Thanks for explaining. As I said, it's not an issue.
We'll figure out when the
interview would work best. Thanks
for your flexibility.
I was looking through some
of your aphorisms, and I found this one: No one intends to
do wrong in life. No one. Ever. Not even Hitler had
bad intentions or thought he was doing anything wrong. As
Renoir said: "Everyone has his reasons."
I'm curious whether you've
read much Carlyle. I know he's never
been much in vogue in academic circles because of his politics,
but it always comforted me that Emerson admired him at least. Your above aphorism reminds me of a passage from Carlyle
one which I used as an epigraph in my second novel.
"No man at bottom means
injustice; it is always for some obscure distorted image of
a right that he contends: an obscure image diffracted, exaggerated,
in the wonderfulest way by natural
dimness and selfishness; getting tenfold more diffracted by
exasperation of contest, till at length it becomes all but irrecognisable; yet still the image
of a right."
Ray Carney replies:
No. I didn't know the Carlyle quote. Guess he copied me! : )
Carlyle is a favorite
of mine. As is Emerson. I never let
someone's politics come between me and the truth. That's an external understanding of truth.
point is a deep philosophical one. It goes far beyond merely
understanding Hitler's goals or Bin Laden's motives. As you
probably know, I've written about the "intentional fallacy"
at length in my work. (And long before Daniel Dennett wrote
about it in his convoluted, poorly written, maddening Freedom
Evolves!). In the "stylistic introduction"
to my Leigh book I talk about the pervasiveness (and fallaciousness)
of intentional understandings in American culture--the cult
of willpower and effort and ideals and desires--and in my
Cassavetes' books I deal with the way his films defeat intentional
analyses of action and expression. I talk about the imperfect
self-awarenesses of Cassavetes' characters--about how they
don't know what they are doing, don't see themselves as they
are, and don't intend to be what they are or to make
the impressions they do. They just are. States of doing replace
states of being. In class, when my students "get psychological"on
me with the work of Tom Noonan or John Cassavetes, I tell
them that there is no such thing as an intention, that it's
a philosophical and ontological fiction, but I don't think
most of them understand the philosophical implications of
what I am saying. And they resist it. It's such a flattering
notion. We want to have inner selves--as a justification for
our outer failures, as a place of freedom, a place of purity.
It's an American idea. But it's a fallacy. If we leave intentions
behind, a whole new way of understanding opens up to us based
on the truth of surfaces, not depths--the truth of expression
and behavior, not the invisible (stupidly Hitchcockian) world
of vision, psychology, motives, and goals. But there's too
much to say, and I've written so much already about this subject.......
So, in answer
to your query, I am not indebted to Carlyle in any direct
way, but I have to admit that everything I know I've learned
from artists. Not from philosophers or psychologists. And
certainly not from film critics! Artists have been my real
teachers not the professors, not the academics, not the
bookworms. They taught me everything I know. Emerson in fact is the one who showed Carlyle's work to me
just as Cassavetes showed me other things about other filmmakers.
Forget the university. Art is my university. The invisible college, the visionary company of true souls.
just wanted to thank you one last time for allowing me to
sit in on the Indie class, even
though I was not enrolled in it. It's so nice to be in a course that actually leaves you thinking
after each class. And I mean REALLY thinking...so much that
you have to whip out a notebook, record all your thoughts,
and maybe even write a mini-essay to get a handle on them.
I hadn't been in a film studies course
like that in about three years, since David Kociemba's class. I'd be exaggerating to say my excitement for the art
of film had been dead since then, but watching LOCAL COLOR,
Rosenblatt's works (especially HUMAN REMAINS), and FUNNY HA HA really sent a jolt of artistic
energy through my body, reminding me how important a film
- or any good work of art for that matter - can be in a culture
where passive complacency easily becomes the norm. I wish
I could've come to more classes and
seen more films; then again, it's probably better to be left
in a state of want. Dissatisfaction leaves you with a drive.
Satisfaction is death.
was cleaning through my computer files this morning and I
found a Commencement speech that I wrote for the
speaker's contest last April, hoping I would get to
read it at the
graduation ceremony. I thought you might get a kick
out of it for two reasons: 1) It ironically has a lot to do with the kind of evil Jay Rosenblatt's
"Human Remains" explores and it also talks about
the media being the creator of a "normal" but unreal
reality like I discussed in my last email. 2) I was very angry
and confused when my speech wasn't even chosen as a finalist because I heard the winning speech
at the ceremony and it (along with the speeches given by the
Dean and other bigwigs) was the most meaningless thing I've
ever heard; however, I now see why my speech wasn't chosen.
It would've sounded too edgy. A school like COM always needs to
avoid controversy lest they hurt their reputation as "third-best
communications school in the nation" -- or whatever it
is! The mistake I made was believing that the contest was looking for the "best" speech,
not the "safest" speech. They should've been more clear in their announcement.
I haven't touched the speech since
last April when I entered it into the contest. My views have
changed a bit since then, but I still basically stand beside
what I say.
And please don't read it unless you have the time. I know you're busy with end-of-the-semester business and I feel guilty
asking you to read this email. But, again, I feel it's somewhat relevant to the issues raised by the films you show
in class. Read at your convenience.
Ginsberg once said, "Whoever controls the media, controls the culture." On a day like today, these words couldn't be more relevant, for we
all aspire to be key members of the media and we all want
a grip on the strings controlling culture. But many of us
still don't realize how great a responsibility
we're taking on. What kind of messages will we send to our
culture? In what direction should we steer it? How should
we change it? When I find myself asking these questions,
I find answers in something Leo Tolstoy said: "Everyone
thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing
himself." Yes, we must change ourselves before
we take on the responsibility of changing our culture, and
one of Tolstoy's books, The Death of Ivan Ilyich,
tells us how.
story is about a high court judge named Ivan who lives his
life according to a social blueprint. He works a respectable
job with a good salary, lives in a respectable neighborhood
with other respectable neighbors, and fancies dancing and
card games in his spare time as a respectable well-rounded
citizen should. Ivan never thinks of transcending this normal,
"respectable" lifestyle and embracing his free will
as a human being until it is too late. It isn't until hours before his death that he realizes how meaningless
his life was, how the social goods, constructions and institutions
he valued failed to give his time on earth meaning. The moral
of the story is paradoxical: we must acknowledge our inevitable
death in order to live our life properly. Selling out our
soul for material wealth and prestige is selling our self
short of the fruitful meaning we can bring to our life in
the scant amount of time between our birth and death.
is important that WE understand Ivan's tragic error more than
anyone else, for if we live our life with meaning, our mass
audience will live their life with meaning too. As gatekeepers,
we have the power to steer the entire culture away from the
harmful entertainment of today and redirect it onto a more
meaningful pathway. Now, when I say "harmful entertainment," I'm not referring to movies like The Matrix, music by Marilyn Manson or videogames
like Grand Theft Auto. Ironically, my idea of harmful
entertainment is the very media that our society perceives
as harm-LESS. Today's evening news teams and other infotainment,
popular tabloid newspapers, reality television and most major
studio movies have all succeeded in imposing an impenetrable
set of norms on our culture and instilling fear in anyone
that dares penetrate them. Their illusory portrayal of reality
has become a skewed model for how a "normal" society
functions. If we're not physically
gorgeous like all the men and women in the media, then we're
not normal. If we're not tattooing our lower back with butterflies or piercing
our navel with rings, then we're not normal. If we're not freaking out about terrorism, SARS and killer bees, then
we're not normal. The media creates the illusion that they're the ones we have to listen to in order to stay normal. In
fact, they make their money off our fear of becoming ABNORMAL.
This, my friends, is harmful entertainment. It is as harmful
as evil itself. No, it is evil itself.
media is, indeed, evil's gateway into our culture. And as
long as we are the gatekeepers, we will have the power to
contain the evil; if we don't let
it through our gate, then it won't enter the culture. Yes,
I sound like some preachy televangelist right now, but bear
with me for one more moment. The bottom line is that we have
to think twice before giving our television programs, motion
pictures and news articles the green light. Do they impose
norms on our culture and scare us into adhering to them? If
the answer is 'yes,' then we've discovered
evil. But it's not as easy as it seems; evil is tricky. Even if we see
through its seemingly "harmless" disguise, it will
retaliate by bribing us to let it pass, either in
the form of money, a brand new BMW, or a promotion. But when
it does, we must remember Ivan's tragedy: when WE grow old,
we will search for meaning in our life, and if all we can
extract from it is material wealth, prestige and other empty
socially constructed illusions, then we won't die happily. Ivan didn't have time to redeem his wasted life; we do. If we understand
how to live our life, then we'll understand how to control our culture. Class of 2004, I wish
you the best of luck in controlling our culture.
Dear Mr. Carney,
Toneelgroep Amsterdam has the intention to make a stage version
of Husbands by JohnCassavetes.
And for this performance, we want to acquire the stage rights.
Do you know who is still
in charge of the estate of John Cassavetes? If so what is
the best way to reach them? Could you inform us and send us
name, address and email address?
For your information: Toneelgroep Amsterdam is the most important subsidized theatre
company in The Netherlands. Our director, Ivo van Hove, made an excellent performance of Faces in
1997, and this summer he is directing Faces again in Stuttgart,
Looking forward to hearing
With kind regards,
investigating and learning a little more about the project
-- namely, that it is being directed by a major director,
being mounted by one of the Netherlands's most important dramatic
companies, that months of preparation have already been put
into it, and, finally, that it is being done as a homage to
Cassavetes, for strictly artistic reasons, more for love than
for money, I put Ms. Houtman in touch with the business manager
of the Cassavetes estate, Al Ruban. Ruban works directly for
Gena Rowlands and does her bidding.
time later, I received the following follow-up email from
Ms. Houtman (which I then subsequently followed-up with a
lengthy telephone conversation with her discussing the situation).
I include Ms. Houtman's letter to me for two reasons: Rowlands's
response will not only serve to summarize her attitude toward
such projects but may save others from making the mistake
of assuming that her approval of similar not-for-profit, artistic
productions can be taken for granted. Ruban instructed the
Amersterdam group to cease and desist from their production.
He denied permission:
Dear Ray Carney,
Thank you for your reaction. Of course we will send you a
tape of Faces and we had hoped you would come and
see the production of Husbands. But we've got a real
I mailed Al Ruban
and today we've got a message that certain rights were retained
by John and the estate has informed us that "they have
no interest in licensing the right to adapt John's screenplay
of Husbands for a stage play."
It took a long
time to get here. [Omitted material describing many things,
including how much time and effort has already been put into
planning and preparing the Husbands play production.]
We don't understand why the estate won't do it.
I'll try to reach you by telephone to confer about this question.
With kind regards,
Subject: Cassavetes Film
Dear Mr. Carney,
I'm a student at the University of Chicago proposing a Cassavetes retrospective series at Doc Films, our student-run
theatre, for the fall. I'm looking
for distribution, and I found out that you have the preview
cut of Shadows. Would you be willing to screen it at
Doc? Also, it would be an honor to have you introduce a film
and host a discussion afterwards, as the preeminent Cassavetes
scholar. The series will be ten films, starting with Shadows and ending with Love Streams, omitting such studio
works as A Children's Hour.
I loved your book, Cassavetes
on Cassavetes, by the way.
Ray Carney replies:
Good to hear from you! Yes, I'd be very interested in pursuing
this. That is to say:
screening the first version of Shadows
2) moderating a panel discussion about it and other things
3) introducing other Cassavetes films and conducting audience
discussions about them
4) and, while we're at it, screening both versions of The
Killing of a Chinese Bookie as well and conducting discussions
of them too
5) Possibly screening both versions of Faces too
(if the Library of Congress can be prevailed upon)
note that the devil is in the details. I don't want to fly
into Chicago--or anywhere else--for anything less than a major,
important, creative event. As noted above, that means that
I would want to show both versions of Shadows and Bookie and to support the screenings with a scholarly
panel or lecture series devoted to discussing Cassavetes'
creative process. I would want to run a series of "high
level", "professional" quality events. Introductions
and post-screening discussions would have to be done "right,"
with enough time allowed for the discussions. Program notes
and handouts would have to be part of the events. Etc. Etc.
I am thinking in terms of a week or two of Cassavetes films
and events in all.
short, I don't want a quickie screening of Shadows or a quickie series of events that are attended by people
who are not knowledgeable and seriously committed to the subject.
I speak from (bitterly disappointing) experience. I have flown
into too many festivals that aren't committed to serious presentations.
They just want the box office dollars and prestige of being
able to say that they are showing an unnknown film or presenting
a premiere. That's why I have turned down similar previous
inquiries from all over the world--because people are not
willing to do this right. They want me to give them the film
simply to bring in the crowds of viewers. I refuse to provide
the film for that sort of occasion.
in summary: I am willing to show the first version of Shadows anywhere, anytime, for anyone (a student film society, a professional
scholarly meeting, a movie theater) if it is DONE RIGHT--meaning
intelligently, carefully, in a way that allows people to learn
things from the events, not merely walk in, walk out, and
put two thumbs up or down. That is a waste of their time and
a waste of my time.
that with the exception of a few of the events I have organized
for Anthology Film Archive in New York long ago (all praise
be to Jonas Mekas!), and a few of the events I conducted to
support the national tour of Cassavetes' work after his death
this has NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE for Cassavetes. With these
sole exceptions (and most of these events took place ten or
fifteen years ago) there has NOT BEEN A SINGLE scholarly panel
or film festival lecture devoted to Cassavetes' work. Ever.
It's actually shocking to realize this. EVERY OTHER CASSAVETES
EVENT of the past fifteen years, at Sundance, at Tribeca,
at Denver, in L.A, in New York, EVERY CASSAVETES event all
around the world, has, at most, simply consisted of wheeling
in some know-nothing bimbo movie star to do a Q-and-A or sit
on a panel with a bunch of other bimbo movie stars or directors.
Seymour Cassel. Gena Rowlands. Peter Bogdanovich. Martin Scorsese.
Or someone else with "name" value. Someone else
who will "draw." I am not exaggerating when I say
that there has been NOT ONE really intelligent, thoughtful,
careful discussion of even a single film in front of an audience
in this entire time. I know whereof I speak. I have been at
most of the Cassavetes events in this period of time. My heart
sinks at the cravenness, the celebrity worship, the shallowness,
the glibness of the presentations. Artistic creation is turned
into a bunch of comical anecdotes. Is that the meaning of
life? Is that why we're here? To hear movie stars tell funny
a single exception, the festivals and theaters and film series
have been more interested in the drawing power of an idiot
movie star than in having a serious discussion of Cassavetes'
life, work, or creative process. Their priorities are totally
backward. I speak from long and sad experience. The festivals
spend dozens of hours making arrangements with Gena Rowlands
or Peter Bogdanovich or someone similar and spend tens of
thousands of dollars flying them in first class, shuttling
them around in stretch limos, giving them fancy meals in five
star restaurants, and putting them up in swanky hotel rooms,
but when I ask the director to allow me to give a single serious
lecture or hold a single serious discussion of a film (not
a boring, tedious presentation, but simply a serious, thoughtful,
informative one), they tell me they don't have the time! Or
that their budget won't support it! Or that it will be too
much trouble to arrange and publicize! I have attended dozens
of these events in the past and played genial Master of Ceremonies,
but I refuse to be part of another one. They are a waste of
my time and of everyone else's. They are part of our sick
culture of celebrity suck-up and adulation. I refuse to perpetuate
it. Enough is enough.
what's in it for you, you ask? Because this has never been
done before, I am certain that you could get national press
coverage if you arranged the sort of events I have described.
It would be the sort of event Roger Ebert, NPR, and many other
news outlets should cover. The first intelligent, careful
consideration of Cassavetes' life and work. For that reason
alone, it would bring in a large audience. I am certain it
would be a success, intellectually and commercially. And I
would love to be part of it. But, to reiterate: to provide
the first version of Shadows and to come in and do an intro.
for a screening or two is not something I am willing to do
or even to discuss.
your next step would be to see if there is any interest in
(or support from) the U of Chicago film faculty for this.
Let's get some professors on board. Let's get some scholars
involved. Or you might approach the Gene Siskel Film Study
Center (a good place). If you got a few people to commit to
it, I would LOVE to discuss this further, but again, it has
to be done handsomely and intelligently or there is no point
in going any further with our discussions.
free to forward this email to anyone else who might help.
If they don't know who I am or what the first version of Shadows is, tell them to go to my web site: www.Cassavetes.com.