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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: Prof. Carney, you need a blog

Prof. Carney,

Hi there. Not sure if you remember, but you emailed me a while back about my "Carney caper" on a site I used to contribute to called "Goffmania."

Anyway, I was checking out your Independent Film pages and had a little trouble identifying which articles are new. I think you should consider writing a weblog, or blog. It's a great way to promote your work, interact with readers and point folks to your latest pieces and interviews. You might enjoy it.

Just my two cents,
take care

p.s. It's pretty easy to start a blog, for free, at There are other sites too, like If you're looking for good examples of blogs, you might check out New Yorker music critic Alex Ross's blog,

Ray Carney replies:


I almost didn't read this because I thought the subject was spam.

If you are interested in a list of new listings, recent postings, new pages, and updates to the site, go to the "Master Table of Contents" page (also called the "Site Index"). Everything on the site is marked as being "old" or "new." It's accessible from one of the blue movie ticket icons in the left menu of each page. It should be just to the left of this letter in fact. Click on "Site Index and New Postings List" and it will bring up that page with the "New" listings clearly marked in red.

Or just read the Mailbag. That has links to many new postings.

Look in the left menu of any page and the bottom four buttons are all about how to find things on the site. Each of the bottom buttons offers a different way to access listings of the new and old contents of the site.

I have NO desire to start a blog. I have enough on my plate already! Know anyone willing to type for free? I need a typist!


PS - If you can take it in the spirit with which it is offered (which is a charitable one), may I make a more philosophical response to your desire to read the "new" listings on my site? You really want to examine this impulse to keep up with the "newest," "most recent," or "current" material. It is another sickness of our culture. It is obsessed with "news."And it attempts to make everyone in it obsessed with the "new." I would rather read and think about the oldest of the old things, writings, and ideas. They are where truth lies. The news, the new postings, the most recent events come and go, but the old truths live on. They don't change. That is true of arts, of ideas, of ways of living, and of the material on my site as well. Break away from our culture's obsession with the "latest" and "hottest" and re-read, re-familiarize yourself with the news that stays news, the oldest and hoariest and most moss-grown truths. They are where you want to live. Read OLD books; listen to OLD music; watch OLD films. Turn off the "news" and tune in to the "olds." You'll spend your whole life trying to keep up with the news and never succeed. It's another way our culture imprisons people. Break free by living in the past!!! : ) And please forgive the sociology lesson. It is offered only half-facetiously. All best wishes!!!

Re: Need Cassavettes Interviews

Dear Mr. Carney,

Thanks for your great work and research on John Cassavettes -- the film world is indebted to you.

I would like to purchase, directly from you, some of your interviews with John.

I'm primarily interested in reading his thoughts on the process, so if you have a book primarily dedicated to interviews, that would be great.

Please tell me your best mailing address (I'm not sure if the website is current, had to check with you), price, and I'll mail you a check.

Thanks very much,

Doug Campbell
Film Director

P.S. I had the good fortune to work with Bo Harwood, who recorded sound for me on my first feature. Bo worked with John and had great stories. I also visited the set of "Big Trouble" and saw John working and having a good time with the actors, as ever.

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

Thanks! I have two books coming out that will address your needs. They will have much new material, many new facts about the making of the films, amazing revelations about Cassavetes' life, and many other unsuspected things. Astonishing material I have never written about in the past or revealed before. There is so much that I have had for years but it takes me time to type it up and get it into shape since I have no help or financial backing or institutional support. (Know a good typist who works cheap!?? Put me in touch with him or her. I need help!)

But, even in the best of circumstances, publishers being what they are, it may be a year or more until you can read any of what I have prepared. In the meantime, read and re-read my Cassavetes on Cassavetes book and check out all of my other Cass books. They have much in them that should be of interest to a filmmaker. They are just what you are looking for. The address and info on the site is correct. Use that. Or get them at Amazon. Or in a bookstore. Or a library. I don't care. I don't make more than a few cents on any of this material anyway. It's not about money. Get the books any way you can. (But don't rely on the web site. It just has excerpts. Dribs and drabs of this and that. Get the books! And the packets of interview material too. However you can get them.)

But more importantly: Can you share some JC stories from Big Trouble? In addition to material by Cassavetes, I have the largest archive in the world of clippings, reviews, stories and anecdotes about him gathered from hundreds of people who worked with him, knew him, or ran into him at some time or other. I have thousands of pages of extraordinary material. Can I add your stories to it? Trust me: Nothing is too trivial or unimportant. EVERYTHING IS USEFUL. The smallest detail of how he looked, acted, talked, walked, what he said, his mood, etc. I will of course acknowledge you as the source of what you send me. I will preserve your memories for posterity. Please share any recollections with me. It's not about me or you. It's for history. I am preserving everything for the next generation. We are the last ones to have known him, talked with him, worked with him. And it's critical that these memories be gathered and held onto for the future.


Re: New Cassavetes DVD box set in the UK

Dear Ray,

Hope you are well.

Not sure if you already know about this, but a DVD box set of five John Cassavetes films will be released on September 12th in the UK by a company called Optimum. The films are SHADOWS, FACES, A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE (both versions) and OPENING NIGHT.

I have been asked to review this box set for SIGHT AND SOUND. I received the test discs this morning. The contents are pretty much the same as the US Criterion release, except that A CONSTANT FORGE is not part of the set.

*** omitted material ***

Needless to say, this set does not include the earlier version of SHADOWS. Which is why I am writing to you. I haven't heard from you since last August, when I put you in touch with XXXX. I was just wondering if, between the two of you, you had managed to determine whether or not the original SHADOWS was indeed a public domain work. I was also wondering if there was anything new to report about your attempts to bring this version of the film to a wider audience. I would very much like to include some up-to-date information about this matter when I review the box set (bearing in mind that SIGHT AND SOUND are limiting me to 1000 words).

Best wishes,

Ray Carney replies:


I learned about the British project approximately six months ago when they contacted me and asked if I would contribute. I agreed to provide anything they wanted, from voice-overs to written notes to on-camera interviews. That was the last I heard from them. I assume after they relayed my enthusiasm to Al Ruban and Gena Rowlands, R and R told them I was not to contribute. End of story. When I enquired of the status of the project in follow-up emails, they never replied. Taking marching orders from the rich and powerful. Celebrity always trumps scholarship in film study.

My web site has complete information about all of the history of these various items, including my deposit of the Faces print in the Library of Congress and the Criterion blackballing and firing. See the Ray Carney's Discoveries section, and the interview with George Hunka in particular. The Hunka interview has new material near the end that explains why he cannot get it published.

If you manage to get any of the above in the S and S review, I'll be stunned. Journalists are cowards. S and S is afraid of alienating movie stars like Gena and to my knowledge not one magazine or newspaper has printed anything about what happened and what is clearly continuing to happen. So much for independent judgment. They are all publicity flacks to the rich and famous and powerful. Just like the DVD releasing companies are.

As to XXXX: he never did anything to help me. I think his firm must have told him it wouldn't be in his best interests to pursue this. I sent him tons of information but that was the end of it. So much for lawyers too! (Though nothing against XXXX personally, of course.)


PS - As to Shadows' legal status, this too is covered on my site already. See the Discoveries pages where I talk about this. (Click here and here and here to read more about Cassavetes' wishes that the first version of Shadows be shown, the public domain status of the print, and Carney's attempts to prevent Rowlands from destroying or suppressing it forever.) Shadows is my property and not covered under copyright so I can screen it whenever or wherever I want. I am receptive to invitations and opportunities, but I want to do it right. This is covered in the letters and replies in the Discoveries section very thoroughly, just as all of the other issues are. (Click here to go there.)

Dear Ray,

Thanks for the info.

"If you manage to get any of the above in the S and S review I'll be stunned."

I'll certainly mention all this, though I won't be able to go into the kind of detail I'd like (I have 1000 words, and can't really spend more than 200 discussing this controversy).....

"As to Shadows' legal status: This too is covered on my site already. See the Discoveries pages again. Shadows is my property and not covered under copyright so I can screen it whenever or wherever I want. I receptive to invitations and opportunities" I think the point that needs to be emphasized is that with the discovery of this version's public domain status, all of Gena Rowland's actions suddenly make total sense. If transfers of this version of SHADOWS were to become easily available, anyone who wanted to could release copies on DVD. And I'm not talking about kids selling home-made DVD-Rs over the internet - I'm talking about those companies that release professionally packaged DVDs of PD films such as IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, ONE-EYED JACKS and FATHER'S LITTLE DIVIDEND. You can find stacks of these things selling for 4 or 5 dollars at your local Walmart. Needless to say, if cheap DVDs of SHADOWS were to become available in this way, it would seriously eat into the profits that Gena and Al Ruban can make from the second version of SHADOWS, which they actually own the rights to (well, probably own the rights to - let's not get into that). I know Gena has hinted that, were you to turn over the print you've discovered to her, she might destroy it. If she didn't destroy it, you can bet she'd just stick it in a vault somewhere - commercially, this would be the most sensible thing for her to do. Even if she released her own DVD of it, there'd be a thousand duplicate copies offered for sale by PD companies the next day.

The point I'm making is that some of your comments might lead people to conclude Gena is simply being whimsical in her attempts to suppress the early version of SHADOWS. But she isn't. Even her claims that "there is only one version of SHADOWS" can be seen as part of an attempt to lay the grounds for a legal defence, should prints of the first version start appearing on the PD market.

By the way, would it be possible for you to send me a video or DVD copy of the early SHADOWS? I haven't had an opportunity to attend any of the festival screenings, and I feel that I really need to see it before writing about this matter for SIGHT AND SOUND. Needless to say, I would be happy to pay whatever costs are involved, and would not mention having obtained the film from you (I could just say that I saw it at Rotterdam).

Best wishes,

Ray Carney replies:

I've never ever for a moment thought that Gena is being "whimsical." Lawyers and threats and financial hardball and getting me fired and blackballing me from working on other DVD projects are not "whimsical." This is tough-as-nails hardball.

I agree with much of what you write. I think your analysis of the financial motives behind the attempt to confiscate and suppress the first version of Shadows is substantially correct. I've always felt she was financially motivated. But you see how that makes it even worse don't you? It is not a matter of "principle" but (at least in part) a business consideration that one of her husband's major works should never be seen! Money talks.

John (and his first film) go down for the count...But don't overlook her sheer ignorance of events, either. People always assume Rowlands was JC's "collaborator." That's just not true. She was not involved in the planning, scripting, directing, or production of the films. Not even a little. She was an actress who came in and did her scenes. And then left. And then did PR when a film was released. In the case of Shadows, the first version and the second, that means that she is just plain unaware of what was going on. (When I talked to her, she had clearly no knowledge that the film was made and released twice. None. I had to explain this to her. It was news.) And she was and still is completely ignorant of what JC's intentions about it were or would now be. He told French critic Andre Labarthe who recorded the interview on film he had no problems with having it shown. (Click here to read Cassavetes' words.) And he told me substantially the same thing. But she doesn't know or care what he said, and when she and I talked she wasn't interested in learning about my conversation with him about it. He told me he wished he had it. He told me he had no desire to suppress it but simply lost it and didn't know where it was. She just doesn't know any of this. I am not speculating. All of that became clear when I talked with her on the phone about all of this. She didn't know anything about anything in terms of the versions or screenings! And she wasn't interesting in learning. So that is another part of her decision-making. She really thinks that this is "rough footage" never meant to be seen. Al Ruban has poisoned her mind about this and she refuses to believe me or check the facts or read any of the books that detail the events.

I'm sorry I can't send you a DVD of the first version. It's just too risky in too many ways. Get me an invitation to show Shadows I and II in a back to back program in London in a proper event with a nice send-off and I'll sit next to you and "talk you through it." It's a great and interesting film--which is why I am fighting with my life (and money) to keep it from being confiscated, suppressed, and possibly destroyed. She may be able to ruin me financially, but I won't let her destroy this work of art. Or suppress it, which amounts to the same thing.


Prof. Carney,

I just listened to Seymour Cassel's DVD commentary track for SHADOWS. Extremely interesting. He insists that only three scenes were shot specifically for the second version: Lelia in bed with Tony; Lelia dancing with Davey; and the final scene involving Hugh and Rupert. Cassel insists that all the other scenes that are unique to the second version were actually shot during the initial phase of filming (even though they weren't used in the first version).

...8, 9, 10!  Sorry John, you're out!Tom Charity actually does try to argue with him about some of this stuff, but the subject obviously makes Cassel extremely irritable. Cassel insists "there's only one version." Whenever Tom Charity tries to say something like "here's a scene that was reshot," Cassel shouts "Where do you get this bullshit?" At one point, Charity says "I'd like to take up a point raised by Professor Ray Carney", and at the mention of your name, Cassel mutters something - I couldn't quite make out what it was, but it didn't sound complimentary.


Ray Carney replies:


Well, there you go. It's Seymour trying to shut me down. He's taking his marching orders from Al and Gena. When he argues that there is no such thing as a "first version" of Shadows, he is trying to convince the world of the same thing that Al and Gena have been telling interviewers and saying at film festivals for years. Of course, there's one flaw in their argument -- namely that I HAVE THE PRINT in my possession (a little embarrassing fact that they would like people to forget), and that -- as everyone I have shown it to, including six or seven hundred film-savvy viewers in Rotterdam, can attest -- it is a finished, beautiful work, complete down to its last details, with a credit sequence and a polished optical sound track (the last two things added to a film before its release, which conclusively proves that it isn't just a jumble of raw footage or an unfinished work). Seymour, Al, and Gena assume that if they just repeat the lie frequently enough, people will believe them and not the evidence of the print itself or the ample historical record of its earlier screenings or John's and Jonas Mekas's detailed descriptions of it. How dumb do Al, Gena, and Seymour think we are?

So what are you going to do? You can be like a George Bush sycophant White House reporter and take Cassel's word for it, or you can use your brain and think. Thinking in this case means reading my Shadows book and looking at the film.

I should just stop with that. That's plenty to go on. But I'll give you a little help: If you want to completely demolish his argument all you have to do it watch Lelia's hairdo and hair length change from scene to scene--from waist-length to neck length. Look at the Central Park running away scene and the dancing with Tony in the apartment scenes (long hair she had been growing all her life and evidence of the first version 1957 shoot) and compare it with her short hair length and hairdo in other scenes (filmed two years later for the second version reshoot): the seeing Hugh off at the bus station, the meeting Tony at the party scene, the walking with Tony on the sidewalk scene, the post-love scene, and many others. (Her eyebrows also change and her face changes because she goes from being 18 to being 20.) And if you do, you'll see that Seymour is simply wrong. It's not my opinion against his; it's a matter of right facts versus wrong facts. And the facts are not subtle and elusive and contested, but clear and obvious and indisputable. Two years separate those shots. And it's proven by a hundred other details in the film as well, all of which corroborate the two year difference, including what movies are playing at the theaters in the background and a dozen other differences between the two sets of shots. By the way, I'd also note that Lelia Goldoni, Maurice McEndree, and about ten other people involved in the two periods of shooting agree with my version of what happened.

A note to readers of this letter on my site: I would refer anyone who wants to learn more about how to identify footage from the different periods of shooting in the second version of Shadows to buy my BFI book on the making of the film and my "A Detective Story: A Study of Cassavetes' Revisionary Process" packet. Both are available via this link to the Bookstore section of the site (scroll up to locate the BFI book). Another page on the site has a brief sample of some of the material available in the book and the packet.

If you do that you can list the stupidities, the mistakes in your review. Don't be like a White House reporter afraid to question Bush's stupidity. Point out that a DVD releaser is releasing a disc with false information on it, with mistakes and errors. How do people feel about shelling out money for something full of errors? And there are many others beyond the ones I have focused on above.

Now the larger issue to touch on of course is what would Cassavetes scholarship be if we left it in the hands of Al Ruban, Gena Rowlands, Seymour Cassel, and others like them? The answer is: full of myths, mistakes, stupidities.

The Spanish Edition of <em>Cassavetes on Cassavetes</em>I hope you see what I'm getting at. Gena Rowlands and Al Ruban have appeared at public events and said that they agree with Seymour's version of events. Charles Kiselyak's Forgery film takes people like Seymour, Al, and Gena at face value. I point out their errors and am thrown overboard by Rowlands and Ruban.

Do you see that this is not just an argument between me and Gena? This sort of thing really matters. It's not just a personal thing between me and them. It's important to our understanding of how this film (and the other films) were made. Establishing basic facts is the nature of scholarship. Open a music biography and read about Beethoven's notebooks or Mozart's pentimenti, their drafts, their changes to their scores. We don't ask Mozart's widow to establish the facts. We do independent research. But in film, on a DVD, we put the junk a movie star says out there and take it seriously. That's what I mean when I say celebrity trumps scholarship. If a movie star says it, we assume it is true. Do we want people who weren't really involved with the production history of the movies (as Seymour and Gena weren't), people who can't remember the facts, people who are covering for Gena to be the source of facts? Or do we want scholarship, accuracy, truth?

But I got carried away and have given you entirely too much help. You'll have to figure out the other lies and distortions (perpetuated by Peter Bogdanovich, by Al Ruban, by Jon Voight, and by others) for yourself from now on. No more coaching! : ) It's all in my books anyway. And if you want help, re-read my Charles Kiselyak "mythmaking" interview again. I really say it all there. Gena is committed to perpetuating half-truths, falsehoods, and myths. Not reality. That's the Norma Desmond side of her. That's not just a colorful metaphor. It's not just an attempt to name-call. It's a considered, thoughtful description of the emotional place she is at. She isn't interested in facts or truth. She's interested in perpetuating self-serving myths. It's what Hollywood stars like Gena and Seymour become in their old age. Fabricators who believe their own press releases and lose touch with reality. And go on yammering stupidities on DVD releases. They become embarrassments. And DVDs continue to re-cycle their mistakes. And no one dares question them.


Ray Carney includes the following two communications from Optimum Releasing from March 2005 as verification of Rowlands's removal of Carney from the UK DVD project:

Hi Ray,

I handle DVD publicity for Optimum Releasing. We're a UK distributor and we have the rights to release the Cassavettes films Shadows, Faces, A Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Opening Night for the first time on DVD in the UK. I noticed that you are an authority on Cassavettes' career and I am contacting you to see if you'd be interested in contributing to our DVD releases of these films (which will be released in a boxset) by possibly recording an audio commentary, filmed introduction or writing an essay to go in the boxset.

I also noticed that you wrote an article in the Guardian last year about Shadows and wondered if you would consider writing something that could be placed with UK press. We are planning to release these films in September this year, so if you could get back to me to let me know what you think that would be great. If you have any ideas, questions or would like to know more about this release please don't hesitate to contact me.

Best wishes,

Diana Privitera
Optimum Releasing
22 Newman Street
Direct Line: +44 (0)207 3071 512
Fax: 0207 637 5408

Dear Ray,

I have been forwarded your details by my colleague Diana Privitera, regarding our planned release of a John Cassavetes DVD boxset here in the UK.

I am very glad to hear you'd be interested in recording commentaries, or supplying essays for the accompanying booklet. Of course I understand that we would need to agree a fee and terms for anything you undertook for us: to initiate the discussion do you think you could give me some idea of what fee you would expect for, say, a feature-length commentary?

We don't tend to set specific budgets for the creation of extras, and generally prefer to take such decisions as and when material becomes available. What I can say is that obviously we're keen to ensure that we do these films justice given that this is the first time they will be available on DVD in this country. Our scheduled release date is late September, so we will need to have completed the project by the end of July - which gives us some, but not much, time to play with.

If you could let me know your thoughts on the above I'd really appreciate it.

Many thanks and best regards,

Stuart Henderson
Stuart Henderson
Optimum Home Entertainment
2nd Floor, 22 Newman Street
London W1T 1PH
Direct Line: (020) 7307 1503
Fax: (020) 7637 5408

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