I discovered something interesting
in my film theory class (an indirect result of what was being
taught, I'm sure.) I discovered that I was OFFENDED down to my
very soul with what was being taught. The professor got up there
and started talking about people who conceive of film as an "art"
and how wrong they were. His ultimate point was that any work
of art, including film, is the result of cultural and social influences,
and not any sort of individual wellspring of creativity on the
artist's behalf, and any other such notions to the contrary
were archaic Romantic ideas that weren't really taken seriously
anymore. It was appalling to me. He was even laughing whenever
he had to utter the word "art. This would be like being
a devout Catholic and going to church and then hearing the priest
try to convince everyone that Jesus was a raving lunatic. Maybe
not that extreme, but still, he was pretty much attacking my foundational
beliefs. I wanted to say something, maybe put up an argument,
but I really don't think the rest of the students were actually
listening to the garbage they were being force-fed. In fact, most
of them were dozing off. One guy was playing Solitaire on
his laptop. I love school!
I have read your book Cassavetes on Cassavetes "The Filmmaker
And at the end, I have wept.
Ray Carney replies:
Thank you for the kind words. John was a dear man. I miss him intensely.
All best wishes in your work,
I'm involved in a project about Dreyer's "Joan of Arc"
and I'm wondering if you could shed some light on a very incidental
aspect of the film.
In the scene where Joan is receiving communion before her death,
one of the judges climbs that stairs outside her cell and overhears
it. On the wall behind the priest, is some kind of drawing a
goose (or chicken) with a human head with ears (or horns)
on its head and something coming out of its mouth.
Any chance you know what that represents? Is it a sign to signify
to goodness or evilness of Joan?
There's actually a very, very brief scene earlier in the movie where
you can see somebody (a priest?) drawing it while the judges are
Any help is greatly appreciated.
Ray Carney replies:
Sorry I don't have any ideas about that. I am glad you call it "a
very incidental aspect." Altogether too much time and effort
is spent doing this sort of thing. Decoding the posters in ET.
Attributing meaning to the license plates of cars in Psycho.
Etc. Etc. Ad infinitum. Ad nauseum. Ad absurdum. Interest in such
things is proof that the film or the critic is idiotic. Stupid.
Real art is not a code. Criticism is not about rotating your decoder
ring. There is so much of importance to say about Joan of
Arc. What is on the wall is not one of those things.
I don't know a whole lot about the Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm
Reich. I do know he wrote a funny, tweaking little book called Listen, Little Man and a rather more serious one called The Mass Psychology of Fascism. He turned a good phrase
and had a love for humans, not to mention humanity. As a disciple
of Freud, he of course privileged the role of sexuality and the
unconscious in interpreting human behavior, if not more so.
Reich was born in Dobryzcynica, then part of the Austro-Hungarian
Empire (present day
) in 1897. He would go on to fight in World
War I on the Italian front (opposite Hemingway), eventually settling
in Vienna where he spent much of his life researching
and practicing. After moving to
, he shortly thereafter emigrated to
upon Hitler's rise in 1933.
He continued his research there until moving to the
in 1939. After teaching at the New School for Social Research in New
York City, his disciples set up the today still extant
Wilhelm Reich Foundation in Rangeley, Maine in 1949. After publishing more books, most
notably The Murder of Christ in 1953, Reich was unjustly
imprisoned for his later controversial, if not outright kooky,
work on sexuality. He died in prison of a heart attack at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania in 1957.
Some of what the reader will find in this stew of pungent quotations
from Listen, Little Man will come off as rather imperious,
but just go with it for a while.
"But mistaking insolence for freedom has always been the hallmark
of the slave? And now you feel free from cooperation and responsibility.
That, little man, is why you and the world are where you are."
"You'll wake up from your nightmare, little man, and find yourself
lying helpless on the ground, because you steal from the giver
and give to the thief. You have mistaken the right of free speech
and criticism for the right to shoot off your mouth and crack
stupid jokes. You want to criticize but not to be criticized,
and as a result you get torn to pieces and shot. You want to attack
without exposing yourself to attack. That's why you always shoot
"Because you have no memory for things that happened twenty
years ago, you're still mouthing the same nonsense as two thousand
years ago. Worse, you cling with might and main to such absurdities
as 'race,' 'class' and 'nation,' and the obligation to observe
a religion and repress your love. You're afraid to acknowledge
the depth of your wretchedness. From time to time you lift your
head out of the muck and shout Hurrah!"
"'How then,' I hear you ask, 'shall I attain my end, whether
it be Christian love, socialism, or American democracy?' Your
Christian love and your socialism and your American democracy
are what you do each day, your manner of thinking each hour, of
embracing your life companion and loving your child; they are
your attitude of social responsibility toward your work, and your
determination not to become like the crushers of life you so hate.
But you, little man, abuse the freedom conferred on you by democratic
institutions; you do your best to destroy those institutions instead
of giving them a firm root in your daily life."
"You'll have a good secure life when being alive means more
to you than security, love more than money, your freedom more
than public or partisan opinion; when the mood of Beethoven's
or Bach's music becomes the mood of your whole life? you have
it in you, little man, somewhere deep down in a corner of your
being; when your thinking is in harmony, and no longer in conflict
with your feelings; when you've learned to recognize two things
in their season; your gifts and the onset of old age; when you
let yourself be guided by the thoughts of great sages and no longer
by the crimes of great warriors; when you cease to set more store
by a marriage certificate than by love between a man and a woman;
when you learn to recognize your errors promptly and not too late,
as you do today; when you pay the men and women who educate your
children better than politicians; when truths inspire you and
empty formulas repel you; when you freely communicate with your
fellow workers in foreign countries directly, and no longer through
"You don't want to be an eagle, little man, and that's why the
vultures devour you. You're afraid of eagles; that why you live
in herds and are devoured in herds. Because some of your hens
have hatched out vulture eggs. And the vultures have become your
leaders in your fight against the eagles, who wanted to lead you
to faraway, better worlds. The vultures taught you to eat carrion,
to content yourselves with a few crumbs of grain, and to shout,
'Heil, great vulture!'"
"You [meaning Reich, according to the little man] said
to them 'go forth and fuck.' Your mind perverts every idea. In
your life my loving embrace becomes an act of pornography. You
don't know what I'm talking about, little man. That's why you
keep sinking back into the swamp."
"You can only take, you can't give. That's why it's no more
conceivable to you that a man might find his greatest joy in giving
than it might be possible to spend three minutes with a member
of the opposite sex without starting to fuck."
"Happiness wants to be worked for and earned. But you just want
to consume happiness. It runs away from you because it doesn't
want to be consumed by you."
As Ray Charles said in those stupid 1980s Pepsi commercials: Uh Huh!
Professor Carney -
Just watched "Mikey and Nicky" last night. Such
an incredible film! The final scene, with each man on opposite
sides of the door, was just gut-wrenching. What else by Elaine
May is worth checking out? Was the failure of "Ishtar"
at the box-office simply the death knell of her career, or did
she cease directing for other reasons?
Needless to say, I've been thoroughly enjoying your class this semester.
I've been reading bits of your work for a couple years now. While
at first I was rather apprehensive about many of your ideas, lately
I've become deeply fascinated and intrigued by them. Perhaps I've
been too vocal in my eagerness and enthusiasm. To make
it quite clear, certainly Im no brown-nose or GPA fiend. Believe
it or not, I'm hovering around a 2.7 these days, and relations
with several of my [Boston University film program] teachers, particularly my
production teacher, have practically become hostile. Believe me,
I've come to completely understand why you scoff whenever I mention
that I'm a production student.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to take Film Production 1 with
XXXX, who did his best to encourage experimentation in the students'
work. Of course his semester here was a one-off. Flynn came and
went quickly, despite the fact that, according to Chairman Merzbacher
himself, the class reel was "the best he'd seen in years.
This semester at Boston University I'm taking Production 2 with a full-time
staff member. I honestly can't believe the bullshit we've been
fed so far. We've been taught, even forced, to shoot our films
as if they were sitcoms. My friend Will (from the Cornell architecture
program) sat in on the class while several students (myself included)
screened their films. He couldn't believe the criteria by which
the films were judged, particularly after sitting in on your Ozu
lectures. Content, style, and artistry are entirely non-issues;
merit is judged only by technical proficiency and conformity to
prevailing shooting and editing conventions. Year after year,
every last drop of creativity is squeezed out of the students
taking these classes. The three film studies classes we're forced
to take simply doesn't cut it. Sooner or later, all the students
begin to equate quality filmmaking with easily digestible narrative
flow. Each and every year, the Redstone Film Festival stands as
a massive embarrassment to all parties involved. Is it any wonder
that the department maintains no library of student films from
Anyway, my apologies for the rant. I'm actually contemplating writing
an essay about the problems I find plaguing BU's film department,
and some ideas about fixing them. The raw materials necessary
for a phenomenal education are certainly available within the
department, but with no pragmatic structure in place, few students
ever actually tap into this. It really pains me to see most of
my classmates graduating in May having learned next-to-nothing
in their four years here. They enter COM wanting to be Tarantino,
and leave four years later wanting to be Godard; not much of an
I'm really considering switching from being a faux-production major
to being a pseudo-studies student. Besides Directing, possibly
Production 3 (for access to equipment), I think I've tapped out
the production classes here. Next semester I'd like to take Directing,
Bergman/Tarkovsky, and if possible, a directed study under your
supervision. I'd really like to study the works of Carl Dreyer,
get deeper into Ozu, and more. I also have some inquiries regarding
your emphasis on tone/structure over commentary/ideas. I'm fascinated
by the prospect, but very, very unsure about how to write about
such topics. Do you have any time this upcoming week to talk about
any of this?
Ray Carney replies:
for the heartfelt statement. I agree with most of your comments
and your observations confirm many of my own. (By the way, XXX
is a friend I helped to get hired for a temp. opening last year.)
Don't let it get you down. The whole world is stupid in a lot of ways
and growing up creative is a process of realizing it. The drones
never realize it and when I say drones I am including many university
professors, chairs, deans, and administrators. Stupidity is not
confined to the students, in fact, the higher up you go in any
university, the more of it you find.
But you can still do creative work. Dont let the bastards wear you
down. Ignore them and get on with it!
Hiya Ray! I can't remember what was in the last email I wrote you,
it's been so long, so forgive me if I'm repeating myself here.
I just opened my first play this weekend, which went really well.
I'm doing a production of Edmond, by Mamet, (I play several small roles
meant by Mamet to be played by the same actress) with the Denver
Repertory Company. It's a relatively new company that's having
some difficulties, but I adore the producer, David Riley. I think
he's got great vision and he doesn't give a damn what people in
Denver think of him or his productions, as long as him and his
actors are doing what we believe is right. I just auditioned for
the lead in an original play we're trying to put up in June, so
I'll let you know how that goes.
The acting community is full of supportive and cooperative people
here - I've met so many wonderful women who want to collaborate
on projects to further all of our careers. And on opening night
I managed to arrange an interview for an acting teaching position
for the summer. I'm keeping my fingers crossed - I'm not thrilled
with my horrid waitressing job right now.
No matter how awful my job though, and no matter what else is going
on in my life, you have to know how it liberates me from everything
to go to the park and read one of your books for a couple of hours.
Like talking for hours on end with one of my actor friends, it
makes me feel so free to absorb myself in the discussion of these
things I'm passionate about. Thank you for choosing to write about
them! I am so glad to know you and your work. I'll write more
later but I have to eat and do laundry.
Ray Carney replies:
Thanks! Great to hear from you. Keep a hold of your soul. Our culture
is devoted to replacing it with monetary and material values.
Keep working with soulful, good people. Trying to do anything
else make money, get ahead, build a resume, trying to become
famous or successful is to waste your life.
Dear Ray Carney
Stumbled onto your site and read some of your writings about John
Cassavetes, my new favorite director. I adore your observations,
now I've got to buy your books.
I was especially interested in Cassavetes's frustration with 'the
method' (which still exerts a stranglehold on American acting
in film, theatre, tv and in college and university performance
programs). As an actor I shun the method though it comprised a
huge part of my training. Strassberg's method, Meissner, Adler
and other method acolytes have poisoned American acting. Cassavetes'
view of acting as play, as joyful expression, and his awareness
of and use of social masks is still revolutionary. You give eloquent
expression to this truth.
PS I really love the interview you give about your critic heroes
and clueless University professors. You could never become another
John Simon (thank whatever you consider holy) for though he was
a notorious burster of bubbles, a harsh taskmaster, he writes
from a place of loathing and envy. You do not seem likewise afflicted,
in fact you're just the opposite, though every bit as incisive
as Simon could be. And you're much better looking.
Thank you, Theresa. It's Monday morning and what an email to get
to start my week!
Thanks for the kind words about the site and the discussion of the
Method in particular. John and I talked a lot about that. It's
discussed both in my Shadows book and in my Cassavetes
on Cassavetes. I recommend both.
answer me something: Why is his work so hard for professors to
understand? You cant believe the resistance I encounter. Or the
general lack of interest to start with. And I almost never get
emails from professors about the site. One out of a thousand maybe.
It's why my hope is in the young people and the artists of all
Tell me more about yourself. Youve got me interested. Are you in
school? Out of it? How many years? Are you an actor (you call
yourself one)? What have you been in? What are you doing? Have
you written anything? Do you have a tape of one of your performances?
Have you seen What Happened Was? Wanda? The Wife? Mikey and Nicky? I just showed all four in an indie film
class. What do you think of them?
Well, is that too many questions?
Your energy comes through in your writing. Keep giving it to the world.
PS Thanks for understanding the difference between Simons and my
work. I would always rather bless than curse. Hes the opposite.
Just too proud to humble himself in front of a work of art. And
all great art takes humility.
Dear Mr. Carney,
I just wanted to write to you to express my support for you in regards
to the situation with Criterion and Mrs. Rowlands. I feel that
what they have done to you is despicable, and I also believe that
you should pursue legal action to reclaim the material that by
all means is your intellectual property. As a film lover and a
DVD consumer, I feel that I have been betrayed by Criterion and
Mrs. Rowlands. Now, I do not hold Mrs. Rowlands to any standards,
as she has the right to do as she believes, but I feel that she
is acting very unreasonably in her relations to you. Criterion
on the other hand, has a responsibility to it's customers to provide
the best product that they can. By not including your work or
giving you credit for the work that they have included, they have
proven that they are more interested in pleasing a movie star
than respecting their consumers. Thank you for your time, and
again, I would like to voice my utmost support for you in this
Ray Carney replies:
Thanks so much for the kind note of support. It really means a lot
You are right. She has the right to say or do whatever she wants,
but for Criterion to jump through her hoops in response is a different
issue. It makes me wonder how much in publishing (of books,
articles, and DVDs) is done to please movie stars or to avoid
offending them. It's a very troubling situation. We have the first
amendment, but commerce and business values trump it. That's the
Criterion story in a nutshell.
Keep going to good films and supporting art. That's what really matters.