Good morning Dr.
I have finally
seen Charles Kiselyak's "A Constant Forge(ry)".
It had some pretty good bits to it but overall I thought it
was an overlong rambling session by people who would never
say anything against Cassavetes on record. How many different
ways can you say a guy was great in 3 hours? The film made
almost no attempt to expose any of Cassavetes frailties, any
of his imperfect humanity beyond the amazing creative virility.
Goldoni and Noonan were the only ones who began to scratch
the surface a little. I'll bet they had more to say that was
ultimately edited out.
who would like to know more about Prof. Carney's response
to Charles Kiselyak's Constant Forge(ry),
should look at this
Re: Enjoyed your critique of puzzle films
|In all of this vastness, we are one of only 27,000 (according to the Verdants). Oh, miracle of miracles. One bright pearl. Rejoice at the good fortune. And work for change.
While looking for discussions on "Waking Life,"
I stumbled across the critique you had written about how puzzle
films were a sign of how accepted cultural norms were sliding
away from celebrating the purity of conscious awareness and
towards the celebration of minute snippets of cleverness,
missing the forest for the trees. As you might imagine, I
rather enjoyed your essay - it echoed many of the same sentiments,
feelings and observations I had been accumulating about the
progression of popular culture through my lifetime, and the
concepts you presented also expanded upon and solidified my
hunches about the sources of my feelings of cultural alienation
Part of the reason why I had been drawn to watching "Waking
Life" was because, over the past few months, I've been
doing a great deal of soul searching, hoping to put more meat
to the experiences I've lived through and granting them a
confluence of meaning. While parsing through my own reflections
has proven fulfilling, I've also been scouring the internet,
searching for alternative memes, hoping to find additional
food for thought.
One of the few webpages that I've found especially useful
is one published by a person (or group) (hopingly jokingly)
claiming to be the reincarnation of Abelard of Le Pallet.
Many of the ideas published on this webpage I've found to
be incredibly useful in stimulating me to think of human decision-making
phenomena from entirely new perspectives, broadening the spotlight
of my search for meaning.
I wanted to bring this webpage to your attention because,
when I read your article, I was struck by how many of the
concepts you had woven into your writing I had run into earlier
while reading this webpage! Ideas such as "fuzzy logic"
(fuzzy categories), zen impermanance, and the continuous "smoky"
nature of reality and the human experience; these ideas, I
had earlier found them on the following thought-provoking
Since I think I have a lot to gain by reading your essays
and thinking about your ideas, and since I will be reading
more of your webpage in the upcoming days, I wanted to offer
you something in return. I hope you find the time to read
the page, and doubly hope that you would find it interesting
enough to discuss your opinion of the ideas contained therein
with me (since I feel I would have something to gain from
such a discussion!). If you find it interesting and want to
talk about it, please let me know.
Cornell University, '04
interesting. Thanks. As a philosophy student (in my undergrad.
salad days), I appreciate the "anti-Aristotelean"
argument, but I would broaden it. It's not merely language
that is the problem (as that page argues) but the structure
of the human mind, and of consciousness in particular. An
attack on (verbal) language that stays within and is conducted
within verbal language cannot escape the limits of verbal
language, which is to say, escape the structures of consciousness
that imprison it. That is why Elihu Dogen Zenji's approach
is so critical. And why alternative (and non-verbal!) "languages"
(viz. of music, dance, drama, painting, film, etc.) are necessary.
The music of Bach, the painting of Rembrandt, the filmmaking
of Tarkovsky point the way out of the cage. They can't take
us out, but they can point the path. And there are, of course,
other ways as well. Mind-altering drugs -- like total unconditioned
romantic love and ecstatic states of religious adoration and
the care of a mother for a newborn child (if you don't mind
me calling them drugs) -- can also alter our consciousnesses
in radical ways and potentially free us from the categorical
me-thou, subject-object, yin-yang, valley-echo, true-false
constraints our minds normally operate under. Of course late
capitalist civilization does everything it can to persuade
us to "grow up" and "become responsible"
and to "mature" out of these states of freedom.
The world and our self-centered identities are at war with
Linklater is a good buddy of mine, by the way. I had a pre-release
screening of Waking Life for my students at Boston
U., and he came to class to talk with them about it. But there
are many other films and filmmakers, needless to say, that
go even further in this direction.
for the stimulating thoughts and kind words.
Dear Prof. Carney,
I have been thinking about what you fight against. And about
your being attacked simply for doing what you do, for doing
what scholars and historians do. (Click here
to go to three pages that document some of the treatment of
Carney by Gena Rowlands, Al Ruban, and Seymour Cassel.) You're
not a film-as-entertainment critic, but everyone seems to
treat you like you are! They just don't get it. But you already
know that. I started thinking about how you are attacking
sacred cows... cash cows at that ... and found this great
article "Killing Sacred Calves."
in nature, but spiritual truths remain spiritual truths wherever
you find them. Good food for thought. You are in the "business
of cow displacement..." What an apt phrase...
Also, sacred cow = a tightly held belief with which one is
identified. Questioning the belief will be seen as questioning
the holder of the belief and taken as a personal attack. Oftentimes,
the more the sacred cow is at odds with reality, the more
ferociously the believer will cling to it.
most sacred cow - the market.
Lastly, a quote
I found - "Abbie Hoffman gave the best reason for attacking
sacred cows: they 'make the tastiest hamburgers,' he said."
Keep fighting the good fight against those sacred cows...
And for fun, here is something to play with - cow-tipping.
Have you heard of that? Maybe an urban legend, but story has
it that rural pranksters sneak up on sleeping cows and "tip"
them over. Hmmm, maybe you can catch Al Ruban and Gena Rowlands
Yes, you teach
your students to attack sacred cows or at least tip them over
- and kill the sacred calves before they grow up...
George, for the blasphemously sacred thoughts! I like the
metaphor. I'm also interested in tipping over apple carts,
rocking boats, and goring pet oxes.
I have a big long interview in a book that is coming out this fall (Your Life is a Movie, edited by Don Thompson and Nicholas Rombes) where I talk about doing that. (Click here to read about the book on Amazon.)
world needs a little shaking up. But it always fights you
to the death when you do it. I guess that's proof that it
needs to be done.
cow tipping Al and Gena when they are napping, though, I just
don't know. My dad used to use an old Navy saying to refer
to people like them: "Rust never sleeps."
of course (as you know) my goal is not merely to fight and
to knock down. It's creative. The only reason you tear down
is to build something better on that spot. You prune the dead
branches to make room for new growth. To make the flowers
bloom in the spring. To help build a new world, a better,
more caring one than the one we were born into.
I was reading Peter
Bogdanovich's book on actors he has known, including his glowing
reflections on Cassavetes, and thought of you. So I visited
your site again and started reading. I was particularly fascinated
by your comments on puzzle films. (Click
here to read that page.) I enjoyed the heck out of many
of the movies you mentioned, but can't say I disagree with
One thing I've
noticed about the highly praised filmmakers of the past 10
or 15 years is that there is nothing really personal about
their work. Tarantino and PT Anderson, two wildly overpraised
directors, have made movies whose worldview seems to come
from other movies. Tarantino doesn't seem to deny this, and
perhaps that's why I enjoy his movies. PT Anderson's work
leaves me cold, though. I look at his films and there is nothing
real about them. The characters are people who don't exist,
the dialogue is wooden, and his style looks like he spent
far too many hours watching Altman and Scorsese.
Is it possible
that we spend so much time experiencing mass culture we truly
have no life to call our own and draw upon?
See the distinction I make between "group" and "private"
experience in my commentary on the Star
phenomenon. Going to church is different from going to
a football game. Or should be. Listening to Mozart is different
from watching television. It's easy to lose track of the small little voice of the self in our world of surfaces, styles, and sociological
Peter B. and his book are full of you know what. When will
we get our fill of celebrity worship and Hollywood air kissing?
brief exchange between Ray Carney and a major American independent
filmmaker about art and commerce. I have removed the filmmaker's
name and anonymized his story in other ways to protect his
identity. Beyond that, please note that I am only printing
brief excerpts from our exchange, but I think they raise important
In (city) at the
moment, doing q&a's with (film title) at the (name of)
theater, folks there are very nice & we had an encouraging
turnout last night. Hard to tell, throughout all this distribution
monkey business, what works & what doesn't. Did nicely
in Boston & New York, though, of course, (name of major
big theater) has yet to pay us a cent & who knows if they
ever will, but the uphill battle has steepened since-- (Name
of city) was particularly gruesome...
for (other film) looking fairly bleak at the moment ... the
prospect makes me a bit nauseated as the distribution work
gives me very little pleasure & I'm much prefer to pawn
it off on someone else (even if they're going to fuck it up
even worse than we do), but if we gotta do it we'll do it,
& maybe learn from our mistakes on this run...
Hope all's very
well w/ you--
replies (an excerpt from a longer reply):
Art and commerce, business as usual
"the biz" is so wearing. Everyone thought Cassavetes
CHOSE the indie distribution route. As if he prefered to shill
his own works. In fact (as my Cassavetes on Cassavetes
book attempts to point out) he only reluctantly embarked upon
it as the last desperate resort for films that he couldn't
otherwise get out the door. America eats its young and its
young-at-heart artists by forcing them to become businessmen
(and -women) of art, selling, selling, selling, when they
should be off creating. Where is Pope Julius when we need
him? Where is Bill Gates? Where is the National Endowment?
Well today I'm
feeling optimistic, though this is a result of biorhythms
really more than any legitimate cause for optimism...Money
stuff all extremely nervewracking--I've started working part
time in (name of business) which of course comes nowhere near
to covering rent etc--though obviously I could be putting
better effort into remedying that, I should indeed probably
be hustling a lot harder to try to find teaching work...Is
somewhere on the long priority list now...
> Where is Pope
Julius when we
> need him? Where
> is Bill Gates? Where is the National Endowment?
Well Bill Gates
anyhow is throwing money at all sorts of stuff, isn't he?
African debt relief, U.S. public education, things like that?
The world seems to have all sorts of very enormous problems
& I do keep thinking that a lack of support of independent
cinema is a pretty obscure one. And I suspect it's more a
cultural issue than a financial one, really--interesting films
SHOULD be able to compete in the marketplace, because they're
simply better--but the public doesn't want them, and philanthropic
support at best could only put a tiny dent in that indifference,
right? And isn't that the real problem? But again, doesn't
it stem from much, much bigger problems?...Which brings me
back to my recurring fantasy of going to work for Jimmy Carter,
or some other affable do-gooder, I don't know if I'd actually
enjoy it or be of much use, but the notion compels me...
movies and life
Hi Prof. Carney,
I've been pondering
why people fall for Al Ruban's libels against you and your
work. And why they take Gena seriously at film festivals as
she tells her funny stories and presents her "happy face"
version of her life with Cassavettes and her fantasy versions
of her life with him and about how the films were made. (Click
here and here
to read examples of what the letter writer is referring to.)
A few thoughts
back from my undergraduate psychology study days: People are
more likely to vote for someone if they recognize their name.
(How stupid is that????) And we tend to like people who are
like us - lots of $$$$$$$$ are spent to make us identify with
celebrities and recognize their names. Familiarity breeds
association of positive attributes, not contempt, to images
being sold to the undiscriminating public. People believe
Gena because they identify with her in some way. They think
they know her. They think she's their friend. For the past
twenty years she has played sentimental roles in HBO and Showtime
movies, and people think that she is those characters, that
she is a soft, sentimental, kind-hearted person. They confuse
her with the characters she plays, when in fact, if anyone
looks at the way she has treated you, she is obviously very
different from the characters she plays. She is tough and
hard and argumentative. But they can't see that. Her charm
covers it up. She's an actress. What do people expect, she's
good at turning on the charm!
It's like wanting
to vote for Jimmy Stewart for Senator on the basis of Mr.
Smith Goes to Washington. Or Ronald Regan for President on
the basis of his acting performances. That's not far from
the truth. Look at how Dubya got into the White House... It
has become the American Way. The man behind the screen pulling
the levers to make everyone think he is Wizard of Oz. The
special effects prove it, don't they? Has nothing to do with
reality and the truth. It's all a fiction... it's all spin.
And history and scholarship is where it all comes out in the
wash... That's what you do. It's not about fictions and spin.
It may not be pretty. It may reveal that people have told
lies. It's a search for truth. Difficult, challenging, contrary
truth that may offend someone's fantasies or disappoint their
rose colored visions of things. The facts not the myths.
Who cares what
Gena and Al think? Just because they worked with Cassavetes
doesn't mean that they were deep thinkers or great filmmakers.
You don't see them making movies like JC's. They wouldn't
know the first thing about it. What has either of them done
without him? Has Ruban done anything? And Rowlands has made
a bunch of sentimental TV movies. And when it comes to being
critics or understanding what scholarship is about, they don't
know the first thing about it. No thoughtful person would
consider them to be experts on film-as-art criticism in ANY
sense of the word. They are no different than any average
Jane or John Doe on the street. Everyone has an opinion. Does
that make them experts? I think not!!!!
Don't worry, the
right people understand and appreciate what you do. You will
win in the end, it just will take time. What you do will stand
the test of time.
right but I need to be reminded. I'm such an academic, that
it's always so weird to me that in our "culture of celebrity"
people do believe producers, directors, and movie stars....as
if they had some deep inside view of the meaning of a movie,
just because they showed up on the set for a couple months
or wrote checks to finance it. I've seen it so many times.
Look at the way film festival events are organized. Look at
the press coverage. When Rowlands is at an event or has sent
Ruban to represent her in her place (though she is often right
there sitting beside him nodding her head as he says the dumbest
things), people hang on every word like it was the gospel.
They almost automatically believe that they have something
important to say about Cassavetes' movies. You're right when
you say that there is trust of, a love of the rich, famous,
or powerful in our culture that is very very sick. The adulation
of movie stars in particular is a real sickness in America.
for the thoughts and the support.
Saw one of the newest letter postings, (Note from Ray
Carney: see two letters above this one) and can't resist
The filmmaker who wrote you said: "...interesting films
SHOULD be able to compete in the marketplace, because they're
simply better--but the public doesn't want them..."
Since when is the public given a choice??? They don't know
about most of the indie films, so they couldn't go see them
or rent them if they tried. How could they possibly know they
don't want them? And even if they went to a video store to
rent them, they won't be able to find them! I tried recently
to get some of the films you praise on the site. Batting average
on your recommendations: zero. They aren't in the stores!
(A Note from RC: Hundreds of recommendations are sprinkled
throughout the site and my published writing, but for a quick
look at a group of them, click
Marketing creates the demand. And marketing determines the
inventory in the video stores. I recall reading a biography
of Eudora Welty saying she quit marketing because "It
was too much like sticking pins into people to make them buy
things they didn't need or really want..." I think Europeans
are much more open to indie films because they are not subjected
to the same marketing we are in the States to buy crap! Americans
are manipulated to have maximum dollars extracted from their
wallets for films that will make the highest profit... based
on advertising dollars... and so on... and so on... and so
on... name-brand recognition of movie superstars, name directors,
and hot genres of films. People also respond to the herd mentality
- what's trendy or "popular."
What's the answer? Call me crazy, but I think it has to be
the one you recommend: The road not taken... The path of the
P.S. I'm not writing this so you will publish it. Just my
response to that letter. Certain things get my juices flowing...
e.g. evil of advertising/marketing... : ) But don't get me
I am publishing it anyway. Hope you don't mind! : ) You make
some excellent points. John Kenneth Galbraith covered some
of the same territory in his books (see, for example, The
Affluent Society). He talked about how synthetic our
so-called "desires" are. You're right: Advertising
and marketing are cultural evils. They distort demand, create
artificial "needs," and massively misallocate cultural,
material, and emotional resources. I'm in a College of Communication
that has a Department of Advertising full of Professors of
Advertising who teach students how to do that and once they've
learned how, awards them degrees to go off and practice their
skills. It says a lot about how messed up our culture is when
even our universities are participating in the warpage. Everyone
is so worked up about whether "intelligent design"
should be in the curriculum; where are the letters to The
Times about teaching all these other things and suppressing
the alternative point of view in the public relations and
advertising curriculum? (Answer: It's culturally safer to
attack someone who believes in God; it's far too risky to
attack a professor of advertising.)
P.S. I just remembered
something else, if you are interested. A nice tidy illustration
and paradox rolled into one: Mark Rappaport's films represent
the most brilliant cinematic deconstruction of this whole
cultural realm of "artificial needs and feelings,"
even as, at the same time, they ironically illustrate the
effect of the system. You won't find any of Rappaport's most
important films in a video store, because they don't plug
into the artificial marketing and advertising systems they
critique. Talk about poetic justice.
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