My name is Dan
Marker and I'm an aspiring filmmaker doubling as an English
major in my last year of college right now. I soon hope to
get a job and make enough money to fund a feature length film.
I'm a fan of your website and I've read and reread several
of your articles. It's inspiring to see someone who shares
similar tastes and enthusiasms. It's incredibly rare to find
someone who takes art seriously these days.
I wanted to thank
you for your Cassavetes on Cassavetes book. I rented it from
my school library and ordered it online the same day. I needed
a lifetime copy of my own. I also wanted to thank you for
recommending other filmmakers I might have not have ever seen.
I'm probably one of the few people who proudly own The Wife
and What Happened Was...
I also had a quick
question. I've read through all your posted syllabi and emails
to make sure you hadn't already answered this question. I
think I have a firm grasp of your film tastes but there are
several authors that I would love to know your opinion on.
My focus in school is 20th Century literature and I share
your admiration of a lot of writers but I was wondering what
you thought about a few writers that you haven't mentioned.
You've spoken about Joyce before but I got the impression
that you were not a fan. Is this true? How about Pynchon,
DeLillo, Gaddis, Wallace, or Raymond Carver? I am guessing
that you wouldn't be too much of a fan of Post-Modernism but
perhaps I'm being presumptuous. I ask these questions because
I agree with your film tastes most of the time and was just
wondering about your literary tastes. I'm going to pick up
some Henry James novels (I've only read Daisy Miller which
didn't knock my socks off) and Alice Munro based on your suggestions.
Thanks for your
of rankings. Top ten lists. Bests of. Worsts of. The ten best
list. The ten worst list. That's thinking like a journalist.
Like a reviewer. In other words, an idiot. Which is better
Brandenberg 3 or 5? Which is greater Bach or Beethoven? Is
Pynchon a better writer than Gaddis? Is Carver better than
Munro? What would that mean? It's not a "Best of the
Times." It's not a Top Ten List. Life and art are about
said, there are fads and fashions, and I generally try to
stay clear of all of them. As I said to a critic who once
told me that my writing didn't deal with "hot" or
fashionable themes and trends:
never want to be in style. That way I stand a chance of never
going out of style. What is hot will inevitably--ten minutes
or two decades later--be cold. What is trendy is doomed to
be untrendy in a 100 years. Save the bandwagon for a parade."
You express interest in postmodern literature. In my view, pomo lit is generally "lit lite." It's
stunts, games, tricks. It's easy, free associations. It's
a high wire trapeze act. All glitz and glitter, drum rolls
and flourishes, but no real sense of life as it's lived.
the authors you name are not postmodern to me. They are high
modern in the extreme. The land of Eliot and Joyce and Pound.
They all are part of "the literature of difficulty."
(My own term.) Nothing wrong with that. Pynchon is fine. Gaddis
is fine. But make some room for the "easiness" of
Welty. And the humanity of Oates's short stories of the past
decade. And the beautiful wonders of Alice Munro. And the
simplicity of Elizabeth Bishop. The ones on my list tend not
to be "difficult" in the same way Pynchon and Joyce
and company are. They are not "high tech." They
are not fancy. They do not do anything tricky. They are low-tech,
ordinary, plain-spoken writers. Like Lawrence and Frost, they
will never be as fashionable as Eliot and Pound and Joyce.
Their difficulty is not on the surface but in the depths.
Their difficulty is the difficulty of life, not of art.
my "Puzzle films" in the
"Necessary Experiences" packet for an insight
on the film side. Read my
"What's Wrong with...." packet. Both have a
lot on this subject. The difference between easy difficulty
and real difficulty. The difference between mystification
and real mystery. The difference between Citizen Kane
and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Something
that is not puzzling or challenging on the surface can actually
be the really challenging (and really rewarding) work. The
puzzles of style are easily solved. The puzzles of life are
bottomless and profound. Munro, Welty, Hawthorne, James, etc.
give us the difficulties of living, not of writing.
yet, better than reading me I mean, just read the authors
I teach in my literature courses.
Hi Ray (if I may),
I'm a graduate student of philosophy at the University of
Toronto. You could say that I'm a film lover rather than a
film goer: given the menu, I'd rather stay at home watching
some classic than pollute my mind with the latest Hollywood
blockbuster. Note that I say "classic" not because
there aren't good films made today, but because they are not
easily accessible. But you know this already.
I'd like to order a copy of 'Why Art Matters'. Could you
please indicate the shipping costs to Toronto, Canada? If
there are alternatives, please just quote the cheapest one.
Cassavetes got it exactly right when he said that "energy
burst out of your writing." Keep up the excellent work,
Ray. We need you to energize the independent film movement.
Or, for that matter, art in general.You are truly an inspiration.
"It's a safe guess that anyone who's called a dissident
in their own society is probably an honest person."
Subject: Mark Rappaport,
Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Russell, and Life in General
Tom Russell here. The last several months have been by turns
unbearable and exhilarating, and I'd like to tell you a little
bit about it. I've spent most of the last year trying to do
two quixotic things: getting my movie into a festival, and
getting a second job. Concerning the latter: I don't have
a college education, any marketable skills, or any job history
besides eight years behind the circulation desk of the local
In my bleakest
moments, I would say to myself, well, I've got my wife, who
I love, and that's what counts. I have a large number of books
I'm obstensiably supposed to reading but am actually neglecting.
Films, certainly. And writing-- and filmmaking. I can enjoy
sunsets though I prefer overcast days. Not exactly financially
stable, but not drowning just yet either. On the other hand,
it's easier to love and provide for your wife when you're
actually providing, easier to read a book or watch a film
when you have working electricity. All those external things
don't count as much as *living*, a job doesn't count as much
as *living*, but we live in an external world and it's easier
to live when you've got food on the table.
Anyway, a hell
of a year on that front, and then, viola! like magic! exactly
a year after I started looking, I got a job. A job that pays
twelve dollars an hour, which I can work in addition to the
library job. Now I'm bringing home close to fifteen hundred
dollars a month, which isn't great, but is a lot more than
six to seven hundred a month. We're saving and occassionally
splurging, and more importantly, the job isn't an office job,
it isn't mindless drone work, it isn't any of the things that
I would hate to be doing but would have gladly accepted if
it meant I could be a "man".
I am a paid companion/support
staff for a man my own age who has severe, low-functioning
autism. I can't really say much about him as a result of that
being against the law, not even so much as his name, but I
can say that the experience has been incredible, more scarring
and more revelatory than any film ever could be. He cannot
speak, he does not make a sound except to laugh, and his emotions
turn on a dime, his emotions are so pure: there is no mixture,
no ambivilance: he is a human being writ large, he
is a dynamo of personality. The intensity of his emotions,
of his happiness and his anger are incredible.
I have never seen
such anger in my life!
I have seen malevolence,
I have seen cruelty, but I never seen anger like this, anger
that is not cruel or motivated by jealousy but anger that--just--plain--is.
I've never experience such violence, before, either. With
his fingers-- not his fingernails, they were cut as a precaution--
he broke the skin of my arm, and blood poured down in sheets,
covered my arm, and I was dizzy and practically in shock but
you know what? The whole thing was exhilerating. Exhilerating!
My job is not to
be his babysitter, and not even exactly to be his friend,
but to respond to him, to try and engage him when he feels
like being engaged. My job is, essentially, to be a better
human being and to try and learn from it. If I survive it,
it'll be incredible.
The other quixotic quest, as I mentioned, was to get my movie
into a festival. Try and sell it maybe. I dunno. Just get
people to watch it, anyway. But no festival has bit so far.
(Thanks again, by the way, for recommending indieWIRE; though
I haven't gotten into anything, it gave me more realistic
venues to try than the big ones.)
It's a story that
would be sad if it wasn't so predictable, and I knew I had
a better chance of winning the Michigan State Lottery (we've
been trying that, too. :-P ). My movie's too "mainstream",
whatever the hell that means, for the underground festivals
who turn up their noses at me because I'm not extreme enough,
I'm not daring enough, I'm not provocative or controversial.
I have no real formal style and seek clarity above all things.
To an extent, though: I don't like characters speaking like
they're in a movie. I don't like all the connections and motives
to be clear and in fact keep them obscure at times. I also
ellide the events that are less important in terms of character
(but perhaps more important in terms of plot).
It's a very low-key
movie, a "little movie", about people doing people
stuff. (My wife, who is much better at taglines than I am,
calls it "a movie where life happens", and that
is fairly accurate.) It's also slow. I admit that freely.
I shot it to be slow, wrote it to be slow, edited it to be
slow. I like slow movies. "Underground" "indie"
"extreme cinema" doesn't.
funny: underground cinema used to be pretty well defined by
its lack of movement and energy. Just got my hands on Rappaport's
Casual Relations, by the way. I didn't click with
all of that, but some of the humour was exactly my sensibility.
The shot with the car radio was golden. Absolutely golden.
And I wouldn't have found this movie if not for you. Thank
And the mainstream
festivals: well, who's in my movie? No one? Oh. It's awful
slow, especially without a name actor. Grrr. It's all bullshit,
and I knew it from the start, but you got to play the game,
don't you? If you want anyone to see it, whether you make
a penny or not, you've got to play the game.
But I got tired
of it, basically. I've spent the bigger part of this last
year getting tired of trying to get my foot in the door, trying
to get to some like-minded individual embedded deep within
the system. The fact is, it would cost less to burn a bunch
of DVDs and sell them to people than to burn a bunch of DVDs
and send them to festival selection committees.
And so, somehow,
I find myself in the distribution system. :-)
Part of me knows
its sour grapes, but those grapes soured long ago, didn't
they? I don't need to be telling you this; you know it, you've
been saying it for a long time. And so, my quest becomes even
more quixotic: I'm getting one of these "blog" things
(not because I want to "blog" [curious word, both
a verb and a noun], but because they're free and most webpages
aren't) and a P. O. box, and I'm going to sell DVDs of the
movie. I'm going to put a commentary track on it, because
it's the next best thing to tagging along with a filmmaker,
and I'm going to see what I can do. Maybe I make fifteen dollars,
maybe I make a hundred fifty, maybe I make 1500.
I'm sending DVDs
to various parts of the country (and, if I figure out this
region encoding business/PAL conversion for VHS, to various
parts of the world). Free copies. People watch them, share
them with friends. If the friends like them, then the friends
can buy a copy from me.
And I'm working
with my wife on some various ideas for the next one, so I
can start shooting end of this year, beginning of next. So
I can sell another movie. I have a library. A brand name.
If I can't wade in through the festival shit, I'll make my
own bullshit. Maybe I never make a dime. But people are watching.
Responding. And I have two jobs now anyway, and for the moment,
And so, here I
am, feeling more exhilerated than I have in months, and also
more terrified. :-)
I'd like to send you a copy on DVD. Now, I know what you're
going to say: you've got a stack of DVDs probably threatening
to revolt and take over your house. That's fine. There's no
rush. Watch it next month, watch it next year. Whenever you
feel like it. I haven't asked before because, basically, I
know you get a lot of this shit from people looking, just
like I was most of this year, to find some way to beat the
system. The system's unbeatable. Life isn't. Art isn't (though
sometimes artists are). As Capra's Mr. Smith tells us (and
also Billy Jack, have you seen Billy Jack Goes to Washington?
Utterly bizarre! Certainly the strangest remake I can think
of.): the only causes worth fighting for are the lost ones.
I don't want a
way to beat the system. I don't want to get into a festival;
submission fees are taking money out my pocket I could be
using to take my wife to dinner, or to pay for gas.
The other reason I've been hesitant about asking you to look
at it, is, basically, I don't know if you'd even like it,
or respond to it. But maybe you will. I know you're not some
narrow-minded idealogue, and, as you said in one of the letters
pages, the stuff on your site is more the polemic you. But
also I look at the movie and I see something so simple and
mainstream in its appeal that I cannot imagine anyone not
liking it. It's about people, and what's more appealing than
But I've gotten
a lot of responses that weigh in on the negative/ambivalent
side, and you know the funny thing? They're exactly the responses
I expected from those persons. I knew my pal J. D. would say
there's not enough music, that my buddy Petra would say there's
a lot of dead air, that my sister would laugh at everything
and et cetera, et cetera. In some cases, I think it just wasn't
their kind of movie; in others, I think they'll come back
to it in a few years and change their minds. I know if I had
seen it when I was my sister's age, hell, if I had seen it
when I was nineteen or twenty, that I would hate it, think
it boring, think it didn't have a point.
And this is why
I feel confident now in wanting to send you a copy: it takes
a little bit of life experience, I think, for it to work.
It takes patience and a little understanding of human nature.
And really, when one stops and thinks about it, who would
be a better possible audience than Ray Carney?
Again, watch it whenever you feel like it. A year from now,
ten years from now. Whenever. And once you have, lend it to
a friend you think will dig it.
And before I close this obscenely long letter, I just want
to say thank you for pointing me in the direction of Joyce
Carol Oates. You're right; some of these stories *are* like
emotional rock-climbing. I especially like most of the stories
in Sentimental Education; man oh man, she knows that
men and women are different and she knows how they're different
and why and she's on neither side and it's amazing. (In some
of her later stories, she seems to tip more on the female
side of the equation, which is all right if a little less
balanced. Also, I miss the dense blocks of prose that characterize
Queen of the Night and other stories from Sentimental.)
Thank you for allowing me to monopolize your time,
from Prof. Carney:
post the above letter simply as a reality check about what
the "real life" of an indie filmmaker (or any other
genuine artist or craftsman) is like. No Hollywood glamour.
No groupies. No features in the New York Times. No
interviews by Charlie Rose. No press releases. No agents and
no black-clad PR click-clacks shepherding you around. Just
a lot of @*&!-ng hard work! And no end of it. Ever. But
that's what making real art is really about. If it's glamorous,
sexy, buzz-word laden, and talked about on "Entertainment
Tonight," you know it's part of the style system. The
flattery-system. The world of fantasy and falsity. It's not
about telling the truth. It's not about doing what is really
important. Tom--and all the other Tom, Dick, Harry, and Henriettas
out there--you have my best wishes and high hopes. Don't worry
about what the world says or thinks. Don't even pay attention
to that. Just keep on doing what you are doing. Keep going!
Hope you are well.
Thanks for the Junebug plug on your website. What
a great new voice!! He reminds me of Leigh and Ozu. Wonderfully
balanced characters. I feel like I have seen a lot of good
new stuff lately, which has brought me a great deal of hope.
I saw Herzog's Grizzly Man, which really threw me
for a loop, it caught me off guard (which I love) and made
me laugh and cry at the same time. I saw Jarmusch's Broken
Flowers the other day, which I liked very much, but not
a life changer...Have you seen Miranda July's Me and You
and Everyone We Know. I loved it, until Junebug
it was my favorite of the year. It reminded me so much of
A Little Stiff, but this was from a female point
of view. I'm just starting my full edit on The Last Stand,
the feature I shot with Frankie in Philly this summer. It
was good to see all these films lately, especially Jarmusch
(the master of structure, as you once said), because structure
is all with film. I have great great footage, I just need
to put it all together. I just discovered Jan Steen, that
dutch painter who paints the wild dinner parties, with the
kids standing in the cake drinking beer and the dog peeing
in the corner. I see the film I'm making as in that vain.
Rough beauty. The film is about Frankie's dad's fruit stand
and all the wild life that occurs in and around it. I don't
want to count my chickens before they hatch, but I think I'm
on to something really great...What is new with you my friend.
I hope you are well and your words on your site, especially
the letters from artists are a constant encouragement. As
always thank you.
to hear from you, Lucas. Yes, Virginia, structure is everything,
or almost everything. Balanchine taught me that. There was
nothing to hold onto in his ballets but structure. The other
half of art is style and texture. Mozart taught me that. The
color of D-minor, the timbre of a reed, the feeling of a fugue.
Most filmmakers don't understand either. They have this bogus
notion that filmmaking is "story-telling." Heck,
that's what one of the production professors you studied with
told me was the "essence of filmmaking." He said
filmmaking ultimately was just about telling a gripping story.
I wanted to reply (but didn't): "Sorry. Wrong answer.
Try again or I'll have to fail you."
you're working. Work is the cure to all problems. The secret
of life is to do. Thought is the devil. Consciousness I mean.
like your Yeatsian "rough beauty" idea too. Pretty
pictures are the devil's handiwork. Great minds think alike,
I guess: I was just down in the city doing an interview for
the Turner Broadcasting folks talking about the poetry of
impurity and the ugliness of Hollywood idealization.
the most of the messes..... because it is all mess, all the
way down to the final scaly tortoise crouching in the slime.
Glorious dinosaur mess.
from Ray Carney:
quote the young John Keats (from memory--forgive any errors):
Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,/ And many
goodly states and kingdoms seen/ Round many Western islands
have I been,/ Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold./ Oft of
one wide expanse have I been told....
ten years ago, a student of mine, David Kang, recommended
that I look at Wong Kar Wei's work. Call me dumb, but I hadn't
heard of it up until the time David put me onto it. Long story
short: I did and I haven't stopped looking since. A few days
ago, I saw 2046. It was a Saturday evening screening
and I sat in a 300-seat theater with no more than 15 other
people (alas), and applauded all alone when the credits rolled
at the end. I don't know whether 2046 is a movie
or an opera, but whichever it is, I do know it is a masterpiece.
A modern version of Turandot. Princesses in towers.
Princes lined up to court her. Riddles being posed. Heads
rolling at wrong answers. Well, actually, the inversion of
all of that. Turandot inside-out. Turandot
as a man. The princes as women. But totally operatic in its
emotional enormity and extravagance. And brilliant and devastating.
Nessun dorma. Vincero. Splendera!
owe it to yourself to see not only this film, but all of Wong
Kar Wei's work. There are only a few certifiable geniuses
making films nowadays. (Abbas Kiarostami, Mark Rappaport,
Lars Von Trier, and Mike Leigh are the names of some of the
others.) Anyone who cares about the present or future of the
art should make it a point to master the complete works of
each of these artists. Wong Kar Wei's work too, of course.
Give thanks such a director exists.
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