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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 just completed principal photography on my first feature, 'Busgirl', shot here in San Francisco this June. On most evenings of the four weeks of the shoot, I would make time to read random excerpts of your Mike Leigh, Pragmatism Modernism and the Movies, and Path of the Artist series writings. This little ritual became a kind of centering force during the storm of the film-making process, with so many disparate demands and so much time spent dealing with things that often seemed to have little or nothing to do with the actual film itself.

I loved the process, though, and know I will be making films for the rest of my life. Although I'm not sure exactly what it is I've captured, I'll surely send along a DVD when I've got a cut of a finished film.

When people ask about my experience, I tell them I went to the Ray Carney School of Film. My DP isn't convinced this is a reputable institution, as I was a bit lacking early on in basic fluency with certain blocking and framing terminology.

Still, under your guidance I do believe I've learned something about /why/ to make films, and hope that I've made for my first a piece with some basic level of integrity. And now that I know the terminology as well, I like to think I can only get better.

Though we've never met, I consider you the finest teacher I've ever had, if for no other reason than for pointing the way to the best film artists that have ever been. Many, many thanks.

Take care,
Steven Schuldt
San Francisco, CA

Photo by Anke Teunissen (Amsterdam) / January 2004Ray Carney replies:

Dear Steven,

Congratulations! Way to go! I'm so happy for you. And thanks for the compliments too. "The Ray Carney School of Film" is something I've always wanted to run. Even if it is something many of my colleagues here at Boston U. are running the other way to avoid! : )

But, as you point out, the lessons are really not mine, but the ones taught by the great artists. Everything I say, everything I know, was taught to me by an artist. Not by a teacher, a critic, a professor, a book, but by a work of art. I used to joke that I got my own education in the "Tarkovsky Film School," the "Carl Dreyer Film School," the "Cassavetes Film School," the "Henry James School of Fiction" and the "Emily Dickinson and William Wordsworth School of Poetry." It's the artists who are the real teachers. And above everything else, they teach us not to imitate them but to forge onward in our own directions, following our own instincts and intuitions, throwing away the rule book and searching for new, fresh, personal ways to express our own personal truths.

Good luck editing. And make another one soon! It's not the selling and distributing that matter but the process of the exploring and discovering that art is about. The secret of life is to do. And to keep learning and discovering.

All best wishes,
Ray Carney

Hello Prof. Carney,

Two quick questions - is there a list of independent films that you recommend that I can have or that I can find in one place on your site ( forgive me if I have missed this), and is there any dvd collection of John Cassavetes films that you would recommend? I have an old video tape of "Faces", (put out by Fox Lorber; my reaction at first was very similar to yours when you first saw the film) and there is a video of "Woman Under The Influence" that I can rent, plus I own two of your books on Cassavetes ( extremely enjoyable is the only way I can describe it ). Any suggestions would be very much appreciated!

Thank You,
George C Wilson Jr

PS - Please keep "charting the course" you are on. Your site is refreshing and a breath of fresh air in this stale cultural environment we are in.

When will NPR interview you? I have e-mailed Lenny Lopate some time ago...

Ray Carney replies:

Thanks, George!

I have to confess I don't know who "Lenny Lopate" is. Have heard of Philip, even know him distantly in fact, recommended him to contribute to the Criterion box set and put them in touch with him, but "Lenny" is not a name I know. I doubt if NPR would have me on. They are addicted to flash and trash. They need news "hooks" to interview people. Intelligence is not enough. Interest in not enough. That's what's wrong with NPR and PBS. They have the same insane "news addiction" as the rest of our sicko culture. (I'm interested in the "olds" not the "news." I've devoted myself to things that will bear the test of time. Not to what is "hot" and "flashy" in a given month.)

As to recommending films, check out my "lecture for high school students" (or a title something like that). I list some films there. Use the search engine to find it. (Click here to go to that lecture.)

But really the whole site is a massive list of my favorites. You can't read a page of it, especially anything in the Independent Film Pages, and not come on five or ten titles that fall under the heading of "Ray Carney's list of the best films you never heard of." So go anywhere in the Independent Film Pages and start jotting down titles. You could, of course, also buy my packets of material, but I realize that that is shameless self-promotion, so I won't ask you to do that! : ) My packets are full of recommendations.

Thanks for the good words. Happy viewing. And please forgive the haste. Many, many emails to answer.


Prof. Carney,

Thanks. You don't have to respond to this, as I understand how many e-mails you must get-unless you want to!

I plan on eventually purchasing all of your packets, unless they appear in future books, at which point I will also buy those. Lenny Lopate is actually the brother of the critic Phillip Lopate and he heads up an interview show on the local NPR station in new york-WNYC. I nevertheless remain hopeful that somehow one of the stations I email for requests for guests will one day respond. I always direct them to your website (which is probably why they don't respond--too "radical" for them ). Our culture indeed is sick and in need of writings/sites like yours (the insanity of the Spielberg/Cruise craze and other ilk, for example). I read your site because it is the only education I can find for truthful direction about the real purpose of Art and how to experience it-until, that is, I can get out to Boston and take your course!

Anyway, thanks for the info, and I will seek out those titles!

Continued success,
George C Wilson Jr

Re: Cassavetes on Cassavetes

Dear Mr. Carney,

I just wanted to thank you for writing the book "Cassavetes on Cassavetes." I am 21 years old and currently making a film on my own and reading your book was incredibly inspiring, definitely the best book on film I've ever read. I've read some of the articles on your website detailing the problems with the Criterion Collection situation and it's very depressing to think that a man who worked so hard to express his personal vision has had his work so neglected both while he was alive and after his death (usually a time when great artists, if unappreciated during their lifetime, finally are recognized for their genius). I read a Playboy interview with Mr. Cassavetes on the internet about a year ago and that's what first got me interested in both him and his work. When I got the Criterion boxset, I was blown away by his films and looked forward to the "Constant Forge" documentary. Thank you for clarifying what I felt when I watched it, that it was an insult to Mr. Cassavetes and his work. I can only hope that someone with balls is someday in enough of a position of power that we can all see Mr. Cassavetes work the way it was intended. I fear that there aren't many filmmakers among my generation who fit this description. It's really a joke that Love Streams, Husbands, and Minnie and Moskowitz are not available on video. After reading your book I'm dying to see them.

I relate to the passion, energy, fire, and overall approach to life of Mr. Cassavetes more so than I do to any other filmmaker (or person really) and it saddens me that I will never be able to meet him. Your book should be mandatory reading for all film students. I wish you luck in your continued efforts on behalf of Mr. Cassavetes legacy. If I am ever in a position where I could be of help, I will do whatever I can. All the best, and a sincere thank you.

Alex Gladwell, Toronto

Ray Carney replies:

Thanks for the kind words! And I am glad the Cass on Cass book inspires you. It was inspiring to write too! And yes, the story of his life remains to be told in a documentary. Kiselyak's doesn't cut it. Someone else should do it right.

All best wishes,
Ray Carney


I've been checking on your site pretty regularly, and I noticed on your letters page that you felt it was like an albatross 'round your neck. Most of the emails you get are either attacks or people looking for favors, and I can understand how that can be discouraging. I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for your writing and your site: it is a constant storehouse of inspiration, and when I am tired and weary of this life, it sends a jolt of living through my blood. Your thoughts and feelings have not only made me a better artist, but a better person, as well: on my library card-- the piece of ID I use the most-- I have scribbled something you said once, that the only thing that counts in this world is the love we send out to the people in the fifty foot circle around us. This is a comforting thought, and it puts life (and art) into perspective.

Thanks also for directing me to Indie Wire; I sent my film to a couple of the festivals listed there (fingers crossed). My wife and I are gearing up for our next feature. Thank you for your encouragement, your kind words, and your work. Hope things are going more-or-less well for you, in spite of your Rowlands trouble. Keep agitating, exploring, and truth-telling!

--Tom Russell

Mr. Carney,

The material on your website regarding the Gena Rowlands/Al Ruban backlash is an extremely interesting follow up to your wonderfully written book Cassavetes on Cassavetes. I will be re-reading my copy of the book very soon. On one hand, I might be able to empathize with Rowlands. In a way, she is trying to be the good widow. However, she has taken this to a disgraceful level. She has revealed herself to be an out of touch and extremely manipulative woman.

I won't be buying the Criterion Collection Box Set which I had planned on buying. A few years ago when I discovered Cassavetes in college (from a compelling article you wrote), I was lucky to find his films at a library at the University of Florida so I've already seen them.

I'm debating whether or not I should be getting rid of some of my DVDs produced by Criterion. It's incredible that they could be so low-brow when they have positioned themselves as wanting to preserve the integrity of different works of art.

After everything that you have done to create a following for the films of Cassavetes, I am truly sorry that you have had to go through this mess. Rowlands should be ashamed. If I can donate or help in some way I would like to. I'm going to be starting a film within the next few months from my hard earned savings, but I'd like to help you if even in a small way. We need more people like you to buck the system. I once read a tagline along the lines of "A cinematic Noam Chomsky or Ralph Nader" but I've never thought that was accurate. This situation proves it. Those people don't take real risks. Chomsky and Nader will always be popular among the beautiful people. In a world where everything is so protected, you have taken risks with your own money and your own reputation for your ideals.


Ray Carney replies:

Dear Parag,

Well, we may disagree about Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader, both of whom I regard as great American heroes (and as people who do put their money where their mouths are), but that's a trivial quibble. Thanks. I appreciate your kind words.

And your kind offer. I always need help with my publishing and research projects since I get little or no financial support for them from my university. Most of them could not have been done without an army of volunteers helping out. (The Acknowledgments pages in the back of the Cassavetes on Cassavetes book lists the dozens of students, former students, and lovers of film who helped on that project.) But I'll have to put on my thinking cap and let you know if there is anything you could do at a distance. It's always easier when someone is in the area.

I wish you luck on your film. And don't let the Criterion fiasco get you down. I'm sure not letting it get to me. I'm busy with lots of other positive projects. There is plenty of good, creative work to be done and I'm not wasting a minute looking backward. And the resistance or indifference of the world is just proof that what I am doing matters. Some of us--artists, writers, ballerinas, musicians, and other caregivers and lovers of all sorts--have to do the work that the world doesn't do on its own, the business that the world doesn't appreciate, promote, or celebrate. That is why we do what we do. So that those values will be preserved and protected. A few of us are here on this planet to care about things that don't make money or get press coverage. The world needs us precisely for that reason. And the fact that those things are not popular or covered in the press is proof of their value. If the world already cared about the things I am doing, if they made a profit, if they were on the cover of People magazine, there would be no point in doing them. They would get done on their own.

All best wishes,

Subject: more ridiculous news

Did you hear that Oliver Stone is making a movie about the collapse of the World Trade Center? Maybe I'm being too uptight about it, but I just think there's something reprehensible in that idea. If I was family to any of the victims in that tragedy, I'd be steaming. I'd be thinking to myself, "He and Paramount are making millions of dollars off of my misfortune and grief." In fact, I didn't lose anyone in that horrible tragedy, and I'm still steaming. There should be a way to protest this sort of thing. It's just like the news. They want to shove the camera into newly widowed faces. If it bleeds it leads. Etc. When will Hollywood and the media finally realize that capitalizing off of tragedy is the worst way to try to tell any kind of story, no matter how altruistic their intentions may be or no matter how much they've fooled themselves into thinking they care?

Thought I'd vent, since you're one of the few sensible voices out there.


Ray Carney replies:

A planet in trouble, and baby, it ain't the tsunamis and hurricanes we have to worry about.  It's not even the terrorists.  It's the leaders and opinion shapers.Darren,

I agree. But it's been done already. Look at the cashing in on terrorist themes on TV, in shows like 24 or The West Wing. Look at the "if it bleeds it leads" obsession with pictures of violence and destruction on the evening news, the playing on our fears. Heck, look at Steven Spielberg's current War of the Worlds. Friends dragged me to it the other night and it's a shameless, disgusting attempt to cash in on 9/11 and post 9/11 terror about a world out of control. Shot after shot is meant to look like New York and the response of people to the World Trade Center event. Stone, Spielberg, and all the rest are obscenities. There really is no limit to the pornography of their imaginations. They would hock their mothers' corpse if they could make a buck off it. And they are no different from anyone else out there. First Hollywood contributes to the causes of the 9/11 tragedy by broadcasting an obscene version of America throughout the world--an America of bombs, explosions, and violence; an America of sexual promiscuity and personal cruelty; an America of laziness and indifference and decadence--in short, a vision of America that makes people hate us. Then when the hate is expressed in terrorist attacks, Hollywood tries to cash in on them back here at home by pandering to Americans' fears and uncertainties. These directors are no different than our politicians. They are willing to sell anything, to sell-out anything, to make a buck or get their names mentioned. They have no principles, no values, no morality higher than the almighty dollar. Someone once said that Hollywood would make movies about genocide if it thought it would sell tickets. When that was said the person saying it thought he was making an extravagant, outrageous statement about the power of money in filmmaking. But in the world we live in it's no longer an exaggeration. It's simple, plain truth. Spielberg converted that idea into cinematic cash years ago. And there is no end in sight. And Stone has similarly been converting American tragedies into box office dollars for decades. These men know no shame. But, of course, they would not recognize that description of themselves and their work. Greed and cravenness never can never see themselves for what they really are.

If Tom Cruise had any real principles, over the course of the past couple months, he would not have been fighting with reporters over Dianetics, Scientology, and L. Ron Hubbard's legacy, but condemning the immorality of the movie he agreed to star in. But taking that kind of stand would be asking entirely too much of Mr. Cruise. That would take real courage and independence. That might jeopardize his next paycheck. That's where his values and principles clearly end.

And note a crucial point: None of these news broadcasts, none of these TV shows, none of these movies is an attempt at real understanding. None of them is an exploration of why things are the way they are. None of them is an attempt to help us become wiser or more sensitive or more caring. They are acts of sheer exploitation, titillation, and voyeurism. That's what makes them obscene, pornographic, and immoral. But what else is new? Look at how politicians get elected.


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