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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 Ray Carney,

Hello Ray, my name is Javier Alan Garcia. I'm 21 and a student at Brooks Institute of Photography in Ventura. I am relatively new to Cassavetes, i bought his box set a year ago understanding who he was and what he stood for. Being a film student I either A. Spent my time writing or B. Spent my time doing everything else so needless to say i never got around to watching them. I spent today and yesterday watching his films for the first times, eating them up like spaghetti one after the other in reverse sucsesion. Ending today with Shadows, i spent the rest of my time finding articles about the films and various stories and I landed on yours and your first version of Shadows. HOLY SHIT! NO WAY!

I know you get this a lot. Could i get a copy for EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY? I would be happy to reimburse you for however much it costs for a copy of it on DigiBeta.

Oh and by the way, you ARE protected under the copyright laws to distibute it in anyway shape or form. I learned all about it in business law. It's elementary copyright laws, she doesn't have the rights to it, and she doesn't have the copy of it. You do. What you need to do is copyright it under YOUR name. Therefore, it becomes property of you. For example, a musician makes music under a label, unless it's in the contract that the artist keeps all copyright to his or her songs, the label does. The artist doesn't have to give away her or his copyrights, but do many times because they don't understand how that works or it's the only way for them to get heard and distributed.

I'm sure you already know all this but if you don't now you do.

But anyway, i know what your answer will probably be, and if it is. I just hope and pray you distribute it. You have to! Even if it's exclusively just off of your website.

Thanks again for all your fine work,

Javier Alan Garcia

Re: a question from Cassavetes' Shadow

Dear Mr Carney:

I am a student from China, my majoy is film study. Now I am Preparing for my thesis. By the way, the theme is about rebel youth in American film.I know you are an expert of Cassavetes' film and I have read your essay about "Shadow" and "Pull my daisy" in the net. So I want to ask a question. In the film, Bennie was so depressed that he escape from the party after fighting. he standed outside the bar and said "Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow. Everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go." what does this mean? I mean what did cassavetes want to express?Does this sentence quote from somewhere,for example, a children's song or a fairy tale? Look for your answer! May you mid-autumn festival happy .(a traditional China festeval)!

from Nanjing China

Ray Carney replies:


Good to hear from you! Tell a Chinese publisher I would give them the rights to translate any of my work cheap if they were interested. I own most of the foreign rights myself.

The Hungarian edition of <i>American Dreaming</i>To your question: Ben's statement is from a children's nursery rhyme about a girl who takes a pet to school. The content of the rest of the rhyme is not important. It is his way of saying that he is not "white," that he is a "black sheep" in his world, out of place and weak like a "lamb." Most importantly it is a reference to him not being white like the lamb. "White" is both a color and a racial type (Caucasian) in English.

So that's the "racial" meaning. But to my mind the content of his statement is less important than its self-pitying tone. Ben is feeling sorry for himself. The subsequent music scene and preceding party scene show this also. So the moment is one of self-dramatization. (A little like Lelia's moments in the film.) That is how you should think of it. That will take you much further than focusing on the racial allusion in the words. Critics love to focus on meaning but they miss tone and tone is always more important. Connotation over denotation. Feeling over thought. American criticism in particular is visual in its emphasis, not aural, and misses or downplays the self-dramatizing feelings in a line like this to focus on its racial meanings. It's why the same critics don't really understand Faces either. Or What Happened Was. You have to listen to them like music. Not watch them like Hitchcock's visual metaphors. And you have to understand a lot about life. Another thing critics don't seem good at. (I have more on the subject of visual versus aural, and metaphoric versus tonal understandings of film in my "What's Wrong With Film Study...." packet. Click here to obtain it.)

My Cassavetes on Cassavetes book has Cassavetes' thoughts on why Shadows is misunderstood if it is viewed chiefly or exclusively as a racial drama. American critics have never been able to understand what he was getting at, but the preceding comments should help you do that.

All best wishes,

Dear Prof. Carney,

I was reading an interview on your website and felt a little surge of unease when I finished this paragraph: "I should say, tried. Those days are past. I recently tendered my resignation as director of the program. I'll step down this summer....."

I am in the midst of getting a packet together to apply for BU's graduate film studies program for the Fall 2006 semester, and my primary reason for applying is your work and the filmmakers and other artists you champion and teach. I haven't found any other programs where my enthusiasm for Cassavetes, Tarkovsky, Bresson, Ozu, Noonan, May and lots of other artists in lots of other arts would be even slightly rewarded. With you gone, will the BU program become business as usual? What are your future plans, and will those plans involve teaching? I guess that last question is none of my business and too vague in scope to be answerable, anyway, but please keep at it. Academia needs people who don't think "art" is a dirty word. Do you have any recommendations for someone who wants to study what you teach?

Josh Krauter

Ray Carney replies:


I'm still teaching in the program. I just resigned as Director of it. It was over a number of issues, mainly connected with lowering of admissions standards, the cutting back on the number of film courses required for the film studies major, and the shift in emphasis from the teaching of "artistic/personal" films to "mainstream/Hollywood" work. That is unclear because part of the interview is cut before that that explains the situation.(Click here to read an excerpt from this interview.)

Thanks for the kind words. But my world involves constant struggles for excellence. That's just the way life is. I'm used to it. Proof that you're doing something valuable is that you meet with resistance. Anything else is entropy. What's Blake's aphorism? No progression without contraries. I think that's it. Translation: Take the path of greatest resistance. Nothing excellent comes easy. If it was easy, the world wouldn't need my work. Someone else would be doing it. In this instance, I'm a minority of one in the program. I guess people should be told that. The most popular course we have this semester is in Hitchcock! One of the most popular last semester was in the work of David Cronenberg. And as a counter example, last semester, almost none of the students (grad or undergrad) was interested in viewing films by and learning about the work of Bresson, Ozu, and Leigh. Their work was the most under-enrolled. So what's the moral? It's not hard to figure out and it's true at every university in the United States. We live in a culture of celebrity and most faculty teach and the overwhelming majority of students want to study the work of the super-star celebrity figures everyone is already familiar with, the names that draw, the stars and star directors who have box office appeal. And faculty are only former grad. students, which means that in ten years the students now fighting to get into a Hitchcock course will be offering one as faculty members.

I touch on this issue higher up on the same page. See the mention of Yoda earlier in the interview. I am not the Boston U. Film Studies program. There are others with other values. Both faculty members and students.

And see the link on the same page for some (partially tongue in cheek) reactions to the way academic film production programs are run. The dumbing down is just as pervasive there.


Prof. Carney,

Thank you for responding. I'm glad you will still be teaching there. I'm going ahead with my application, though I do realize you aren't the BU film program, just a part of it. At 28, I'm still young but too old to look for a Yoda. I agree with most of your ideas and opinions, but part of what I enjoyed about my undergrad days was the exposure to new ideas and people, many of whom I disagreed with vehemently. I don't think of you as a Svengali, just as a teacher and writer whose books and recommendations have consistently made me a better thinker.

A couple of quick questions. Will you still be on the admissions committee? Also, you mention being a minority of one in the department. After seeing one of the professors in the catalog list "Baywatch" and "Beverly Hills 90210" on his resume, I see what you mean. However, are there any other profs in the film department whose classes you recommend? I've been able to find some of Roy Grundmann's work, but I haven't had much luck finding writing or information from some of the others.

Thanks for your time.
Josh Krauter

Ray Carney replies:

Thanks. I appreciate your kind words about my work.

On to your question about books and publications: Save your time looking. Assistant Prof. Grundmann is the only Film Studies teacher who has published anything beyond a brief film review or some such. He has a book on Andy Warhol's Blow Job. It's not my idea of a great American masterpiece and Warhol is not exactly my cuppa' tea as a filmmaker, but he is a name to conjure with in art circles. To the best of my knowledge you won't find anything else in print by other full-time regular film studies faculty.

In the last cycle I stepped down from the admissions committee also. Admissions changes were a large part of my decision to resign the directorship.

Be sure you keep Film Studies and Film Production separate in your mind. The faculty are divided into different groups. Baywatch and Beverly Hills 90210 would have been done by production faculty. That doesn't make the fact any less embarrassing, of course.

I don't know what else to say. USC, NYU, and Columbia have excellent Film Study programs I am told. I am still at Boston U., still teaching my heart out, writing like crazy, and trying to help students in every way I can. That hasn't changed and won't.



I'm not sure how you feel about Errol Morris, but I think you'll at least appreciate the iconoclasm of this piece. It was commissioned, but I thought the site editor would reject it. It's been up for a few days, and I'm taking a lot of heat, but I've also heard from somewhat shaken readers who were convinced to abandon "the church of Morris." Always hoping to "break the monotony of a decorous age," as Emerson put it.

Alejandro Adams

Ray Carney replies:

Thanks for the link. You raise important issues. I'm going to post it on my site.

Subject: Brief Question

Dear Ray Carney,

My interest in filmmaking started at an early age, around 7 or 8 when I started stealing my dad's camera to put into use. At that time I barely watched any films due to my parents restrictions to films I actually wanted to see and my loathing of all Disney movies that every kid my age were 'supposed' to watch. When I hit an older age, I began watching more 'maintstream' films (apocalypse now, etc). Before then all my little films were based on what I thought a film should look like, and after being exposed to the structure of hollywood films, I found that my films as well...started to suck. I know I know what am I talking about I was only 12, but my point is I really respect your opinion on how filmschool/hollywood brainwashes one with structure and I experienced at a young age. I haven't gone to the movies in years, but I continue my pursuit of filmmaking, because it makes me feel alive. I'm travelling in China right now, collecting mental souverniers when I thought of a question for the great Ray Carney. Are there any 'hollywood' films in the past, lets say 10 years, that you DO like, and feel exceptionally great compared to the other garbage? Thanks for your time and reply if time is possible.

-John Zhao

Ray Carney replies:

Great garbage? Greater than the rest of the garbage? Slighly un-garbagey garbage? Recyclable garbage? Tasty savory garbage? What's this about? Why do you care? That's the important question. Hollywood is just a term, a mental construct, an imaginative invention. It's not a fact of nature. Why give it so much power over your mind? Why measure things, pro or con, in terms of it? There are good films and bad films made everywhere. There are more and less interesting films made in Los Angeles and made elsewhere. There are works that give us hope and works that make us despair made in every city, every country, every climate, every week. There are stupid people, works, events that we can learn valuable things from; and stupid people, works, events that just waste our time and spirit. Forget categories. Break free from geography. Think like an artist. The rest is thinking like a pollster or a businessman. Study how our imaginations imprison us. Study how the programming system keeps us in chains. Study how to break loose. Plan an escape. Talk to the other inmates. Tap on the walls. Listen at the bars. Palm a key. Dig and tunnel. Scrape at the plaster. Bribe a guard. Put pillows in your bed. Wear a mask and a funny hat. Find your way out. Run for your life. Break free of the old patterns of thought!

All best wishes,

A note from Ray Carney:

I saw an amazing movie recently, and want to spread the word: Phil Morrison's JuneBug. Really great. The best film I've seen all year. A bright reflecting pool, with the stillest of surfaces, apparent calm and peace, but slowly revealed to be miles deep and dark, with all sorts of wonders swimming in the depths ... but only visible to those who can look with averted vision to see through the reflections and make out the flickers. Try to catch it. Spread the word. Bring a friend. Tell a friend. We must support the good things to make more good things possible.

Philip Morrison is a filmmaker worth watching. A quiet, deep feeling, deep seeing artist in a land of cleverness, entertainment, and noise.

Click here to read Ray Carney's "A Modest Proposal: Let's Replace Film Production Programs with Majors in Auto Mechanics"

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