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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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A Note from Ray Carney:

Andrew Bujalski is the writer, director, and star of two of the most important low budget independent films of the past three years: Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation. He kindly provided an essay on the art and business of indie filmmaking for posting on the site. I highly recommend it. It's screamingly funny, as well as being wise. Just like his movies. (Click here to read it.)


Hey, I don't know if you remember who I am, but a little while back I wrote to you regarding something I had figured out about the nature of logic. In the time since then, I've read a little more into the subject; although not very deeply, I've at least read superficially the ideas of several other thinkers in this area. Have you heard of Ludwig Wittgenstein? Based on browsing a few articles that other people have written about him, I think he came to largely the same realization that you hinted at in your reply to my previous email (correct me if I'm wrong in reading your inference), that the structure of language makes it impossible to describe, with 100% precision, a good accounting of the facts that occurred during a given event. I think this is largely due to the constraints of our ability to recall information, but then again, I'm not neurologist, nor have I read through the primary works of Wittgenstein :D

Anyways, I just finished watching Bob Rafelson's "Five Easy Pieces" - have you heard of the movie? It starred Jack Nicholson and was shot in the seventies, around the time he did "Chinatown" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." I really liked the movie; there was a dearth of a musical score, little to no technical intervention on the part of the director in the shaping of the atmosphere, none of the "cheap parlour tricks" you mentioned in that essay of yours, just a movie with a realistic, but intricate, theme and story, and actors who could make the storytelling come alive. I saw the first part of Cassavetes' "Faces", and even though "Five Easy Pieces" featured much less in the way of freelance acting, I noticed that the focus was more on the story being told and much less so than on the production.

Of course, I think this heavily contrasts with the way movies are produced now, with a heavy emphasis on sweeping movements and intricate fantastic plots that require an amazingly high suspension of disbelief. I went out with my friends last night to see "Flightplan" - afterwards, I felt robbed of both 2 hours of my life as well as the $5.75 I had paid to get in, the movie was so bad. The acting was atrocious, the plot unbelievable, and the premise and setting totally unrealistic in terms of believable sequences of events; most of the movie took place in a transatlantic passenger plane that must have been the size of a military cargo jet, based on the amount of space shown within it (ironically, the size of the plane played a large role in the plot). I felt as though the director and writer of the movie didn't have the artistic vision to harmonize anything truly creative, so instead they slapped together a few loose ends around a ludicrous plot and smeared the bricks together with the slime of slick production and shitty acting (pardon the French). UGH!

Why do you think directors do these kinds of things? Is the presence of truly gifted acting, directing, and producing talent so lacking within the filmmaking community?


Subject: wong kar wei

I am pleased to see you've discovered this magical filmmaker (Click here to read Prof. Carney's comments.) I assumed you never wrote about him because he has already achieved a good deal of critical acclaim. With 2046 tanking with the critics, though, I was pleased to see someone step up to the defense. I haven't seen the film yet, but I definitely plan to. He is genius. Also, are you familiar with Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang? His "Vive L'amour" is terrific. Everything good seems to come from overseas. Sad.


P.S. Stuff I'm currently reading: "Agamemnon" by Aeschylus, the book of Ezekiel, Dagoberto Gilb's "Woodcuts of Women"

Professor Carney -

Just saw your recommendation for Phil Morrison's "Junebug" (Click here to read Prof. Carney's comments.) Great to see that you appreciated the film. I've seen it twice now, as well as convinced a good dozen others to catch it as well. It's really a beautiful film, and I'm anxious to see what's next from Morrison and his screenwriter, Angus MacLachan. If nothing scholarly is published on the film within the next month or two, perhaps I'll attempt something.

Hope everything is going well!
- Alex

An exchange between Phil Morrison, director of Junebug, and Ray Carney:

Dear Mr. Carney,

I was so pleased and moved to read your comments about Junebug on IMDB. I have known of you ever since Dave Doernberg, Junebug's production designer, was your student at Boston University in the late 80s. I remember him speaking intensely about you and your class. It was very clear that you had influenced him greatly. So you contributed to our movie. Thanks!

Phil Morrison

Ray Carney replies:


Wow. Never expected to hear from you directly, but I'm honored to receive your email. Your film is really strong. I mention it on my web site also.

Can I ask you something? I know everyone I talk to keeps telling me that Leigh and Ozu are in Junebug in the "pause points" (the static shots) you insert and of course I can see that, but the connection seems pretty trivial to me. The real deep emotional connection for me is to Charles Burnett and To Sleep with Anger, in the "parallel scene" editing and the narrative structure. Is there anything to that? I know "influences" are hateful (and would deny most of them in my own work too!!!), but I am just damn curious if I am imagining this or if it ever occurred to you. It could of course be an unconscious, unintended similarity.

Of course the secret of influences is to have the right ones. There is nothing wrong with learning from masters like Burnett (or Renoir, or Ozu, or Leigh for that matter). Even a wild man like Cassavetes borrows many times from others (e.g. Visconti and Renoir and Jerry Lewis) in his work. The only time influences are bad is when an artist picks something stupid to borrow. Like DePalma mimicking Hitchcock's shooting and editing. That's just dumb : )

Can you clarify another thing too? I saw the acknowledgement of the North Carolina School for the Arts at the end of Junebug and wondered if that was where you went to school or if they were involved in the production in some way. I had a passing relationship with them about five or six years ago. They wanted me to share their 35mm film collection (to screen at Boston U.) and they wanted me to come down to lecture. I was busy and neither ever came to pass but I was wondering what you think of their school and program, if you went there or know people who do.

Say hi to David D. from me. I still remember him. But tell him that Boston U. has changed a lot in the years since he left. Not entirely for the better, sorry to say.


P.S. An afterthought: Have you seen a low budget indie work called Puffy Chair? I haven't caught it but have heard it is quite wonderful. (October 2005 postscript: Ray Carney saw Jay and Mark Duplass's Puffy Chair shortly after writing this. Click here to read his reaction to the film.)

Hello Mr. Carney!

Well, here's one thing that happened, kind of by accident. Whenever I spoke about the movie, I was sort of uncomfortable. People had lots of questions, and I never liked my own answers (especially when I read them in a newspaper). So I think I would sometimes change the subject to other movies because they were easier to talk about than my own. And I meant it, I think, the way you mean it. Guidance. Since there are those static shots and quietness, Ozu would come up, and Kiarostami and Davies. And since there's a family and some class tension, Leigh would come up. But you are absolutely right about To Sleep With Anger. That movie is a big big deal to me, and it probably influenced the heart of the making of Junebug more than any other film. Meet Me in St. Louis and The Clock might be next. (Eliot Davis once offered to introduce me to Burnett, but I was too intimidated!) Here's what may be an unconscious similarity: the "parallel scene" editing you mention. Will you tell me more about that? By guidance, maybe I mean the same guidance a pastor might give you if you were learning to pray.

And here's the right time to say I enjoyed that letter to Pressman and Malick on your website.

I didn't go to NCSA. There was no film school there when it was time for me to go to college. I moved from Winston-Salem to NY. (Dave Doernberg is from Winston as well. We've known each other since high school.) Angus MacLachlan, who wrote our script, went there as an actor. We had some interns from the film school on Junebug. I get the impression it's a very good program. The interns knew a lot. I'm not sure how much they cared about cinema. They may. Maybe you can go lecture them into it!

The makers of the Puffy Chair are nice guys. I met them at Sundance and in Edinburgh. I am eager to see their movie.

Let me know about the parallel scene editing!


Ray Carney replies:

Here's all I meant by parallel editing: The way, for example when the girl is downstairs in the kitchen helping the guy with Huck Finn (sorry I don't remember the characters' names at this instant), you cut from one set of characters to another to another. From one room in the house to another I mean. You do it all the time in the film. Another time is in during the hospital scene. Cut from one set of events to another. OK. I admit it's not unique to Charles B, and you can even find it in super trashy things like daytime soap operas on TV, but when it is done RIGHT (which is rarely and never on soap operas!), it creates this powerful sense of much happening at once, of intertwined existences, of the audience seeing connections between things that the characters don't. Burnett, as I say, is a master of it in To Sleep with Anger (e.g during the party scene where different things are happening out on the lawn --Junior's argument with his father; in the kitchen --the conversation about "life lines" and "persimmon trees" and "the night the lights went out" with Harry; in the living room --Hattie's gospel singing and all of the other stuff going on there.) Anyway, I take off my hat to you. Intentional or not, unconscious influence or not, you wonderfully keep three or four balls in the air at once at these moments and that was a large part of my admiration of your work. It creates such an interesting effect.

And, while I'm dropping compliments right and left, I might as well add that there is a lot more to like about your film than "parallel editing." A lot. For example, that singing scene is one of the greatest moments in all of recent cinema. I just love it. It opens a door to an inner world, a spiritual space, as unexpected, surprising, and wonderfully transformative as anything in Fellini or Rossellini (by the way, have you seen Voyage in Italy? if not, you MUST!). Oddball comparison as that may sound! I love it when characters and scenes surprise me like that, and you are a master at it. (All the more that the religion in it will surprise those tough as nails New Yorkers who watch it. Hold on to your local culture. Don't ever try to play to the sad, cynical New York critics!)

But enough flattery! Thanks and all best wishes in continuing your wonderful work.


A Note from Ray Carney:

The following is a brief excerpt from a note to me by a close friend. There is too much to say on this subject (and my friend says much more of pertinence that I am not including here), but I wanted to post this brief paragraph as "food for thought."

As for your Bush comment, I am thinking more and more these days that "religion" is what's wrong with the world. Guilt and rules, punishment for not following the drill or death to the infidels. Nothing spiritual or loving about it. I rebel completely and absolutely... Do you know an Iranian friend of mine told me that the state of America now is the way it was in Iran before the ayatollahs took over? Very scary.

"And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels..." The religious zealots just don't get it... and never will.

A Note from Ray Carney:

I received this announcement in my email the other day. I highly recommend Su Friedrich's work, particularly Sink or Swim, The Ties that Bind, Hide and Seek, and Rules of the Road. She is one of America's artistic treasures.

"Outcast Films at is pleased to announce the release of acclaimed veteran filmmaker Su Friedrich's films on DVD. Digitally re-mastered from the original 16mm negatives, this collection of 13 films is essential for every library, media center, as well as women and cinema studies programs. This collection of DVDs includes the filmmaker's classic works such as SINK OR SWIM, HIDE AND SEEK, THE TIES THAT BIND, DAMNED IF YOU DON'T, and THE ODDS OF RECOVERY, as well as EIGHT BONUS FILMS."

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