl-Anne Whitlock, a Master of Arts research student at the University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. The study is titled Is manipulation within the construct of Reality Television ethical?
The purpose of this study is to investigate whether manipulation of the narrative, in order to tell a more dramatic story, is ethical. The research will also investigate theoretical and academic pressures imposed on the genre and compare these to the practical production process. That is, how others think Reality TV should be made compared to how it is made. The research will investigate whether there is a gap between theory and practice and if there is, how this gap might be closed to the benefit of everyone who is keen to further the success of the genre. If you choose to participate, your valuable contribution could greatly help practitioners in the field understand more clearly the role that ethics can play in the construction of Reality TV programming.
School of Journalism and Creative Writing, Faculty of Creative Arts
Best wishes on your research. But I think I'll take a pass.
Some easy and quick reasons:
1. Virtually all television is immoral, if we understand immorality as wasting our time, cheapening our lives, distracting us from what matters (the world, life, personal experience, truth), debasing our understanding of and appreciation for the sacredness, the specialness of being human. That immorality applies to virtually all American television, including the network and cable evening news broadcasts, and all but a few PBS documentaries. All but a tiny fraction of them are immoral.
2. I've never watched a "reality show" TV program and don't intend to. See number 1 for the explanation. For the same reasons, I don't watch the network or cable evening news shows either. See number 1 for the explanation.
A postscript from Ray Carney to site readers: For more on the subject of the dumbing-down of America by newspapers, television, the internet, and the other mass media, I highly recommend an essay by George Saunders titled "The Braindead Megaphone." It's a scream. And very smart. (So absurd has mainstream culture become that the most valuable insights nowadays can only be expressed through comedy. As George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, and Richard Pryor understood, the truth is so different from our customary world-view that it plays like a comedy routine.) "The Braindead Megaphone" is the title essay in one of Saunders's recent books, which should be available in paperback in any well-stocked bookstore.
Subject: Slumdog Millionaire
A few colleagues and I recently went to a screening of Slumdog. Of them, I'm the only one that frequents your site, but I know that we all have a mindset similar to yours when it comes to art. I surmise from your wording (referring to whether Slumdog is "transcendent" or just a "flash in the pan") that you consider it art either way. I see nothing exceptional in this film to separate it from the mound of "oscar contenders." Nothing to lift it from those depths and allow us to rank it alongside even the weaker efforts in this medium. What would help its cause? Surely not the insistence on tension, coincidence, the future, and anticipation. Not the poor caricatures that Boyle tries to pass of as people, including the villainous talk show host and the generic lines of dialogue. Not the snippets of Mumbai's history on display, often obscured by action and excitement. Not the contrived American couple, giving young Jamil a taste of "the real America." Not the angular camerawork (a stylistic choice, but one I'm not a fan of). A few genuinely human moments of longing and love can not overcome anything, and even those are presented in an unbelievable manner.
Those are just my thoughts. I'd love to hear yours and the thoughts of your other readers, so please do commit a page to Slumdog.
Subject: a belly laugher
thought you might "enjoy" this.
I agree, the Atlantic Monthly article is a howl. What a joke. What a sick joke. I'll never understand why Hollywood celebrities make most writers' brains drop out of their heads. What is it about being rich and famous that makes even -- supposedly -- smart people drooling idiots? And makes The Atlantic -- a supposedly smart magazine (supposedly) -- print this piece of star-struck sycophancy? Carrey as a great actor? Carrey as a courageous actor? Give me a break. What was it that George Orwell said? Something like: There are some things so stupid that only a professor (or an intellectual) could believe them.
Carrey could have been an interesting actor, but he chose to go for easy laughs and big money. So many potentially interesting American actors sell their souls the same way. Compare Nick Cage's or Christopher Walken's student work, their first films, with their work of the last decade. They sold out. Just like Jack Nicholson and Robert DeNiro did. And more recently Sean Penn is on his way to doing. Gotta pay for that big house in Malibu.
A confession: Because of the antiquated state of my home computer (and the complete absence of a computer in my office) I had to go to the library to read the article about Carrey in a hard copy of the magazine. But the result was a happy accident. While I was turning the pages, looking for the piece about Carrey, I came across an amazing article by Caitlin Flanagan about Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga, the first in a series of books about boy and girl vampires. Don't laugh. It's a beautifully sensitive, wonderfully perceptive piece about the emotional lives of teenage girls, and about why Meyer's books might appeal to teens and pre-teens. The beauty of Flanagan's observations is that they break completely free from the feminist clap-trap disseminated in most women's studies programs and the hog-wash broadcast on TV by Oprah, Dr. Phil, and comparable mass-media superstars. Flanagan actually tries to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what it is really like to be a girl today, sans the stupid feminist/gender studies theory about the oppressiveness of men and the absurd descriptions of the world in terms of power and dominance. Flanagan has written a wonderful, moving essay about life as it really is lived by teenagers, and indirectly shown us how different that is from our ideas and theories. (Click here to read her piece.)
So I guess there IS hope for The Atlantic after all. As long as the authors are not writing about rich and famous movie stars!
P.S. I'd note parenthetically that we seem to be in the midst of a revival of interest in vampire love stories. For another take on the subject of vampire-lovers, see an essay by Nina Avedon about Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One, a Swedish vampire film on this page of the site. For younger readers, I'd emphasize that the genre antedates "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" by many years. Three films I have often shown in my classes: Vampire's Kiss (starring a young Nick Cage), Casual Relations (by Mark Rapport), and Carl Dreyer's 1932 Vampyr are as interesting as anything done more recently in the genre.
A note to site visitors: I recently posted a new and heretofore unpublished interview with indie garage band filmmaker, David Ball, the writer-director of one of my favorite films of the past ten years -- the low budget masterwork, Honey. (It says a lot about the meretriciousness of American critics and reviewers that his film is not better known.) The interview with Ball is posted on this site page. I highly recommend his thoughts about making art in modern America. He and his film are true originals. -- R.C.
Subject: Cassavetes question
Hello Mr. Carney,
Let me first say that your work has deepened my knowledge and understanding of the work of John Cassavetes enormously. I first encountered his films when I was in my early twenties (some seven years ago now) and they made an immediate impact on me and I felt a deep connection with his work. Then I bought the 'Cassavetes onCassavetes' book, which provided me with a wealth of valuable background information and insight. After this initial encounter I didn't revisit his work again for some time, except for screening of'A Woman under the Influence' for my friends acouple of times. Anyway, a year or two ago Itook LSD for the first time and that had angigantic impact on my life, especially in the way I seethe world around me and my own place in that world. So when I watched most of Cassavetes's films again and read your book 'The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies' I felt an even deeper connection with his work, it was like seeing his films for the first time. Especially your idea that Cassavetes's work promotes an ideal of openness, of interaction andpattern-breakingreally struck a chord with me,mainly because it's exactly in accord with my own ideas, which I have developed after discovering LSD. So, I wanted to ask you this:what wasCassavetes'sopinion about LSD or other hallucinogenic,consciousness-altering drugs? Do you knowif he ever used it? The reason I'm asking is, thatin my opinionthe philosophy ofhisfilmshas verymuch incommon with the philosophy of psychonauts. I think Mabel Longhetti is only the most obvious example, her entire condition seems to beexactly the same as when taking acid: her openness and responsiveness break down the walls of standardized behavior(which is the same state one reaches when taking LSD), but at the same time it makes her vulnerable to outside influences, which of course is the same with LSD, where the wrong setting can cause problems for the user,exactly because he misses his normal protection. In short, LSD eliminates the ego temporarily, enabling the user to experiencethe world freely and truly, but it also makes him vulnerable and it seems to me this is pretty much the same that happens to the charactersin most Cassavetes films.
I hope you'll find some time to shed your light on this matter, it would be greatly appreciated!
Subject: The way of life is wonderful; it is by abandonment
Though I can imagine the scorn and mockery and condescension that your inquiry would receive from certain quarters and certain individuals (our culture is very brain-dead --fear always makes people stupid -- when it comes to understanding drug references and drug experiences), I want to reply by saying that your understanding of Mabel Longhetti is a very deep and important one, and is in fact much closer to the truth of what Cassavetes was after when he created her and the situations in her film than many of the fashionable "feminist" understandings of her character and situation. So, yes, she is what you say she is--and more! Much more. But she doesn't need drugs to do it, which is of course a crucial point.
With respect to JC's personal experiences: He was a man of another generation than yours (or mine), and, along with many others in that generation, had his own "drug of choice"--alcohol. He was not at all a drug taker (beyond the very rare joint given to him by Seymour Cassel or someone else) and was not in the least sympathetic with what is now called "the psychedelic revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s. But, as my first paragraph suggests, he didn't have to be. In many respects, he lived the drug experience without the drugs. And that should be your goal too of course. Drugs can provide insights; yes they really can; but they are not the answer. They are a crutch to be put down and moved beyond by learning how to live "high" without the chemical assistance. In other words, we must learn to live the life of God, to live the life God intended us to live, on our own, with our own hearts and minds, every hour of every day.
To say the obvious: the fear-mongering opinion-shapers, the paranoia-inducing politicians are closer to playing the role of the devil than to understanding the ways of God in terms of the preceding metaphor. That's why Mr. Jensen and the lady "with chains on her shoes" are in Cassavetes' movie: to show us how the fear, distrust, and narrow-mindedness of mainstream culture can destroy the soul and close-off possibilities of growth. The bureaucratic thought police exclude --or retaliate against -- anything they don't understand, anything that eludes being lassoed by their pinched, narrow world-view.
Read Emily Dickinson. "The brain is wider than the sky.... deeper than the sea.... just the weight of God." She knew whereof she spoke. Ah, if only people weren't so afraid of its energy and power......
Yours in truth,
Hi Mr. Carney,
thanks for your response! It's much appreciated.
Your point regarding that drugs provide insight and not answers is well-taken, it's in fact *exactly* what I feel. My LSD experiences have taught me an awful lot and shown me ways I couldn't have imagined before, but now they have done their job and do I try to find my way in life without them - which works pretty good so far. And yes, it's a real shame how many people are just not willing to accept any other experiences/thoughts than the ones they already know. It's actually the reason I dropped out of filmschool. But that, of course, is one of the reasons we value Cassavetes so much!
Keep up the good work!
Subject: "Mountains Beyond Mountains and Rivers Beyond Rivers"
I was just catching up on your mailbag page and noticed the remarkable words that end your 121st page. They were moving, passionate, and inspiration.
Whenever someone shoots their mouth off about you on the internet-- when they say that you're cranky or the like-- I sometimes wonder if they have ever actually read anything you've written beyond your occasional (and in many cases justified) denunciations of banal blockbusters and the celebrity mentality.
Thank you for those words about being a student of life; they are a source of
comfort from which I drew strength, and from which, I'll wager, I will draw
strength from again and again.
All my best to you and yours,
Thanks, Tom, for the "encouraging words" (as Buddhist teachers put it). My reflections on Mailbag 121 were prompted by the fact that I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a student. About how much humility it takes -- and about how important it is to stay open throughout life the way a really good student does in his or her courses -- and about how rare that openness is -- in life or in college -- human nature being what it is. It's very hard to stay receptive and genuinely open because it makes you vulnerable, and vulnerability is a state most people run away from as they move into adulthood. That's why they harden and rigidify themselves -- emotionally and intellectually. They build walls around themselves. They decide "who they are"and what they want and believe. (Read Charlotte Beck for a more eloquent discussion of this subject--about what happens to people as they "grow up." She's a genius and a beautiful soul, and explains it much better than I can.)
I've been thinking along these lines because I've been re-reading Shakespeare's two great "student plays" -- Hamlet and Antony and Cleopatra. -- and thinking about my own life in terms of the two lead characters, though I have less in common with poor philosophy student Hamlet than I do with grizzled, old, troubled, former-student Antony, of course. My life -- and my thought process -- is much closer to the bewildered graybeard's; but both characters and plays speak very deeply to me. They are Shakespeare's personal tribute to the virtues of staying open and receptive, observant and wondering, remaining a student of life for all of life -- and about the dangers of deciding that you know who you are and where you are going; but they also both show how painful and wrenching it is to be a student in this way. It's always easier to be know-it-all Polonius or big-talking Laertes, to be legalistic, "smart" Caesar or cynical Enobarbus than to be Hamlet or Antony.
As to why my ideas are threatening to some people, it's puzzling to me too, but the feeling is not limited to Internet kids without a life. I encounter it all the time with students and faculty in my own university. And it's not unique to my ideas. It happens to any teacher who tries to move anybody into ways of knowing that go beyond the conventional and the expected. Every teacher who tries to do that encounters resistance. That's the nature of life and learning. (Of course, there are many teachers who don't attempt to do that -- the majority in fact -- teachers who merely recycle the conventional wisdom of the culture about itself.) Back on page 102 of the Mailbag, I include a letter I received from a teacher at another school describing the exact same thing. Click here to read it. I have received dozens of similar letters from other teachers about the same phenomenon. The only difference I can perceive among the accounts that have been sent to me is that film students, in general, seem to be much less willing to humble themselves than students in the hard sciences or students studying older and more established arts -- students studying jazz, classical music, poetry, drama, painting, etc. It's the arrogance of feeling that they already know what they are studying and what they expect to get out of it rather than approaching art with a genuine desire to allow it to show them completely new and unexpected things. Film, like politics, apparently attracts many people who are not really open to learning -- only to having their pre-existing prejudices reinforced. But there are exceptions of course.
Thanks for all, Tom. I really appreciate your friendship and support, even if we have never met.
Subject: Upcoming Screening of Wanda
Columbia University is having a screening of Barbara Loden's Wanda on 2/5/09. Details below:
Columbia Women in Film is thrilled to start off our spring semester film series with a screening of the 1970 film WANDA, directed by Barbara Loden and shot and edited by Columbia University Professor Nicholas Proferes. WANDA was the directorial debut of actress Barbara Loden (wife of Elia Kazan) and sadly the only film she directed before her she died in 1980.
Winner of the Critics Prize in Venice in 1970, Barbara Loden's WANDA is often referred to as a "forgotten masterpiece." Though a critical hit, it was only released in one theater in NY and never shown in the rest of the country again. Do not miss this opportunity to see this rare gem and hear first hand about the making of the film from a key crew member, Nicholas Proferes!
Special Screening of WANDA
Thurs. Feb 5th
Dodge Hall, 116th St & Broadway
Dodge Building, Room 511
w/ DP/Editor Nicholas Proferes
Please help us spread the word about this very special event by passing along this email or attached flier to your classmates and colleagues.
Hope to see you all there!
Ray Carney replies:
Thanks, Andrew. Glad to share the screening info with my readers; but it is a bit late in film history for the claim that Wanda has been "lost," "forgotten," or that, after 1970, it "was never shown in the rest of the country again...." It's not true. It's great to hear that Columbia has finally discovered Barbara Loden's truly amazing movie, but I've shown Wanda (in 35mm) at least 10 times since it was released -- to students, faculty members, and the general public at Middlebury College, at Stanford, and at Boston University. (The syllabus pages on the site, see the top menu on this page to go there, list some of these screenings.) I even programmed it for a "women's studies" film festival one time many years ago. (And I also did an extensive interview with Nick Proferes about his role in making the film back when I was a young buck just out of grad. school.) But as I say, better late than never for Columbia. It's good to know that someone there has finally discovered Loden's movie and decided to give it a university presentation. Thirty or forty years behind the times is actually not bad for an Ivy League school. Most faculty members at that kind of school take a minimum of fifty years to begin to understand what matters artistically. (The Ivy League is soooo conservative, soooo backward-looking, aesthetically....) So I guess you could say that Columbia is actually ahead of schedule on Wanda!
P.S. I have brief discussions of Loden's movie throughout my published writing and at dozens of points on pages of the site. To read excerpts from a cover story I did for The New Republic magazine that talks about the film, click here.
Site Search Engine Disabled / Rendered Non-functional by Boston University
A note from Ray Carney: In the past several weeks I have received approximately 1000 messages from all over the world noting that the site search engine has been suddenly disabled and fails to display search results. I have spent several weeks investigating the problem. All I can say right now is that changes Boston University made in some of their server code have had the result of "crippling" some of my site functionality (intentionally or unintentionally, I am unable to ascertain). I have made inquiries to senior administrators about the situation, and appealed to them to restore full functionality as soon as possible. Please stay tuned.
What follows reprints excerpts from an exchange with a very accomplished visitor to the site who wrote me a series of emails. I am including this material because her words so beautifully articulate many of the feelings of being an independent artist and writer. I have withheld the writer's name to protect her identity, and have suppressed the subject of her screenplay, the name of a famous person she has been in contact with, and several references to other personal events and facts, but, even with the omissions, I know that many of the feelings she describes will resonate with things that other readers of this site have experienced. (The writer and I have exchanged more emails than the ones included here, but the beginning of our correspondence is the part that I think will be of most potential help and encouragement to site readers.) -- R.C.
Subject: What great thoughts
Hello Mr. Carney,
Just read your ideas about film and art - wow! Do you ever give feedback on scripts? I wrote one, which took a few years. Then, I experienced the film world, and it was the next best thing to suicide -- so I pulled out and put my project on hold. My story is about XXXXX. In the end, XXXXX uses art to help free herself. It's a true story. (A famous script advisor and story-doctor) helped me edit in the beginning - he thought there was something to work with. (He) was pretty harsh, but I was grateful.
Well, I guess I enjoyed your commitment to vision and truth - a rare thing nowadays.
(name and web site url withheld)
Thanks for the kind note. I really appreciate it. You have no idea how much.
I'm not sure though that I'm the right one -- the best one -- to read your screenplay. Over the years I have done that for a good number of Hollywood actors (at the Sean Penn and Brad Pitt level of integrity, though the names are confidential of course) to give them "notes" about projects they were thinking of doing (often very harsh and negative responses on my part!), and I still continue to do it on an occasional basis as time allows, but right now I am totally drowning in a heap of unread student projects and scripts (including students at my own university who have turned in work that is too good, too interesting, too complex, too original for their professors to understand), and, to tell the truth, probably wouldn't have time to do your work justice.
I went to your web site and was really impressed with what you have done. It's really wonderful. But I know that the professional film world can be unappreciative of good work. The better the work, the less appreciative they can be. I know it must feel lonely at times, but I want to tell you that it's so important to keep going in our own personal direction.... to stay the course.
Can I ask you something personal? Have you continued your work on (suppressed mention involving a completely different area of life)? I realize it's hard, but .... it's so important..... so important. You mention XXXX (the script doctor), and I saw his name on your site. I know him pretty well, you may or may not realize, even though we have very different views of film and screenwriting. Please don't let him change what you are doing, unless you are really convinced he is right.
If you are ever in the Boston area, please let me know.
I wish you well in your work.
It was good to receive your email. Sometimes I throw out a line to the world, and sometimes - though rarely in this commercial world, does someone respond, as you did. Most seem to be on a mission to either sell or get, so unless I was rich and famous, or a convenient step on the old ladder, I really don't get many people needing me.
My (RC: I have suppressed a discussion of her other work) is the very most, most important part of my life. More than ever, I realize that my path is inward. I'm tired (and bored) of the extroverted, materialistic goings on, and it seems with every day, the world offers less and less in way of meaning. At times I thought living in this pretty isolated little nowhere was a draw back. Now I realize it is a blessing. I go to NY and XXXX sometimes to check out art fairs, but there is so little that attracts me in the art world.
(RC: More omitted discussion of her other work)
It was a long shot about reading my script, and I don't even know why I asked. XXXX (the script doctor) was pretty harsh with me, and pretty expensive, but he made me see the negative, whimpy side of my protagonist, who I knew personally, so it was hard not to keep her on a throne.
Well, thank-you for your email and for taking interest in my website. I am
reaching out, hoping that I will find the odd artist who understands the
importance of the mind, and of introspection at the deepest level. How can
we lead, if we are ignorant? And as you say, artists have been gifted, and do have a responsibility. And if they are ready, maybe they should be
careful not to mislead.
Do keep in touch, and let me know of the great projects you create or come
Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I knew you were coming from a deep place, and your response shows it.
XXXX (the script doctor) is no slouch and may have given you some good feedback (even if it was harsh, which must have hurt), but he and I have very different views of film. I remember having dinner with him in Cambridge a while back and he told me something about how indie films had to be "faster paced" to succeed, and it suddenly washed over me how totally different our perspectives were. Not only did the idea of "succeeding" seem irrelevant or even ridiculous to me, but the idea of speeding up the film experience almost made me want to faint. Speed is the problem, not the solution, with most film. We drive by everything, we dash, we hurry, we graze and skim and surf too much already. I forget what I said back to him in the restaurant (or if I said anything at all, since I may have been too shocked or disappointed to reply), but that moment clarified for me the difference between his notion of film and mine. We have very different views of art.
(RC: Omitted discussion of the other area of the writer's life.)
There is one other part of what you wrote in your email that I have to respond to. It's the part about not knowing, or not being sure, and not wanting to lead until you are. (I don't have your text right in front of me, but it was something like that. I'm sure you remember.) I of course know what you mean. As Ritchie, a friend of mine, a student in a Zen monastery, once put it to me: You don't want to be in charge of deploying the lifeboats only to end up dropping them on top of everyone in the water. He meant that good intentions aren't good enough. You have to know what you are doing; it's not enough just to want to do it. That's what I take you to be saying about not being able to lead until you know more. And I'll say the same thing to you I said to Ritchie. Yes, yes, yes.... but (there's always a but, isn't there?) if we wait until we know enough, we will never act. Because we never will know enough. We never can know enough. We must run ahead in the dark without a map, dive from the cliff never sure if the water is deep enough to receive us, or if we will lose our life in the attempt. It's so important to understand this. Too many potential artists are paralyzed by their doubts and fears. We have to risk being wrong, being stupid, being not ready; and we have to act anyway. We have to drop the lifeboats the best we can -- even if we aren't sure we are doing it the textbook way. I would have never written any of my books if I had waited until I "knew enough." I would never have gone to grad school, if I waited until I was certain it was "the right thing." We must plunge forward into life. We must risk our love by giving it with insufficient, imperfect knowledge. That's the adventure of living. No matter how long we stand on the cliff and stare into the water below, we can never see what lurks in it. Or if it there are sharp rocks that will cut us to ribbons. We must dive into the dark.
With deep gasshos and gratitude for your inspiring words,
A note from Ray Carney: The final excerpt I'll quote from the exchange was written in response to a description I offered of a large-scale publishing project I recently completed, and of my expressions of doubt about its ultimate appeal or popularity. The writer's response to my statement displays the same sensitivity her previous notes do. Her words represent deep spiritual wisdom for anyone engaged in the arts. I recommend them to all artists everywhere. -- R.C.
.... it seems like you may have reached a stage in your life where doing monumental projects may become your next obstacle. I am speaking from experience. We have strange paths, and those who do super great things with the best of intentions, may find themselves faced with super great obstacles. Our nemesis is always greater than ourselves - or, as you know, where would the conflict and resulting transformation be? Our nemesis is disguised. The clue is to examine the "wanting" part of our struggle - because our wants are insatiable. They pretend to be "good" for others. They deceive us in this way. Our wants drive us to live and work. But eventually destroy us with disappointment and longing, or at the least keep us distracted from the deeper path leading us to become more joyous, wise and compassionate.
Be a light unto thyself. Your productive outpouring and expressive words may light the path for those who are looking for something, but if not - then it is either because they are not needing your words, you are short of wisdom, or you are somewhere way beyond and the average person. Be happy, and keep pouring forth. Rain simply falls and nourishes. It doesn't expect to feel satisfied or appreciated. Those needs come from our childhood. But we don't need our parents' love and respect anymore. They need ours. When you can give and need nothing in return - then you are at peace.
Well, just some thoughts,
Who knows if they have any significance.
A confidential note to Billy. (Sorry that there is not space to reprint your magnum opus to me.) -- R.C.
The "Alexander Supertramp Award" was in commemoration not of the band, but of Christopher McCandless, who used that moniker. See page 99 of the Mailbag for more info about him and the book Jon Krakauer wrote about him. I was comparing your lonely journey with his.
Re: your statement about God's voice coming from the prophets--yes, but I would put it more strongly. We are God's voice. We are not only the prophets; we are God. We do not need to look to a prophet for wisdom. And in fact a prophet can never give us anything. Or can only give us what we already have. We have to look inside ourselves. All wisdom, all experience, all of history and all of the future is in us. And it has always been in us. The only problem is that we refuse to look and listen deeply enough. We drown out or run away from the voices inside with worldly distractions, we paint over the view with our emotional colorings.
I take everything in your letter to me in a second sense by turning every outer reference to an inner one. Outer collapse is happening, yes, but the inner catastrophe is the important one. Outer discovery is happening, but it is the inner discoveries that matter. The world will not be described in terms of outer relations and outer events. The events of consciousness are the ones that matter.
Fare onward, voyager.
This just came in from former BU student Lucas Sabean:
Subject: Munch Munch
I just finished watching Peter Watkins "Edvard Munch"--Wow!!! It is instantly one of my favorite films ever made. He lulls you into deep connections without you even knowing what is happening. So original, perhaps the greatest artist bio pic ever made?
Here is my latest called "Quiet Desperation"
Trying to remain strong when everything around me falls apart....
Lucas, Great to hear from you! Peter Watkins is one of the greats. (As well as being a great film theorist and writer, which is a side of his career many people are unaware of.) Sometime ask me about my (futile) efforts to convince the department to hire him to teach in the Boston University film program. (But I sensed it was doomed from the start. He's just too interesting and independent. They don't want people with opinions.) The Watkins attempt was one of many unsuccessful attempts on my part over the years to bring major filmmakers into the regular film production teaching faculty. (Think Robert Kramer, Robb Moss, Fred Wiseman, Rick Schmidt, Jon Jost, and two or three others.....) None of the appointments happened. Such is life. You give it your best shot and keep on going..... You can't let anything stop you--for more than a minute. -- R.C.
Subject: HUSBANDS - variant versions
Hope you are well.
Was wondering if I might pick your brains for information concerning the variant versions of HUSBANDS.
A cable TV channel called Simply Movies has just started broadcasting in the UK. One of their first screenings was of a 140 minute version of HUSBANDS. This differs from the 131 minute version in the following ways:
1- Whereas all prints of the 131 minute version that I have seen begin with the original Columbia logo from the early 70s, this version begins with a more modern Columbia logo from the 1980s.
2- 11 minutes of footage has been added to the drinking scene (as well as to the start of the following scene).
3- Almost 2 minutes of footage has been eliminated from the scene in which the husbands arrive in London: shots of them running through the airport in the rain, catching a taxi, arriving at the hotel, and being shown into their room.
An identical transfer was shown on French television in the 90s.
Do you think it's possible that Cassavetes might have recut the film (adding the drinking scene while tightening the arrival in London section) in the 1980s, perhaps while he was making GLORIA for Columbia? Are you aware of the longer version of the drinking scene being included in any prints circulating during the 1970s?
Right you are! (Or mostly right.) I have all of these different versions myself and have a discussion of these cuts at several points on the site. (See this page for example; once you're there, scroll down to read the entry for April 28, 1994).
But Cassavetes did NOT re-edit Husbands in the 1980s. His edit, his release version, of the film is the 140 minute edit (actually it's almost 141 minutes). It was cut by Columbia (and later issued on videotape by the studio in its cut form) to eliminate 11 minutes of scenes: viz. the end of the Leola Harlow badgering scene; the John "Red" Cullers singing of "Brooklyn;" and the beginning of the men's room scene. The UCLA film restoration program continued --or contributed to -- the confusion by sanctioning the cut 130-minute print as the "directors cut." It is not true. All of the cuts were made after Cassavetes' death. UCLA made their cuts (and gave this name to the cut print) to please Gena Rowlands, in response to her request that those parts of the film be cut: Those scenes. The only true, real, correct, complete, accurate (how many ways do I have to say it??) edit of the film is the 140 or 141 minute version you describe in your note, but with the 1970s Columbia logo, not the 1980s logo. The 1980s logo was added later. Is that clear? If not, I have something coming out on the subject in a book. Look for it in a few months.
Oh, one more bit of trivia: There are also a few alternate edits of the film, with slightly different footage, only a minute or two here and there, or a different shot or two in a scene, but these are trivial variations compared to the omission of the 11 minutes in the film as it now is distributed on video (and was shown at UCLA's Festival of Preservation). I'll spare you those details, but your number 3 observation falls into that category. Cassavetes himself made those two minutes of cuts to bring the film in under Columbia's contractual running time. He would have preferred those two minutes to remain, and they were in the print he gave the studio, but he was forced to cut them from the release print to fulfill his contract with Columbia. (Now are you really confused? I hope not!)
An exchange with a young filmmaker:
Subject: Quick Jarmusch Question
Real quick- I'm a big fan of Jim Jarmusch and I know you've appreciated, at least, his early work. Have you ever done any formal writing on him- even if it was a single article for a magazine? I'd love to read your views on his works, no matter how brief.
Thanks again, keep writing, don't die and such
Dear John P. aka Minemasta (whatever a minemasta is),
Thanks for the kind words. Not planning on dying so if it happens, blame my
Chairman. Or my former Dean. Or an old girlfriend. Just kidding, of course. No homicidal girlfriends.
Never published anything about JJ, beyond a few sentences here and there in
other pieces; but I have lectured on his films--including Permanent Vacation,
Stranger than Paradise, Down by Law, and Mystery Train (Is that the title? Well, you know what I mean). Love them and show all of them in courses
regularly and lead discussions. But that does you no good!!!!
Tell me about yourself. Whatssup? Give me a little sketch of your age,
background, and goals. I'm always interested.
Thanks for the quick response! I always picture you as being super busy and annoyed by the tons of emails you get. It's truly refreshing to have a professor actually ask about my goals/interests in life.
I'm actually the guy who emailed you a month or two ago about my "being nowhere, saying nothing" movie (I believe it's on pg 116 of the mailbag). I'm 22, student at Ramapo College of New Jersey, and still struggling to make truthful stuff.
This isn't flattery: your stuff has really helped me recently. Because I thought
I was the only who didn't understand why everyone swoons over Hitchcock films. I
often feel like an outsider among what I call the "film jocks" in my school.
I've realized this is a good thing though, since I've been an outsider in
everything else. So your stuff has helped shake off the noise, the stuff that
was brainwashing me, and has taught me some new stuff. When I get money again
(this may never happen), I will buy your cass on cass finally.
I'd like to ask you one quick word of advice about the same film I mentioned I
was making (if you have the time, if not, skip it).
The film is intended to be short and capture one experience and is about
strangers in a park wanting to talk to each other but not doing it (in a very
non-romantic way). But it is also about a person walking alone in the woods,
connecting with nature, and partly running away from her friends and
obligations. My worry, after tons of rewrites, is that the film will be too much from a "main character's" perspective. There are plenty of narcissistic qualities in her, but I do not want my film to be narcissistic. So, while I would love to explore tons of different perspectives and characters, I am
working with a limited amount of people and time here, and am really just
focusing on this one person's journey. Has this been done before in shorts (just as encouragement)? I do not want to make a "poor me" or a limited view- but like I said, people aren't quite available til summer, so I can only make something
that's about 20 minutes over winter. Hopefully you see the advice I'm asking you, it's a bit clumsy in words. Just worried I'll create heroes and villains in my film. Or worse, something simplistic. An idea. A "point". I never want that.
Other than that, I can expand on my American Independent Cinema horror story
from my last correspondence. I had a freak out in class and was laughed at for
having a legitimate opinion. If you think film students worshipping Hitchcock is
bad, it's gotten much worse. Tarantino has ruined my generation. Misogyny is celebrated. It's awful.
One last note to you: I agree with what you criticized Bujalski and co. for not doing, which is showing desperation (etc.) in characters. While I probably only half grasped what you meant, I've noticed that I usually argue with, disagree with, and purposely hurt the people closest to me, and vice versa. My relationships with people are not mellow, they're chaotic. I believe love is a struggle- one filled with extreme passion, anger, doubt, confusion, petty
grudges, and other things people run from. Cassavettes was right. We need to
transcend those obstacles, because that's what love and life is all about. To
I rant too easily! You know all this stuff, you've said it yourself. Anyway, if
I ever finish this film I'll mail it to you. Don't know how good it will be, but
I'm more interested in the trying than the succeeding.
Subject: originality is individuality
Quick reply: If you make something from your own perspective, that stays true
to your own truths, it will never be already done by someone else. On the other hand, if you make your film look "like someone else's x,y, or z" (look like Hitchcock's, Tarkovsky's, Tarantino's, or anybody else's work), then it will always be already done by everyone, all the time, forever. Imitation is death. Do it your way--do all of your work like no one else ever did it.
Is that too Yoda-like?
Plunge in. It's the only way to go.
Ray Carney (aka Yoda)
A note from Ray Carney: This came in recently from leading American independent filmmaker Jon Jost. Among his many remarkable qualities, Jon has always been extremely generous with his time and energy in his efforts to assist young and struggling filmmakers. He wrote me about a young Nigerian artist named Isaac Chung. I want to post Jon's words and the artist's "manifesto" on the site not only in hopes that it can help to make his work better known, but because of the importance of what he is doing and the value of many of his observations to filmmakers everywhere.
.... A young now-I-hope-friend, Isaac Chung - I might have written you about him before - who made a film, Munyurangabo, in Rwanda a few years back, got it into Cannes in one slot or another, and has set up a workshop-company in Kigali, sent me the following, which I find wonderful. It is nice to see someone doing things who is not full of themselves. Isaac is just finishing a new film (see his website) which he hopes to have off to Cannes, but so far, like the rest of us, he's scraping by. Maybe he'll grab a brass ring, maybe not. I will forward you a letter he sent me. If you know any teaching things he might have a shot at, let me or him know. I am going to check here in Korea and maybe, if they decide or I decide to move along, see if I can slide him into my position.
Here's what he wrote regarding what he's trying to do. Poetic, and just along what you try to convey to people in your teaching and your website - it's about life. You might want to post on the site. -- Jon Jost
Retrospectives by Isaac Chung
1. My grandmother didn't finish elementary school and lived a daily resignation to poverty and struggle for most of her life. Her illiteracy caused both shame and sympathy for my father, notably because he is a gifted writer. Yet, he remembers the way others revered her in the village because she told stories. They were recollections, simple stories sprung from a memory that gathered passing moments others had disregarded, occurrences with meanings she alone discerned.
My father told me this when I was ten - it is a small footnote in our family history but one that I revisit often. How can storytelling bring a humble woman the respect of an entire village? Then, I remember that even scripture is an epic narrative.
2. In the 1880s, a great argument arose between the Lumiere brothers and Thomas Edison about their new invention, the motion picture camera. To this day, no one is sure who invented it first.
Edison's Kinetoscope featured vaudeville performers and fighting animals while the Lumiere's captured everyday life; both foreshadowed a division between the US and France that remains today - cinema as spectacle and cinema as art.
One could argue that cinema has become the most powerful form of storytelling in the world. Anti-Western sentiment, especially the type directed against Hollywood, does not deny this contention; it disagrees with the stories.
In the 1990s, Kenneth Nnebue, a businessman in Nigeria, imported blank videotapes from Asia to sell in the local marketplace. Finding that he had ordered too many, he decided to make a small movie to include on the tapes as an extra incentive to buy. 750,000 sold copies of the film and thousands of imitations later, "Nollywood" is now the third largest film industry in the world behind the US and India. It remains the second largest provider of jobs in Nigeria, after subsistence farming.
They are crudely and quickly shot with over two thousand new titles a year to keep up with local demand for African films. Western audiences might cringe at the exaggerated acting and stories of HIV and witchcraft, but each of the noisy videos proclaims, "we wish to speak too."
The art of memory collects disparate details from the past and reshapes them into a harmonic whole. It is a dying art in much of the world where society has less of a demand for remembrance and a greater emphasis on daily production and consumption. So great is the divide between everyday existence and active reflection that modern storytelling - the cinema - is no longer interested in life. There is a common saying, "I go to the movies because I wish to escape." Meanwhile, the culture of escape spreads from the West to the rest of the world like industrial haze.
It reaches Rwanda, where, after the tragic Rwandan genocide of 1994, several personal accounts recall that genocidaires liked to mimic Rambo films when slaughtering others, a chilling detail for moviegoers.
In a great irony, Western penitence has invaded Rwanda several times to recreate the genocide for film crews that resemble, at first glance, a military occupation. Its height is reached in HOTEL RWANDA, in which American actors fake African accents in a story that many Rwandans dismiss as overly exaggerated to sell tickets. Its target audience is the West, and as the spectacle - with its prestige, Oscars, and box office data - passes from our minds to obscurity, Rwanda is left with few resources to share its own recollection of the tragedy, to engage in the art of memory.
My work in Rwanda is:
-A quiet endeavor - to train and equip a group of fifteen Rwandan filmmakers who want to share their stories and transform their nation and perhaps the world.
-An act of resistance - against a pervasive and spreading fog that allows only the powerful to have a voice.
....I've been thinking about our Mike Leigh class and this past summer I reread your book and re-watched most of the films, it's a testament to your writing and teaching that I was compelled to revisit all the ideas brought up in class in order to see why, for me, Mike Leigh's films work (and on occasion, Naked comes to mind, fail), after all there is so much that can be done in a semester and the classroom is but a stimulus for more in-depth personal study.
Benny and I would always refer to your classes as not just theoretical classes but classes on filmmaking.For me there are two ways to learn filmmaking, the first, and most obvious, is to make films and when that isn't possible to engage in the type of intellectually rigorous criticism we were subjected to in your class.One of my favorite (and most useful as a filmmaker) assignments was when you asked us to analyze the last sequence in "Meantime" but not just analyze it in a superficial way by resorting to facile symbolism or generalities, but analyze the sequence in a concrete way, scene by scene, shot by shot in order to articulate for ourselves why and how the sequence works (or doesn't).This is similar to the close reading of poetry, something poets have been doing for centuries, and most contemporary greats learned their craft by studying masters like Auden, Hardy, Yates and Lawrence.Joseph Brodsky's masterful essay on Auden's"September 1, 1939" is a prime example.It analyzes the poem line by line, word by word, image by image to show how Auden's complex intertwining of language, imagery and form works to create a complex and multifaceted work of art.
Ray Carney replied:
Flattery will get you everywhere! But seriously, you've touched on one of the central practices and informing beliefs in all of my publishing and teaching: I (in the footsteps of James, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty, and others) am trying to re-define meaning -- so that meaning is not in our brains but in the world. So that meaning can be embodied. So that meaning can be practical. So that meaning will not be thought and felt, but lived and acted and practiced. There is much more to say about this intellectual project of course. There is a lot more behind it. It won't be summarized in a series of maxims. It's the "Figure in the Carpet" that makes all of my books and essays one continuous text. There is a whole philosophy of experience behind these beliefs and practices, a deep philosophy of life and expression, and it marks a parting of the ways between me and most other American and European intellectual practice--in university art departments most of all. Henry James, William James, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Emily Dickinson would have understood what I am doing; but most academics, most critics and so-called intellectuals are running the other way -- into a world of (what you call) "symbolism and generality." This is a very difficult subject for my own film studies grad students to understand, which makes it all the more wonderful that you and Benny have broken through to this awareness. Most of the rest of the students, like their professors, are seduced by the allure of theory. Very few of them seem to understand that the clarifications of terminology are illusory. Abstraction appeals powerfully to the human mind. (Look at what it does to terrorists.) Our whole culture is trapped in this way, and (I fear) doomed by its love of unreality. --R.C.
P.S. Read the excerpts from Emerson and James that I have posted on the site. The search engine has many entries for each. Or go directly to Mailbag page 118 for a good place to start. There is a long essay by William James that is worth pondering toward the bottom of the page.
Before I close out the page, I can't resist appending a bit of information I received only a few minutes ago. Noted American independent filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt wrote to tell me that he is making plans to issue "Volume 1" of his collected films on DVD. Yippee! Hooray! The first volume will be devoted to the "compilation films" and will include the following titles:
Short of Breath
The Smell of Burning Ants
King of the Jews
Brain In The Desert
The DVD will not be out for a few months, but check Jay's web site -- Jay Rosenblatt Films / Locomotion Films for updates on its exact status and future availability. Jay and his work are national treasures. Every film program in America should own and screen these films. Jay Rosenblatt is writing the history of the present and showing us who we are. His films are works to live with and to learn from. -- R.C.
Subject: RC mailbag mention in indieWIRE
Just happened across a mention of you and the mailbag in indieWIRE, in an interview with Director James Westby. Quite a compliment (although I don't know anything about James Westby, I agree with his assessment!)
iW: What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?
James Westby: Do it yourself. Don't wait around. Learn how to edit. Have a good script and get good actors and pick a start date. Watch Godard's movies. Read everything, including Ted Hope's blog, and Lance Weiler's workbookproject.com. Especially go to Ray Carney's site, cassavetes.com. His "mailbag" section is the single best thing on the Internet.
The best things on the internet. I thought you might like to hear that. I wonder if anyone at Boston U. reads IndieWire?
|A concluding personal note: I have received notice that the Boston University College of Communication will no longer provide support to help me maintain the site (and is also withdrawing support for all of my other research and publishing projects) -- so this will be the final posting, for a while at least, or until circumstances change. But rest assured that I will continue to read and answer emails sent to me via the site link (see the clickable blue button in the left margin of most pages), to fulfill book orders and autograph and inscribe copies as presents, and to answer questions as time permits. (For background on this and other issues connected with the university's attitude toward the site, for those unfamiliar with past events, it is recommended that you read the material in the box at the bottom of Mailbag page 101 and all of Mailbag page 102.) And also see the note higher up on this current Mailbag page (122) for another event which may or may not be related. Within days of receiving notice that my research would no longer be supported by the administration, I discovered that Boston University had disabled the site search engine. Search results for the site are no longer displayed either on the site itself (by use of its own search engine) or on the main Boston University pages (via the university search engine).
A note from Ray Carney: The preceding announcement was only up on the site for a matter of minutes when I received the following brief responses. I'll give my readers the final word.
Subject: RE: cliches designed to resemble truth
Having just read your note at the bottom of page 122, I was disheartened. It's a terrible thing that they're doing to you, but please don't let them stop you. Keep fighting and keep writing. Yours is a voice sorely needed and far more valuable than whatever uniform the other academics try to force on everyone. The biggest problem I see is that people are conditioned at an early age. Certainly, they're capable of thinking for themselves by college, but that hype-induced slant is difficult to overcome without the right teacher. Someone like you.
Best wishes and best of luck.
Subject: a quick thank you
Dear Prof. Carney,
I stumbled upon your site a few months ago and have since been reading and re-reading (and even re-re-reading) the various essays/interviews/emails on the many wonderful, but marginalized independent films out there, especially the various mailbag replies, which I refresh obsessively every morning looking for the latest update. Anyways, I just wanted to thank you for helping me open my mind to a larger world of film and art -- the tyranny of prettiness really does suffocate so many films, even in "art" cinema (a term I've never liked).* I'm sure I still have a ways to go, but at least I feel I'm on the right path now.
Like a lot of young filmmakers these days, I've got a bedside copy of Bresson's "Notes on the Cinematographer," and I find that reading the materials your site have much the same effect on me.I don't always agree with every opinion expressed, but that's beside the point.Both yours and Bresson's texts help me wash myself of convention and consider the underlying assumptions behind my ideas.And I think that's just invaluable.
I know you get tons of email, so really there's no need to reply.I just wanted to say a quick thank you, and I look forward to reading more updates if and when BU restores your funding -- I like that they cut back on "non-essential" things like, say, helping a professor teach and learn and connect with students who want to learn. Ha, oh the world we live in...
A note from Ray Carney: Though I received hundreds of other responses from site readers to the announcement about the suspension of the Mailbag postings, the following statement by Adam Bertocci (which, for the sake of brevity, combines the texts of two separate emails he sent me) is the final one I shall post. Adam offers reflections about the shutting down of the site, and the censorious attitude of my department Chairman, my colleagues, and the Boston University administration to what is posted on it; but the real value of Adam's email to my mind (and the main reason I am including it) lies in his observations about the effects of real art (as contrasted to popular culture). This is what the site is (and has always been) about -- the crucial importance of works of art in our lives, the "necessary experiences" (as one of my publications calls them) that art offers. The importance of that subject is what ultimately makes me want to give Adam the last word. -- R.C.
Subject: How I discovered mumblecore and lived to tell the tale
Dear Professor Carney,
My name is Adam Bertocci and I am a New York filmmaker. I've been following the site off and on for a couple of years now.
I'd given up on the mailbag around page 100, when you were first having problems with BU. Then one day I was at the site on other business, and saw you'd posted more, and rejoiced.
Then I lost track, figured I'd wait a while for you to post more stuff as you caught up. Came back tonight .... imagine my surprise when I saw your note that the mailbag was shutting down again. Well, serves me right for getting my hopes up.
The sad thing is, I've read so many of your other essays, as well as "C on C", but I admit that I find the mailbag the most inspirational section of them all.
My grandfather, Peter Bertocci, was by all accounts an important and well-respected professor of philosophy at BU back in his time. I have no doubt that he, in his personal and professional capacity as a "searcher for truth" (if you like), would have found BU's decisions toward the mailbag etc. this past year or two shameful and disgraceful.
In any event, I thought you would rather read of more pleasant matters.
This past summer I was in the midst of a long and frustrating post-production on a short of mine, one of those rambling projects that sort of gets away from you where the art of filmmaking is reduced to being the goatherd desperately trying to wave all the stock into the pen before nightfall. Around this same time I vowed that whatever my next big filmmaking project would be, it would be one where I could go back to basics--a couple of actors, a lot of dialogue, nothing complex or unwieldy. Something simple.
I'd use the tired old phrase "something more personal", but this would imply that I'm telling the story of a Hollywood-poisoned soulsucker who found Art and regained his integrity. No, I've negotiated the shift between mainstream and non-mainstream. My problem was more complicated. The soul and heart were all clicking along marvelously, but the tongue had already rooted through all its usual languages and didn't know how to say it.
About that same time I sat down to, for the first time, watch a Cassavetes film. I don't know why I waited so long, having been familiar with your writing ever since first seeing your "non-rules rules" introduction to Rick Schmidt's book. (I was in high school when I first read that and I confess a few things you said there made me mad.) (I'm 26 now and sometimes some of the things now still make me mad. The difference is these days I like it. It means something's got my fires going, for better or worse.)
I won't say "Faces" taught me to, in your words, see with new eyes, but it sure as hell grabbed my head and pivoted it in a new direction. As I watched "Faces" I could feel corners of my brain opening up and spilling out thoughts and inspirations previously unvolunteered, as if the film was blasting keys into locks at the rate of twenty-four per second.
I was taking notes on my own film even as Cassavetes' spooled out before me. This kicked off a brief tour through the 'Ray Carney classic collection', so to speak, a binge of movies lasting about a month. What did I particularly dig? "Minnie and Moskowitz", owing primarily to Moskowitz; "Mikey and Nicky", more for the performances than anything. Of films made before my time, though, my favorite was "Opening Night".
I don't know why "Opening Night" affected me more than one of the more usual heavyweight choices. Perhaps in some of the other projects, I had signposts to hold onto, something that was telling me, right or wrong, "this is an indie film; you know how to deal with it." Or maybe the other projects had more critical writing on them (including yours) to prepare me. Rightly or (again) wrongly, I felt like I had some basic foothold with the other projects that helped me fit it into my normal film-going experience. With "Opening Night", I was lost in that marvelous way, as if the film was improvising itself before me. I don't mean in the sense that the actors were improvising, I mean as if the whole flick, edits and soundtrack and all, were inventing itself frame by frame before my eyes and if I were to rewind the videotape it would start the scene again from that point anew and different, like what I'd seen before was some fresh spectacle to exist once and only for me.
The flick that really rocked me during the course of my travels, though, was Andrew Bujalski's "Funny Ha Ha". Perhaps the finest indie feature of the 2000s that I've seen so far. Granted, I have an innate fondness for movies that were clearly made on the cheap, but I think Kate Dollenmayer's performance is so special. She is a perfect example of how exactly one element can lift a movie from one level to another entirely, and I think all the 'mumblecore' pieces, Bujalski's and otherwise, that followed suffered in comparison by having her bar to live up to.
Anyway, all that was summer, and look how much time's gone by. What about that simple short film I wanted to make? I've got a first draft. It's still on the slate as my next big project. ("Big" by my standards, mind you. It's a red-letter day if I spend more than a thousand bucks to produce a short.) I sometimes describe it, half-jokingly, as Adam's "mumblecore" film. I make finger quotes when I use the m-word, heh... say what you like about the term, but it has its uses, provided people know what the hell you're talking about.
Maybe people don't know why I'd want to make a film so resolutely not about plot or event. But, then, many people don't know why I make any movies at all, even my more mainstream ones. And there are many... I confess that you would not be a fan of most of my own work, nor would you approve of my DVD collection. (I have this mental image of you coming over for tea, now, and me rushing about the house hiding my comic books and "Star Wars" trinkets before you got here!)
But this was the joy of the mailbag. Maybe if someone like me read this, someone tentative about dipping their toe into the murkier waters, they'd read that and think, oh! why, these films can be watched by any open-minded person; enjoying and learning from a Cassavetes film isn't the exclusive province of someone on a different intellectual plane. And, confidence raised, they'd go have the experience for themselves.
If the mailbag was up again, that is.
Regardless, that's enough out of me for the moment. I have tried to turn other people on to some of the films you discuss(ed?) on the site, though. Not sure I've had any success yet, but, well, maybe everyone's gotta find these movies in their own time. God knows it took me long enough...
Hopefully in future there will be some opportunity to have the 'offending' elements of the site in a non-BU-centric place, if it comes to that. (This assumes that the school is not planning to Google their faculty and make sure they're behaving themselves off-site as well as on.) I realize you've never claimed to be a technical wizard, but, heck, even one of those free blogs you can sign up for would do much of the trick.
For my part, I attended the film program at Northwestern University. Sometimes when I read about your struggles I wonder if such things happened behind the scenes among my undergraduate professors, but the truth is I have such trouble understanding just what on the site is so troubling that it can't be handled on a point-by-point basis, that it requires these vast outages. Even if it was so controversial and terrible, you would think they'd be proud of that, in a way; how many schools can boast a controversial professor of any sort, let alone film... it's like free advertising for the institution.
Say what you like about a culture obsessed with marketing and advertising, but I think they've missed the angle here. I can see the marketing scheme now: apply to BU, home of that wacky Ray Carney! You just never know what crazy thing he'll cook up next! (For what it's worth, I did apply to BU, way back when, and got in. To be fair, my family connections meant I was more than aware that the school existed, but would I have known they had a film program were it not for your section in Schmidt's book? Who can say?)
Oh well. I'll keep dropping in on the site every so often, see if something pops up. In an age where we're used to our inboxes and RSS feeds and Facebook and heaven-knows-what updating every ten seconds with socially driven mass content, it's sort of fun to see a throwback to the old days (i.e. the mid-90s, hah) of one guy at his site sporadically updating... maybe there's something new, maybe there's not. Always a surprise....
Yours in film,
To read other responses from site readers to the attempts by Boston University to control what is published on the site or, if they are unable to censor it, to force Prof. Carney to remove the site from the university server, see Mailbag page 102.
For more general information about the situation, click on the Most Popular Topics ticket icon in the left margin of this page, and scroll down on the page you are taken to until you reach the section titled "Group Thinking as the Source of Fascism in an American University." The five or six Mailbag page links at that point have background information. Click here to go there now.
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