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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 Professor Carney,

I re-visited your website. Though I have not looked at every word that is there, I get the general feeling that you value the art value of film very much.

Do you think the educational value of film is equally important as its art value?

Back in the 70's and 80's, movies were used as a kind of propaganda to promote communism in China; and it turned out to be quite effective. People of my parents' age were deeply affected by what they see on the screens. Do you think that film has the potency to influence the masses, besides revealing the artist's inner thoughts and feelings? My personal experiences tell me so. Therefore, I always intend to use film as a means to expose my countrymen to the advanced cultures in the world and to educate them by appealing to their senses using moving pictures. All the while I have been feeling the urge to be a truly educated man, who, like Henry van Dyke said in his speech in Harvard, contributes himself or herself to the service of society.

Just like you, I have not studied art subjects in school before I take the course in film. My strengths were in the mathematics and science fields. I also know that my level of appreciation of art is low at the moment. Some of my opinions may appear naive to you but those are what dwells in my mind now. The one-sentence paragraph above is what I want to ask you today. I hope I can hear your reply.

Thank you in advance of your time and effort!

I will let you know when I arrive at the campus.



Ray Carney replies:

The "artistic value" of a film is its "educational value." There is no difference.

But note that American film can be just as corrupting, false, or deceitful as film from less "advanced" countries. Hollywood teaches people the worst side of capitalistic behavior: competition, ruthlessness, individualism, greed. Those forms of corruption are what my writing deals with.

But there is too much to say in an email.

All best wishes.

Dear Professor Carney,

I understand that you have much work to do in school, but please allow me to clear some of my doubts with you. Please take your time. I can wait.

1. Not everybody can discern the actual messages that artists want to convey in their work. If someone sets out to educate the masses, will he or she fail to do so because his or her films transcend the comprehension level of most of the people? I remember some of my friends say after they watched a difficult movie, "Oh, I don't understand at all."

2. Everybody is supposed to have his or her own interpretations. Am I forcing them to accept my values if I intend to use film to educate them? Am I wrong?

At this moment, I do not want to comment on American film, because I may have known too little about it. What I have watched are mostly blockbusters. I will read your books.

Have a nice day! Thank you too!



Ray Carney replies:

I appreciate the questions but they really can't be answered by email. Suffice it to say: all any artist can present is his or her "values." Even when the artist doesnt realize it, that is what is being presented. And even when people don't get it, that is what is in the work. The question that matters is: what is the value of the values: good, bad, compromising, heroic, fierce, competitive, mean, uplifting, cheapening, trashy, etc?

The rest will have to wait for school. But bear in mind that many American students are not interested in these important questions. Their values are just to have a career or make a lot of money and get famous. They wouldn't admit it, but that is what they really want. Their teachers also wont admit it, but that is what they are teaching them to do. At Boston University and most other universities too. If you ask them what you asked me, they won't even understand the questions. Most students and teachers at Boston U and elsewhere are this way. Not all of them of course, but most. I of course am only really interested in the other reasons to make film, the reasons you are interested in. Your questions are the right ones.


Dear Professor Carney,

Thanks very much for your thoughtful e-mail of a month ago and sending those books along, they arrived yesterday and no harm done. I'm surprising myself with the speed at which I'm reading "Cass on Cass". I have the feeling I'm going to be upset when I'm finished reading it, due to the fact that I won't be able to read it again for the first time.

Now I'm wishing that I'd picked up "The Films...", "Shadows" and the one about Carl Th. Dreyer. A day or two before your books arrived I watched "The Passion of Joan of Arc" it was a fantastic experience and it made me feel unlike any film of that period which I've seen. Although, I admit I haven't seen many silent films. It made me wonder about the possibilities of a modern silent film.

Also, I recently saw "Abigail's Party" and I'm not sure if I'm biting your line in saying this but it was "devastating". I had no idea that what, at first, looked like an episode of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" could resonate so strongly or that I would be able to empathize with, hate, grow to like, be amused by Steadman's character but of course she is very real or should I say dangerously close to the truth. Powerful stuff and I'm glad you recommended it.

One of the best things about living here is the fantastic selection of bootleg films, not to mention the price. When I was living in North America I couldn't even afford to rent a film anytime I liked, let alone purchase one, I think I owned about four DVDs tops. Now, I'm a bourgeois pig living in communist China. Despite that, I feel like I'm on a good path.

Thanks for everything,

Dan Lower

Ray Carney replies:


Thanks for the kind words. Glad you are enjoying C on C. I have so much more no one will publish. Some day maybe it will see the light of day...


Dear Mr. Carney,

I've just recently discovered John Cassavetes' work as a director, due to the recently released Criterion box set, and have been truly amazed. Over the past few weeks, I've watched several of the pictures and documentaries multiple times. I enjoyed your comments in "A Constant Forge," and understand why you are considered an expert on Cassavetes and his work.

Now my understanding has grown even greater, having just spent some time at "The John Cassavetes Pages" web site. I enjoyed the insightful excerpts available on the web pages. As a young independent filmmaker myself, Cassavetes is clearly a great source of inspiration and creative fuel.

I do, however, have a question that perhaps you may be able to provide an answer. The Criterion set includes two versions of "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie." Yet, I have not found anything that definitively says why Cassavetes released a second version. I know it's stated in "A Constant Forge" that he would have only made this alternate cut for his own reasons, and not the persuasion of others. However, I would like to know if there was any reason in particular he wanted to do this. Can you provide any information regarding this, or perhaps recommend any of your published works that discuss it?

Once again, I very much enjoyed all of your insights into this terrific filmmaker. I hope to hear from you.


David Sayre

Ray Carney replies:


But...if you are interested in JC, you should read my books. Not the tiny excerpts on the web pages, the books! If you are serious. (So many aren't of course. They don't read books. They are the generation misled by Bill Gates and idiot teachers to believe in the value of web pages. Sorry, just giving you the facts.) Break free of web pages!

My Cassavetes on Cassavetes book has much more on the making of the Killing of a Chinese Bookie. The Criterion set is a botch job, full of errors and omissions. Don't go by anything that is said on those disks or in the pack-in material. Once I was thrown off the project they didn't know what they were doing. They give the wrong dates, wrong information, wrong credits, etc. for films. They have Shadows being finished and released in 1958. They do not explain the relation of the two versions of Bookie. The Kissass documentary romanticizes Cassavetes and his works. The Jonathan Lethem essay in the booklet is laughable. The piece by Gary Giddens contains factual mistakes. But I won't go on. Read my books. They have the facts. The truth. The reality. Criterion wasn't interested in that. It was interested in sucking up to Rowlands, who is afraid of facts and not interested in the truth, only interested in creating and maintaining a mythical version of her husband's life and work.

All best wishes and thanks for the kind words.

Dear Professor Carney,

You don't know me, but several years ago you ruined my life.

In the summer of 2003, I was halfway through my film education at Wesleyan University. While flipping through the pages of an amateur film how-to book, which film majors get for every conceivable holiday, I came across an introduction written by you, a list of anti-rules for filmmaking. It really clicked for me, and so I sought out some of the other essays on your website.

To my horror, I found myself agreeing with a number of them. My gut feelings about Hollywood, Quentin Tarentino, and my own shallow filmic experiences were distilled in these essays, and it terrified me, because I realized I had lost a certain amount of cinematic faith. I couldn't look my DVD collection in the eye. Fargo? American Beauty? Forget it. I dreaded the sight of movie theaters; a screening of '28 Days Later' nearly caused my friends to kick me senseless. I was suddenly able to see clearly, and it made me an unbearable cinema companion for several weeks.

I finally calmed down and began to disagree with some of your points, but my own inner change - the one begun when I first didn't understand the hype about Saving Private Ryan - that change was complete. I needed something more substantial than the cinematic brain candy I had been consuming all my life. Fortunately, I had a guide. Your essays pointed me towards Tom Noonan, Mike Leigh, Jean Renoir and even John Cassavetes: an entire world of film I had never known existed.

In a few months, I will graduate from Wesleyan as a Film and Theater major. I do not know where I am going after that, but my experiences as a director on stage and on set has left me hungry for more. With this in mind, I am applying to the Boston University Film Program, primarily because your work has inspired me even as I wrestle and argue with it. You have already begun to lead me towards an understanding of film as medium capable of surprising truths, and I think studying with you would help me come to terms with an art form I have both despised and adored in the same instant.

Wesleyan is not so far from Boston, and while I'm sure you are very busy, I would really enjoy the chance to meet with you. My phone number is XXX and I check my e-mail frequently. Thank you again for giving me such necessary grief.


-Jeremy Paul

Ray Carney replies:


Thanks for the eloquent letter. I like the wit of your writing. And appreciate the compliments.

You don't say whether you intend to apply to the Film Studies or Film Production program. I assume the latter. Is that correct?

You might include a printout of your email to me in your application if you haven't mailed it already. It provides evidence of your seriousness. But if you have already sent the application in, tell me and I'll insert it into your dossier if you want.

As to a meeting, that will be possible after you attend, but before might be dicey. I come to all of the Graduate Open Houses (Visiting Days) but the last was last week. The rest of the time, I'm very busy with my current classes and students.

Thanks for the kind words in any case. I hope we meet!


Dear Mr. Carney!

My name is Vladimir Gojun, I am a film school graduate from Academy of Drama Arts in Zagreb, Croatia and I am preparing my thesis on John Cassavetes. I am a huge admirer of Cassavetes' work and consider him one of the most exceptional filmmakers. I have read both of your books, "Cassavetes on Cassavetes" and "Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies". Both helped me to understand the nature of his work, his original way of working with actors, and the perspective of film directing and storytelling.

In my thesis I want to concentrate, on the example of a few of his most important films, on his directing methods, and the way how he used editing (since my field of specialization is editing) in his films.

I wanted to ask you if you could be available sometimes to instruct me on some aspects of this matter and if you could recommend some more literature regarding his work and his methods. Since you've been considered and well-reputed as the biggest expert and connoisseur of Cassavetes' work and an authority when it comes to this subject and I find you the most appropriate person to turn to.

I sincerely hope that you will find some spare time to help me through this. I would be very grateful in that case.

Thank you in advance and I apologize for any inconvenience caused by this e-mail, if any.


Vladimir Gojun

PS - One more thing, I am very interested in Cassavetes' stage work and I wonder if it's possible to get any of his written stage plays, in any form, of course if they were ever published. Thank you.

Ray Carney replies:

Dear Vladimir,

Id be glad to read what you write (in translation of course) and give you my response.

As to recommendations on what to read: there simply is not much that is worth your time. Nicole Brenez has written a few essays and a book, but they are French in the worst way uncontrolled metaphoric free-associations with no discipline. George Kouvarouss book is hopelessly jargon-ridden and abstract. Cassavetes would be laughing his ass off if he were alive to see it. Tom Charity has a few interesting anecdotes about JC's life, but his treatment of the films is unremarkable. And that's almost everything. It's too bad. But film studies is that way. Very immature intellectually. How else could a popular entertainer like Hitchcock be taken to be a great artist?

I'd recommend reading Casss words in Cass on Cass. He is the often best critic of his own work. Like D.H. Lawrence and Henry James in this respect.

And look at the films of course. Again and again. They teach you things that no critic yet understands. So I'd say make the films your bible, not the critics!

As to the plays and other things, I've pleaded with Gena to make them available, but she hasnt done so in fifteen years, so I wouldn't hold my breath over her doing it tomorrow. And her attitude makes it impossible for me to share all the things John himself gave me. Someday they will see the light of day, but not now.



Forgive me for bitching, but what does it say about film in America when one has to resort to look for bootleg copies of Robert Kramers Ice and Shirley Clarke's Portrait of Jason in order to see crappy looking versions of them. Thank god I have a decent copy of Wanda and Killer of Sheep and Rappaport. His video's are like trying to find something original at the local cineplex - nothing doing! I did manage to get Casual Relations and Scenic Route both brilliant. Time to stop complaining now; I'm off to see that Clint Eastwood boxing movie. Just kidding!

All the Best,

Paul Baagiotti

Ray Carney replies:


I helped issue some of Rapps work on video a few years ago and began talks with Kramer about doing him next, then the company went bankrupt. We can blame the metroplexes and Miramaxes and Spielbergs, but should never forget that they are US. Not you and me maybe, but people just like us everywhere. The problem is not elsewhere. It is not corporations. It is the people who watch movies, the audiences, the video renters and buyers, the TV viewers like you and me and our mothers and brothers. They voted for George Bush, too. The problem with America is not in the White House. It is with the people in America . And maybe everywhere. I don't know enough about that.

But don't despair. Go on joyously, hopefully, affirmatively, lovingly, continuing to be different. We must live our lives for ourselves in the best way possible for us. Even if the whole world is doing something else, running in the opposite direction.


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© Text Copyright 2006 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.