Dear Professor Carney:
I am writing to you regarding my Senior Thesis. I am a student in Towson Universitys Theatre Studies program and each undergraduate
is required to write a thesis paper during their senior year.
I am a great admirer of John Cassavetes and would like to write about
his work and its relation to the theatre. He wrote several of
his films as plays before reworking and adapting them into screenplays
(for example A Woman Under the Influence).
I am still in the process of developing my thesis, and would
like to talk about the transformation of his stage versions
into screenplays. I would also like to discuss the repertory
company he formed toward the end of his life.
My thesis is not due until the end of the fall semester. I am aware
that without reading the manuscripts and talking to people who
where involved with the stage productions, the topic is mute.
I was wondering if you have copies of his plays (East/West Game,
Knives, A Woman of Mystery, Begin the Beguine and Ted Allans
Love Streams) that I might read and whether you would have time
to discuss this project with me.
Before returning to school two years ago, I worked in the film and
theatre industry in New
York both as an actor and behind the scenes
in production. I first saw a copy of Shadows in 1994 and was
instantly inspired. Over the years I have collected books about
Cassavetes, and I have read your books, The Films of John Cassavetes:
Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies; John Cassavetes: The
Adventure of Insecurity; and Cassavetes on Cassavetes, as well
as copies of his scripts and videos of his films.
I know that you are an expert on the life and work of Cassavetes
and would very much like the opportunity to meet you.
Ray Carney replies:
I am glad to hear from you. I wish you great success on your project.
To your questions: I have everything. John gave everything to me.
And Ted Allan gave me other things. But I cannot give you copies
of JC's stage plays. Nor can anyone else, to my knowledge. Gena
Rowlands absolutely forbids it. And forbids
me to do it.
deep point follows. Bear this in mind: There is a human tendency
to think that the thing we can't get
our hands on, the thing that we don't have access to, will suddenly
reveal something critical, crucial, enlightening. It is a fallacy. A fallacy. A fallacy.
The fact is that you have the equivalent of hundreds of pages of Cassavetes'
work already. You have his films and the scripts he worked from
(based on what is in the films). Use this material. Study it.
Master it. It is gold. Don't get hung
up on a quest for what you don't have. You are deluding yourself
if you do that. The films have an immense amount to teach you
about JCs conception of dialogue, drama, scene construction,
character, etc. No one has yet written adequately on those subjects.
You can do it! You dont need anything
else! Nothing but what you already have access tothe films!!!
But, to be complete in my answer: There is one script that is possibly
worth procuring: the shooting script of Faces published by NAL/Signet
years ago. You can find it on EBay or Abebooks or somewhere
else on the internet if you are willing to pay a little to get
it. But even here, you would do just as well to study, study, study the film that exists. This script
will not reveal anything that is not already in the film.
In summary: Don't delude yourself by thinking
there is something else out there that will reveal things to
you. Everything you need to know is in the films themselves.
If you don't understand what I mean, then I think you should pick
As to meeting, that may happen or may not, depending...
My name is Tom Russell. I sent you a series of letters between September
and December of last year, offering thoughts about art, filmmakers,
etc., and thanking you for your kind words. I feel kind of bad
about the volume of letters I sent, as I know you're a busy man I'm sorry if I took up too much of your time.
I just want to write again to thank you for the kind words on your
pages and in your books. We've been
trying the festival circuit with our film this year, my wife
and I, and just received our first rejection, from Cannes. We know, we know: it's a big festival and it's all rigged, but we figure it was worth
I would have gotten upset, devastated, but then I remembered some
of the words you've written, about
what's important in life. And it really helped to center me,
so when I called my wife to let her know the bad news, I was
able to keep her calm. We'll just try
the next festival, and the next one, and we'll keep trying.
If we have to sell videos through a website, then we'll do that. We'll do whatever it takes to get our film seen. Maybe we'll
make a mint and maybe we won't, maybe I'll always be stuck looking
for work, but what's important is my wife, our life together,
our family, and to make the work of art, not the work of commerce.
It seems like common sense stuff, but reading it on your pages
just makes it *click*, you know?
Ray Carney replies:
Sorry to hear how hard it is, but your attitude is the right one.
I do my writing for the same reasons. It doesnt get printed in Premiere or Entertainment Weekly (the equivalent
of Cannes I guess) but so what?
Thanks for the kind words. Keep going. And make another!
PS If you don't do it already, try reading
IndieWire.com every day or going through their news archives.
They have the most complete and up-to-date listing of film festivals
that are looking for submissions. Including
ones not as choosy as Cannes. Might be of use. Good luck!
Hello Ray Carney,
about you from a friend a couple years ago. Got a copy of "What's Wrong with Film Books..." and found
it very enlightening. I've basically
modeled my views of art from yours.
Anyway, the only thing that disturbs me about your site is that LA
Times David Weddle article. Yes, I've graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in film studies,
so I have to feel somewhat irked and defensive when someone
talks poorly about my school.
My problem is that Weddle's article seems to contradict some of the
things you uphold are bad about film schools, in general. The
overall feeling I get from his article is that he's mad 'cause he doesn't "get" the concepts being taught
in the film theory classes - hell if he even bothered really
reading them. What's worse is that he seems to be pro the sort
of teaching that creates more Spielbergs and Tarantinos.
I took classes with Branigan, a UCSB professor Weddle caricatures,
and although he's intense in theory,
he's also intense in viewing films as a piece of art, not just
mere social entertainment. Branigan has made me see films in
a completely different light (sort of when like when I started
reading your essays) Weddle wants to be entertained when he's
taught about film, 'cause film to him isn't about art or one's
life, it's about a job where you manipulate people's "fake"
Now don't get me wrong, there are still
many problems in film studies. Heck, many of the professors
at UCSB are regurgitators of facts and theories, and really
do ask the "tough" questions like how "Night
of the Living Dead" is a work that criticizes racism or
something (my god, leave it alone, it's just a cool zombie movie!!!)
But Branigan is a diamond in the rough among film professors. I mean,
he's one of the only professors is willing to screen Bresson's
"Lancelot du Lac," even if most of the students (who
are basically in the major because "I hear it's easy, and
I get to watch movies for free, and I can make a lot of money
and be the next Tarantino") will probably leave 1/4th through
- Just as long as those few who stay get to see and experience
a Bresson film, experience film as art.
Weddle does point out many problems with the current state of University
film studies, but I doubt what he wants taught instead is any
Yes, I've graduated from UCSB, and maybe
there is more bad than good, but the good I learned is something
I would never trade away.
Ray Carney replies:
Thanks for the good words. Ill post your
letter on my site as a corrective or at least to represent your
point of view. Remember that I didnt write that article. I dont necessarily agree with everything in it. But I do think
it makes important and valuable points.
now to Edward Branigan. The fundamental difference between you and
me is that in my view it is not enough merely to like the same
films I like, not enough to say you like art. I know nothing
first hand about Branigan as a teacher of course, but I do know
his writing. And it is embarrassing. Might
say the same thing about David Bordwell. I adore Ozu
(am teaching him this semester in fact). Bordwell wrote a book
on Ozu. But why should that make me like Bordwells work or
respect his point of view? Just because he wrote about a filmmaker
I like? His book is so awful, so stupid, so block-headed, it's almost beyond belief and certainly beyond
parody. One of the things I had my students do in class was
read short sections of his work and give it a grade. We compared
his writing with the writing of one of my best students (I must
acknowledge her name: the wonderful Cheryl Panlilio) and it
was clear how much smarter about Ozu she was than Bordwell.
How much better she was as a writer. How much deeper she was
as a thinker. And that's an undergraduate
student! So why should I have to love Bordwell because he likes
and teaches the same filmmakers I like and teach?
To reverse it, it's no different from the hate mail I get from students
who tell me that I dont appreciate X, Y, or Z their favorite
filmmaker and that therefore they dont like my writing or
point of view. I write back and say, who cares? It's not the Top 40 AM play list. Its not
about me liking your friends and you liking mine on the playground. It's ultimately about how art works
and what it can do to us. And what film study can and should
be. That's what they should be asking
about. Whether I have anything valuable to tell them about how
to study and appreciate film. Not if we have the same ten people
on our top ten lists. And, when I ask that question, it is clear
to me that Bordwell and Branigan and I do not see eye to eye
on what art is and does, on how its values can be communicated,
on the function of criticism and study and appreciation. That's what matters.
Long live the difference! And thanks sincerely for the thoughts.
Hi. My name is Terry Comino and I was looking to buy a DVD or video
version of the 1958 film Virgin Island starring John Cassavetes. Could you please
help in any way by either supplying this film or pointing me
in the right direction? I have been watching eBay and Amazon
but with no success.
Also what are the chances of us film lovers down under being given
the chance to see the earlier longer version of Shadows or the
TV works of JC that you are screening in the US. There are many
here who are supportive of your efforts and also have a great
desire to see all the works of this great man.
I look forward to any assistance you may provide.
With many thanks,
Ray Carney replies:
Sorry all I can recommend is to try the internet for bootleg copies
of anything you want to see.
However I can tell you that you are setting yourself up for a disappointment. Virgin Island is pretty dreadful. Or
routine at best. Cassavetes' acting work is really not
Jim Hoberman was wrong about Cassavetes TV acting in a recent piece
in Film Comment. Cassavetes' acting is NOT interesting even
in Staccato where he directed himself and could do anything
he wanted to. (Except for a few exceptional moments, none of
which Hoberman happens to mention.)
There is this illusion that the works we haven't seen hold the key to everything, that they are better and more
interesting than what we have seen. It's not true. It's no different than my
feeling when I was a kid that I wanted to practice the piano
any time there was no piano in the room. Just
a trick of the human brain. Every time there was a piano,
the impulse mysteriously went away. Thus with
the "unknown" works of Cassavetes. The "known"
works are still "unknown" enough to merit massive
time and effort. Look at them again. They will reward your time
much better than a worldwide search of the unknown masterpieces,
of which there are precious few. Virgin Island not being one of them.
having said that, I am doing a
tour of some of JC's unknown TV works. But works far more obscure and wonderful than Virgin Island. Works really, truly unknown and undiscussed. Look for it next fall at major film festivals. Im putting it together now.
And to answer the Shadows first version question: I have it.
It is safe. It is wonderful. I am willing to show it anywhere
that Gena can't physically stop me
or grab the print away from me. But it must be done "right"--with
a proper, respectful, scholarly treatment; a panel and discussion;
a comparison with the other version in a parallel screening;
and the other supporting events a premiere of such importance
deserves. However, no one has invited me to do that. I would
put on that event anywhere any time, as long as it is done right,
by the right people, for a smart, informed audience. Moral:
Get someone over there to invite me, if they are interested
in doing it right, and I will come.
My name is Ken Knight and I am a fan of your work. I graduated from
Univ. North Carolina Wilmington where a professor teaches a
Cassavetes/Scorsese class. I took the class because I was interested
in Martin S, by the end I was fairly infatuated with Cassavetes. We used
your book Cassavetes on Cassavetes as the main text in that
class. I have a question for you: If I were up in New
England (I'm looking to teach up there after I finish my Masters degree)
is there any way I could sit in on a screening of the first
version of Shadows? If you were going to show it in your class,
would it be alright to sit in on your class so I could see it?
Once again thanks.
Ray Carney replies:
me guess, is it Todd Berliner? I know him. We differ in our
taste in film, but hes a good guy
I teach tons of films and many different classes. You are welcome
to come to any or all. (Dont tell
the university though or they would want money.) I actually
have visitors from all over the world and all over Boston every semester. As well
as some regular auditors who have sat in on dozens of my classes
in the past and still do at present. (Did I post the
story of the boy who drove crosscountry and lived in his pickup
truck on the site? He was one of them.)
you see, I am VERY open to visitors.
But, alack and alas for you, I am not showing or planning on
showing the first version of Shadows any time soon in
class. I did it last year and that years class wasnt really and truly deeply interested in it and this years grad
students have shown no interest at all in the subject either. That's the luck of the draw with grad
students. They have their own agendas: gay film, multicultural
film, feminist film, etc. Cassavetes doesnt happen to be on their hit list! Not one has even asked me about
any of his films or any possible future screenings of the first
version. Such is life. I am used to it. No man is a prophet
in his own country! They are just not interested.
As another illustration of the difference between film fantasy and
student reality: I have the worlds largest collection of Mark
Rappaports work, including films virtually no one has seen
or knows about. Gifts from the filmmaker. I could hold an entire semester of
Mark Rappaport screenings and never repeat a title. But none
of my students is interested in his work either. It was like
pulling teeth to hold discussions of Local Color and Scenic Route a few weeks ago. So there is another even
more wonderful treasure trove that will go unscreened and unseen,
at least for the present. But that will change, I promise! I
will convert the world, and even if my students dont get it, I will bring these films to the rest of the world!
I vow to do it.
That's where you come in. How about doing the following? Get me invited
to show the first version of Shadows somewhere near you.
See another letter above this one for my conditions. I want
it done up right. Not a hole and corner affair but a handsome
coming out. But I would take it anywhere that invited me if
they did things up royally. Or the Rappaport
Now back to your auditing inquiry: Come if you want, but Shadows wont be on the screening list, unfortunately.
(But don't forget: You and I would be the
only people in the room who would care about seeing the first
version of Shadows--at least as far as the Boston U.
student body and faculty goes. No other film teacher, student,
or administrator in the entire university, as far as I can tell,
gives a hang that I found it. All of the requests to screen
it come from other people.)
Ive been having many thoughts about your screening of Human Remains
on Thursday and I wanted to share some of them since they kind
of excite me (dont worry; it's only a page-worth).
I guess what interests me the most about the film at this point is
the fact that these dictators have a chance to justify their
evil ways to a contemporary audience, but they never do; in
fact, they never even acknowledge that anything evil even happened.
Instead, they say a bunch of banal humdrum that only serves
to distract the viewer from thinking about the important issues
that need to be addressed. They try to keep us passive, just
as they did with the people they lead, because they know a proactive
mind only gets in the way of what they want to accomplish and,
in turn, makes life much more uncomfortable.
But a preference for a passive culture is not dictator-specific.
Everyday human interaction, as you have observed on the commuter
rail, is all about engaging in banal conversation so as to avoid
issues/problems that ought to be discussed. And people engage
in this conversation so much that they begin to think this is
the only way to communicate with each other. Once that happens,
passive complacency becomes the norm, which allows a cultures
problems to grow to a point where something horrible happens
(e.g. six million Jews get exterminated).
My attention was drawn to the front page of The Boston Globe Thursday
after seeing the film. It had a photo of George Bush with the
New England Patriots. Bush was telling Teddy Bruschi how courageous
he was both on and off the field and everyone was clapping.
I couldn't help but draw the parallel
between this and Hitlers meeting with and praise of the Kid
from Chaplins movie. Fun events such as these help distract
the public and take their attention away from issues that need
to be focused on (in Bushs case, the trouble in Iraqi). Sadly,
the media only serves to assist with this distraction, since
these events make for great Human Interest stories and thus
sell more newspapers, get better ratings and such.
So, I think one possible lesson to be extracted from the film is
that evil is the banal conversation we engage in with each other;
it is our means of distracting others and ourselves from important
issues that need to be addressed; it is our divorcement from
reality (reality being, as you have said, what we personally
feel and the actions we take to express these feelings outwardly)
all of which make us a race of passively complacent people.
The mass exterminations and other atrocities those are merely
the byproducts of this evil; they are what can happen when people
become so distracted and detached from reality that the problems
in their culture swell beyond control. Surely it's much easier
to interact with each other when we dont have to think or take
much action or question things or stir the soup or be a squeaky
wheel, so to speak; nevertheless, causing trouble is the healthiest
way to live.
Anyway, I enjoyed the film. Watching a short film like this ought
to be included as part of a persons daily exercise. Physical
activity is good for the heart, but mental activity is good
for the brain, and a good debate can be had over which organ
is more important to keep healthy. Part of the problem (with
Americans especially) is that we only think of health in physical
terms. If we go to the gym five days a week and get a good workout
in, were in good shape. We have forgotten that the brain can atrophy
as well, and having an inactive brain is probably even worse
than having an inactive heart.
Ill be in class on Tuesday.