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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: Minnie and Mosko

Hello ray.

Thanks for everything, man. You are largely responsible for my group of friends' insane diggin' of cass! (we are pretty phony, we talk like Zelmo when we talk to girls just for the fun of it!)

I got a question I hoped you could answer.

Do you know that scene in Minnie and Moskovitz, in the start, where Timthoy Carey is at the restaurant with Seymore, and Timothy goes "I know lots of things! I know lots of things!!!! I know where my wife is buried!!!!"

U know, that scene can kill an entire population, genocide really, its too much, maybe the high point of cinema! I wondered if u think Cass wrote that rant from Timmy or if he wrote it himself? (considering his Greatest Sinner movie and all).


Kristian Andersen

Ray Carney replies:

Good point, but who are you? Well, whatever.... You're right about the simply amazing Tim Carey. More than half of this scene was improv'd. At the point you cite, JC had simply scripted: "My wife died. You didn't know her, did you?" And Tim took it from there. What a riff. What chops. Blow, man, blow! Swing, swing, swing..... What a great guy he was. I miss talking with him.


Dear Mr. Carney,

Hello, how are you? My name is Ian MacLeod and I'm an actor/writer/director. I'm a film grad student at Art
Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. I am a huge fan of John Cassavetes and have been supremely
affected by his work. And aside from his films, you are a large reason for this enlightenment. I have read several of your writings including that of "Shadows" and my favorite being "Cassavetes on Cassavetes." It was a God-send book and opened my eyes (and I'm sure many other filmmakers) to the opportunity and lure of what film can be. The reason I am writing is because I will be moving to NYC in August to finish some writing, before I shoot my work in 2006. I will be there from August to December and was wondering if it would be possible to
take one of your classes at B.U. I understand the complications involved in out of state tuition, enrollment, etc., but I would love to take only one class and that would be one of your classes. I don't even need to recieve credit, I would like to even sit in on the class. I am not sure if you are even teaching a Cassavetes class in the fall, but i wanted to get in touch with you early to find a way to be in your class. My desire is to hear the extended thoughts you shared in the documentary "A Constant Forge." Being as busy as you are, I completely understand if I do not hear correspondence quickly, but I am patient and am willing to wait to hear from you. Whatever the outcome, I want to thank you for your dedication and commitment to bring the real truth to one of the greatest American Filmmakers that ever lived.

Thank you,

R. Ian MacLeod

Ray Carney replies:


Sorry. No Cass class in your time frame. I would be delighted to have you attend and participate in discussions since I am sure you would bring a level of seriousness and intensity that I am always in quest of, but it just won't work out for your schedule.

But don't feel bad. Of all of the subjects in the world that you might be interested in studying with me, Cassavetes is the one that you can most dispense with sitting-in on a class to learn. Most of my thoughts are in my books. If you have read them, you really have as much as you need. Of course, there is always more to say, but that's true of all of life, all of art. There is always more to say.

But, can I give you some advice, assuming you'll take it in a friendly vein? Read the final sentence in my Cass on Cass book. The final quotation by JC. Translation: Break free from this desire to "sit at the feet of...." "to study under....." "to learn from....." anyone, anywhere, about anything. Make or find your own truth, your own knowledge, your own insights. It's what's wrong with school and most of America too. People want to be told what to think or feel. Break free of that. Work to formulate your own independent reality! Nothing based on my view or anyone else's. Anything else is courses with Robert McKee or some other fako pseudo-guru.

P.S. (on the web only): If you want an example, read the crackpot wonderful letter that precedes this one. That's someone who has done it, wacky, weird and wild as they may be.

All sincere best wishes.


Subj: Robert Kramer

I work as a researcher for Michael Vertucci, who teaches various film classes at the Adult School of the Chathams, Madison & Florham Park (NJ). The courses are for lay people, but he is meticulous & thorough in his preparation.

He will be conducting a course this fall on certain films of the 1960's, & is interested (read desperate) to get a copy of Robert Kramer's "Ice". Would you have either a copy of this film or a source I could use to locate it? Your knowledge & resources make you the obvious & only (& last) avenue I can pursue.

Any help to a fellow graduate of Rutgers (NCAS '68) would be appreciated.


Lynn Lawlor

Ray Carney replies:

If it's not currently available from one of the standard New York releasers, I don't know what to tell you. Sorry. Robert Kramer was a good friend and eight or nine years ago I persuaded the same video company to release his work that I had earlier persuaded to release Mark Rappaport's. VideoActive was the name of the company. It was founded by two friends, Mike Lamb and Maya Smuckler. I put them in touch with Robert and put Robert in touch with them. Meetings were held. I did what I could to make it happen. I offered to write program notes or do a voice over commentary. But they lost their shirt on Rappaport and went under before the Kramer project was issued. So that was the end of the story. I tell it as a cautionary tale to my students about the dangers of being an idealist. And keep in mind it's not just Ice we are lacking. There are also Starting Place, the astonishing Route One, Milestones, and many others. Just another example of what America cares about (and what it doesn't). Commerce being in the former category, and art being in the latter. Sorry I can't be of more help.


P.S. An afterthought: I am assuming you have already tried Filmmaker's Cooperative, Kino, and all of the other usual art film distributors. I clearly remember that Filmmaker's Co-op used to have Ice and Kino used to have Starting Place/Point de depart. I forget who used to have Route One and Milestones, but rented both of them in both 16 and 35mm a number of times from someone in New York City. So try those places if you haven't. I was just assuming that in my reply. Don't hold your breath for the videos though.

Dear RC:

I was reading the letter you received from Daniel Duque-Estrada recently. Just a few thoughts to share with you in response to his questions.

Artist: a person whose creative work shows sensitivity and imagination

Does a person's creative work show sensitivity and imagination? Does it come from who they uniquely are? If so, that person is an artist whether he is successful commercially or not. One can view oneself as an artist without making a dime from it. And enjoy the creation of it just f! or the joy of creating. If someone is an artist in their soul, they cannot NOT create!

I met a woman in Milwaukee the other day who was 88 years old and used to create "displays" in her youth in the Playboy Club in Chicago (she was attractive enough to be a bunny, but waitressing was boring to her). She flashed a huge grin and said, "I used to be quite a looker but I'm UGLY now!!!" But her face lit up, her eyes twinkled and she was beautiful when she talked about her art. She doesn't paint mu! ch anymore, but a few years ago made a mural of a sunset out of carpet fibers - and got $30,000 for it! I believe that you can never take the artist out of the artist. Whether you get paid for it - or not - or make a living from it - or not - is another matter. If you are in the mood to create, create! Every artist is I know does it for their own satisfaction... including me! : )

Be and do what you are... what you love... and don't wait for someone else to validate it. Claim it and be proud of it! To be or not to be... are you or aren't you? Those are the questions.


Ray Carney replies:

Thanks for the soulful meditation. I agree with everything you say. I know people who play the church organ for the choir who could have been composers in another era. I know of people who tend their gardens who could have been landscape architects. I know of people who cook or fix up their house who could have been great interior designers. We find the ways we can. We make art in the ways that are available to us. We do what we can with what we can. The impulse will find a way out no matter how or where or what form it takes. The artist cannot be suppressed. Art will find a way. And anyone who complains about not having enough money to be an artist, or not having the support, or not having the equipment, is not an artist, but a businessman, a bureaucrat, an organization man. If we are orginal, nothing can stop us from being original. If we have the ideal of freedom, nothing can stop us from being free.


Re: ... Wondering about Cassavetes

Dear Professor Carney,

Into the filming ... feelings, feelings, feelings just sometimes overwhelm all of us ... pure professionalism is the death of involvement ... I don't know how long this film is going to be ... I don't know where this film is going ... I'm
just trying to keep going ... I'm extremely bullheaded and stupid ... I'm crossing lines I never thought I would ... It's so difficult to balance to achieve that what the mind can accept the heart can take and the soul can live with ... Thank God the actors are slowly getting it ... been thrown a curve, after June 20th, we'll be down to Fridays and the weekends. That's all one of my primary actors can give me till she leaves the country for a new chapter in
her life in September ... Perhaps it's for the best ... John said that limitations were part of the process ... This film might go all the way up to the airport departure area ...

I wonder what John would be doing if he were alive? I know it's so forward of me. Calling him by his first name. I never even knew the man. But I just feel so close to him for some reason. Maybe I'm just romanticizing ...

... I wish he were alive ... With the way technology has changed budgets, he'd be making films like mad I bet ... Oh I pity the actors. All the more I have respect for the actors. It's a damn difficult and potentially humiliating job
that they have to do. But they do it nonetheless, and when they're open, just open, it's AMAZING and HUMBLING to behold. My God, what incredible things you've created! Emotions, thoughts, souls, energies!

... I wish he were alive ... That story about 52 takes on simultaneous film cameras running for FACES would be nothing. He'd probably finish each 1 hour mini DV tape every take. His raw output would be monstrous. He'd probably be filming nearly forever. He'd be editing forever ...

... I wish he were alive ... Would they listen? Would they be listening to him as some of them so hypocritically do now? Or would they still treat him as such as before? ...

... I wish he were alive ... Maybe the changes, some of them, would come ... for the better ...

... But he's not alive. I know. We learn from him. We move on. We continue. We remember.

Stay true,


Ray Carney replies:

Thanks for the report. Keep going. You are doing the impossible but only you can do it. Keep going. Don't give up. Don't let yourself stop or quit. Keep going. Only you can do it and only you can prevent yourself from doing it. Keep going. It matters. Keep going.


Subject: The Real independent Movement - Beyond the Hype Book

Dear Ray,

Just to say how have enjoyed your writings, and i guess i'm the 1.2 zillionth person to ask, when do intend to publish your latest book "beyond the hype"

Look forward to your reply

Best Wishes

Jason Brooks

Ray Carney replies:


Thanks. But, at last count, you're not the 1.2 zillionth person, you're the 2.1 zillionth! See my reply on page 22 of the Mailbag letter pages.



Subject: The Tango Lesson

Hi Professor Carney,

Miss class? How are you enjoying your time off? I recently caught Sally Potter's "The Tango Lesson" on the Independent Film Channel and I needed to tell you about it.

By its summary, I assumed it would star two beautiful spanish dancers: a more artistic "Dirty Dancing." Part documentary, Sally Potter is a struggling filmmaker, trying to make a film on Pablo Peron, an up-in-coming tango dancer. He is charismatic, handsome, and graceful; she is insecure and uncertain. It seems an unlikely romance. Thankfully, the romance was not the focus of the film, because I would have changed the channel. Somehow, these mismatched artists flowed together when tango music played. In her dance lessons, he teaches her to loosen up and stop thinking. He says that tango is about feeling the music and letting the body move as it pleases. But Potter is too preoccupied with precision and form, and Pablo becomes frustrated. Throughout the film and their tumultuous relationship, the couple's tango becomes more about power shifts and defense levels. Who leads, who doesn't want to follow, how can't seem to feel the music, who is overwhelmed by the music.

Five days later, there are two scenes that still stay with me. First: Pablo grows more and more frustrated with Sally. She can't dance in the moment, she is too frigid. He criticizes her for her voyeurism and her obsession with filmmaking. They sit next to each other, in a dressing room, looking at each other through a mirror. Then, the camera pans left, from the couple in the mirror to the real couple. So great!

Then in another scene, Pablo, Sally, and two other choreographers are exhausted and frustrated from an unsuccessful rehearsal. Sally decisively stands and pleads for one more exercise. For the first time, she isn't afraid to really direct and she orchestrates the three in a tango. Then, she leads them through the doors of the small rehearsal, dark space into an enormous hall with luminous windows and marble pillars. She joins the three in a four-way tango, unexpectedly gorgeous and graceful. I felt that break-through. She was in control: she was creating something beautiful for her film and filling her role as a director. Yet, she was out of control, out of her body. She stopped thinking. She trusted her body to move with the other three. She was no longer preoccupied or conscientious of form. She let go. The camera follows her as she flies in and out of frame, hiding behind the marble pillars. It's breathtaking.

So, I am sure you have heard of the director, Sally Potter. I think she made a pretty well-known film called "Orlando," although I know nothing about it. Especially with your love of dance, I think you will like it. Anyways, I just wanted to keep in touch. I hope you are enjoying your time off! Speak to you soon.


Ray Carney replies:


Sorry to take so long to reply to your kind and thoughtful email about Sally Potter. Yes, I know her work, but confess ignorance of that film in particular.

Glad you're watching "the good stuff" and not American Idol, The Bachelor, or the equivalent: 20/20, Dateline, and all the rest! : ) I don't even know if those shows are still on now. I'm so behind the curve. Got a letter the other day from a young producer on Extreme Makeover saying how much my writing meant to him---probably as an alternative to his awful job on that awful show. I'm glad to be an antidote to the poison the system squirts into the world.

I've been travelling a little. Doing research in Ohio and in NYC. And writing a lot. That always feels good. Like deep diving to find my soul, remind me I have one, I mean. So much of the world seems devoted to taking it away. The great evil of our time is distraction: to take our attention and divide it up into a thousand different pieces. The focus on writing is my personal antidote, my alternative way of being.

Stay well and keep watching good films. But don't forget about good composers and writers too. Alice Munro is one of my favorites for the past few years. Her "Dance of the Happy Shades" is an ideal place to start if you haven't given her a try before. The stories are very very short and some are very, very beautiful. (Try the title story or "Walker Brothers Cowboy," or "Images," or "Postcards" for starters.)

And, in the category of non-fiction, if you're interested, I'd recommend: Noam Chomsky, Neil Postman, Ben Bagdikian, Todd Gitlin, Robert W. McChesney and Danny Schechter on the media. Very, very smart, all of them. They explain why television puts on shows with idiots like Donald Trump or Martha Stewart. And why shows like The Bachelor and Extreme Makeover and Dateline and 20/20 and all of the other pieces of stupidity on TV exist. And why there aren't more films like the kind Sally Potter makes. Or more news broadcasts that actually ask you to think or learn anything.

But enough of the sermon!!!! Have a great summer!


Mr. Carney,

I appreciate you getting back to me. I completely understand that you're too busy to read the scripts. Absolutely no problem.

I just want to let you know I've been going into Mugar here and there when I get a free day to check out some of the films you have on reserve there - Elaine May, Su Friedrich, Carl Dreyer etc. It's a goldmine. Those films are so hard to get anywhere else.

Speaking of Dreyer, below is a brief note I posted about "The Passion of Joan of Arc" on some Internet Dreyer forum. I must admit I have not yet read your Dreyer book (I'm really just getting into the filmmaker now) so I don't know if my response has been said already, but I still figured you might be interested in reading it.

Thanks again for getting back to me,


Dreyer note:

I was watching part of Joan of Arc for a second time and I noticed something else very interesting.

During the trial, we see the judges and priests and theologians talking amongst themselves for several moments before one of them actually builds up enough confidence to place a given question "on the record" (i.e. what everyone in the court hears, as well as what we, as viewers, see as intertitles). We can tell, just by looking at their facial expressions and gestures, that there is much doubt and insecurity within ther minds, yet they keep these feelings repressed and off the court record in fear of contradicting themsleves and (more importantly) looking like fools for doing so.

In effect, everything that goes "on the record" in the courtroom has been sent through a sort of filtration system - a network of minds. This means nothing that actually goes on the record is very real. Instead of being a fresh question born from the mind of an individual, it is a politically and theologically safe question born from a collective mentality.

So what goes on record as the reality of what happened during the Joan of Arc trial is fitered and, thus, false. And seeing that the court's record is what will be referred to for centuries later as being the "reality" of the courtroom proceedings, all future historical perception of the trial will unavoidably be distorted.

This man-made molding of reality that we see at Joan's trial is, to me, a microcosm of what goes on in the world in general. It is very rare that our freshest thoughts and our freshest emotions find their way out of our minds and onto the record, so to speak. Before we say something in a public forum or write something in a newspaper or film something for a general audience, we filter our feelings through a sort of inner checks and balances system, making sure everything we say is safe, or, to use a more contemporary term, politically correct. In consequence, the history of our world, of our culture and of ourselves becomes an illusion. True reality rarely makes it into the history books.

Along with playing it safe, we also make a conscious effort to create a reality that is free of doubt, preferring a state of existence composed of objective truths and absolutes. But, as we can learn from Dreyer's film, a reality like this is hell; it is a prison to our souls that want nothing more than to express feelings, no matter how incomaptible these feelings may be with what absolutist society defines as "normal."

One possible lesson? Only when we get our unfiltered feelings and emotions "on the record" and learn to embrace doubt (instead of avoiding it) can we free ourselves from this 'prison' we have created for ourselves.

Ray Carney replies:

I love your Dreyer point. So true. We live in an artificial world of man-made truths (falsities) but can't see them because they are everywhere and everyone mouths them and frowns if we say anything that is not in the script. See my recommendations to Julie in a letter above this one about reading Noam Chomsky, Neil Postman, Ben Bagdikian, Todd Gitlin, Robert W. McChesney and Danny Schechter. They all talk about the "filtration system." The more you watch (or listen) the less you know, as Jackson Browne put it.


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