from Ray Carney:
received a letter and two discs in the mail recently from
someone I had never heard from before, Jay Duplass. The letter
mentioned my Cassavetes on Cassavetes book as being
an inspiration to him in his work, and the disks contained
a feature, The Puffy Chair, and four shorts, "The
Intervention," "Scrabble/Scrapple," "This is John,"
and "The New Brad." As usual, I added the package
and note to the heap of disks and tapes in my living room.
I had a spare moment last Saturday night. It was late in the
evening. I happened to pick the topmost package and put in
the DVD of The Puffy Chair. All I can say is "wow."
Wow. I have now looked at all four shorts as well as the feature,
and Jay and his brother Mark Duplass, who co-wrote and co-produced
these films, have instantly become two of my favorite filmmakers,
and the actress they work with in the feature and three of
the shorts has instantly become one of my favorite actors.
Wow. And double wow. I recommend their work to one and all.
It is simply astonishing.
things make their work so amazing. First, the acting is at
the level of a Cassavetes or Noonan film (even in the shorts--particularly
the first two I listed above, "The Intervention"
and "Scrabble/Scrapple"). That's almost unprecedented
in my experience. Flickers, flutters, flows of emotion ripple
back and forth between the characters at the speed of light.
Shades, colors, timbers of feeling that change second by second,
without stopping. "The Intervention" is a group
film and a viewer watches six or seven faces at once or one
by one as a bombshell explodes. "Scrabble/Scrapple"
is a two person film and underneath a banal boardgame, a war
takes place. It is all in the acting. In the tones of voice.
In gestures and movements. In the eyes and faces. It is genius-level
acting and genius-level filmmaking.
the work of the Duplass brothers isn't afraid to be intense.
I have seen too many movies where everyone stays "cool,"
where everyone is nice, where everyone is afraid to cry or scream. The
Duplass brothers raise the temperature emotionally. If I have
a recurrent issue with the dozens of "slacker/twenty-something"
movies I've seen, it is that nothing hurts deeply enough,
no one cries desperately enough, no one is in love painfully
enough, no one fights viciously enough, none of the arguments is serious enough---in a word, that these other films don't
show the real hurt, the real anguish, the real excruciations
of real love. Everything is always a bit "lite."
A bit jokey. A bit too friendly. A bit too polite and nice
and kind and thoughtful.
sets The Puffy Chair, "The Intervention,"
and "Scrabble/Scrapple" apart from the crowd is that the
actors, the characters, and the stories are deadly serious
in an emotional vein -- serious about love, serious about
human relationships, serious about life. In The Puffy
Chair, Josh and Emily's relationship really hurts. The
characters are in real pain. Josh's and Rhett's relationship
really hurts. The film really hurts.
course it's also funny in parts. I don't mean to deny that.
But thank God for the seriousness. Thank God for the pain.
The real truth of the real pain. Thank God for Mark and Jay
here to read a brief appreciation of their work.
response from Jay Duplass:
I don't really
know what to say, except thank you...
For whatever it's
worth, I spent my 20's making really bad movies (I'm 32 now).
They had no life, and they were full of shit.
Part of me not
giving up on filmmaking was my editor, Jay Deuby, giving me
Cassavetes on Cassavetes as a birthday gift when
I turned 29. Cassavetes, as you may have guessed, is one of
my heroes. It was my bible for about a year. It inspired me
to just keep making films, and eventually, to take a chance
and make movies about our problems, turning the camera on
ourselves, literally.... We hoped it'd be enough, and for
you, obviously it is, which makes me very happy.
Also, for whatever
it's worth, I generally don't enjoy books written about film,
but Cassavetes on Cassavetes blew my mind, and strangely,
is the last book about film I've read. After I read it, I
felt like I was either going to think about films or just
make them. So now, we're making them.
I'm so honored
that you watched our film, enjoyed it, and are writing about
it. It makes me feel like there's magic in the world, when
things like this come full circle (for me at least).
I'm not sure if
you'll get a kick out of this, but I figure it's worth relating...
When I got your email, I shouted to my editor (whom I'm staying
with in LA this week), "Holy shit, Ray Carney wrote me
an email!" And when I read the contents, it made my day...
Probably my month. I'll never forget it.
Thanks again so
much, and I will keep you posted on the distribution game.
love the concept in your second paragraph. To make films with
life. So easy to say, so hard to do. Most films have none.
They are dead and everything in them is dead. Dead characters.
Canned experiences. Like canned food. Processed and packed
to kill whatever life they might have had. I think in fact
most film schools teach people only how to make the dead kind
of movie, the kind where things fit into the can. The lighting,
the blocking, the focusing and the framing are all devoted
to killing life. The acting, the flares of emotion in your
work, bring the viewer and the film and everything in it back to life. They break the mold. They explode
the container. They won't be put in a can.
I put your reply into the Mailbag section of my site? It might
help other young filmmakers not to give up. And that's what
it's all about. Keeping going in the face of infinite resistance,
infinite indifference, infinite ignorance.
You can definitely
use my reply. I sometimes teach classes, and lots of times
stop in at high schools when film festivals ask me to, and
it's the main thing I recommend over and over again. Just
keeping making stuff, and try not to think about it too much.
This is actually a lesson my brother taught me, because my
brain is my worst enemy. So high volume, and also making art
at a low enough price to enable yourself to F___ up and then
do it again. I think that people subscribe to a myth that
you're either a filmmaker or not. But the reality is it's
a complex set of skills that enables you to make a good movie,
and I think that it takes time to develop them. And then finally,
I always encourage them to honestly think about themselves,
their personalities, their lives, and what's unique about
them and consequently what they might have to offer the world.
All that thought really, though, is an afterthought to making
more movies, so that you make enough accidents to come up
with something real, and unique, and beyond thought.
Thank you so much
Ray. This is so wonderful to have your support.
All our best,
Jay Mark and Katie
A Note from
normally don't read the junk mail I receive, let alone post
excerpts from it on this site, but today's U.S. postal mail
delivery brought such an interesting solicitation from Poetry
Magazine that I wanted to quote three things from it.
By the way, if you aren't already familiar with the magazine,
I highly recommend it. It's terrific. (To find out more, go
to their web site at: poetrymagazine.org.)
are three quotes that were in the letter, all worth thinking
about. (Change the words "poems" and "poetry"
in the first two to "films" or "art" and
the meaning stays the same.)
first is by William Carlos Williams:
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
second is by Christian Wiman, the magazine's editor:
us remember that in the end we go to poetry for one reason,
so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world
in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these
things, we might be less apt to destroy both.
final is by A. E. Stallings, and based on a statement attributed
to Martin Luther:
should the Devil get all the good tunes,
The booze and the neon and Saturday night,
The swaying in darkness, the lovers like spoons?
Why should the Devil get all the good tunes?
Does he hum them to while away sad afternoons
And the long, lonesome Sundays? Or sing them for spite?
Why should the Devil get all the good tunes,
The booze and the neon and Saturday night?
I graduated from
BU in 2002. And took several classes with you which changed
the way I understood, interpreted and thought about film.
Your American Independent Film class was one for the most
influential classes I ever had and one of the most valuable
classes I had while in the Film program. After graduating
from BU I worked on a few independent features in New York
but then landed a gig teaching English in Japan which I took.
Japan proved to be a place that inspired in me a wealth of
ideas and after some time, yes even a medical trial in Kagoshima,
a luck break at a dog track I managed to start production
on my first feature. As the writer, director, producer, editor
and cinematographer even a boom operator and yes kraft services,
having done all this in Japan in a foreign tongue and having
completed this dream I emerge stronger and wiser and smoking
quite a bit but cutting back I promise.
Completing my first
feature film has been a task that has certainly taken some
years off my life. I am writing to inform you that my first
feature film "Niji no shita ni" (Under The Rainbow)
had it's world premiere at the 28th Mill Valley Film Festival
in California. The theater was packed and I had family and
friends in attendance, it was a beautiful evening. I am writing
to thank all of you for your support along the way in the
making of this film. "Niji no shita ni" is most
currently being considered for sundance 2006 as as well as
the San Francisco Asian American Internation Film Festival
amongst others. I would like you to please take a moment at
look at the brief synopsis and review of my film at http://mvff.com/node/496
or go directly to the mill valley film festival website at
mvff.com and find my name in a directors search or locate
the film by country (Japan). The film was received with lots
of praise and words of encouragement, really this has been
a wonderful moment in my life and I wish to share it with
you for you all help me in some way on this long process that
is filmmaking. I am writing to ask you for your most recent
address so that I may send you a screener of the DVD as well
as saying hello because I know it has been sometime since
we last spoke, as you know I have been entirely devoted to
this film and though my time and energy has been solely on
this project I have not forgotten the special people who came
into my life and became friends with while in Japan and in
the United States. I've attached the poster of the film for
you to see and hope you get a chance to go to the festival
website and read about "niji no shita ni". Ray,
I hope this letter finds you well and I want you to know that
I am thankful for having encountered such a passionate and
With all my heart,
excerpt from a note written to me by a friend about another
film that may be worth watching:
I saw "Shop
Girl" (based on Steve Martin's novella, which from what
I understand was based on a true event in his life?) and while
I was disappointed and frustrated by it in many ways (WHY
does Hollywood insist on trying to sell me a happy ending
when I derive so much pleasure and comfort from the TRUTH???)
I do think it's worth seeing because there are a few exquisite
moments, and it is quite loving and tender towards its characters...a
film that attempts to be truthful about love (until the last
third) and sometimes reveals important things about men's
emotional lives. I liked that. But it could have been so much
more than it was, all the ingredients were there but they
did the Hollywood thing instead...and despite her good effort
and acting talent, Claire Daines is still presented as a male
fantasy more than a completely real person. Perhaps more frustrating
than its worth!
recently came across the following statement by Peter Coyote
and want to reprint it here. San Francisco-based Rob Nilsson
has been laboring tirelessly and brilliantly in the American
cinematic vineyards for almost forty years and it's high time
the importance of his work (which includes the award-winning
Signal Seven and Heat and Sunlight as well
as the more recent "Nine at Night" series) was acknowledged
and honored in his native land. Like many other American independent
artists, his films are better known in Paris, Tokyo, and Copenhagen
than in New York and Los Angeles. So much the worse for America.
It's a sad reflection on American film reviewing and theater and festival programming. If you haven't discovered them already, I highly
recommend Nilsson and his films, and enthusiastically agree
with Coyote's assessment.
were any justice in the world, Rob Nilsson's actors from the
Tenderloin Group would be as widely recognized and hailed
as any of the current crop of nobodies gracing the pages of
People and US magazine. In Rob's new film, NEED, the latest
in Rob's nine-picture series, the performances are every bit
as bold, daring, unremittingly true and startling as they
have been in all the others. Do whatever you have to do to
see these films and these actors. Done for less money than
the "perk packages" some stars receive they are
gritty, true and moving. But, if there were any justice in
the world John Cassavetes would still be alive and recognizing
Rob Nilsson as his long-lost heir."
Very much appreciate your putting the Coyote quote up on
your site. It means a lot to me.
And here's another quotation from Karen Black who attended
both screenings of NEED at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
Makes me feel someone actually sees what I've been up to.
Hope you're squaring off with the academic Fascists. When
I think about this country and what to value these days, I
come up with only my daughter, friends, some good bakeries,
brew pubs and an occasional amazing meal from a foreign tradition.
The Arts are full of entitlement junkies, pop poseurs and
out and out charlatans. I'd like to be a Liberal, but that's
impossible given the absurdity of most of their chatter. I
certainly can't be a Conservative. I'll be dead soon enough
without that. So maybe I'm just a Dissenter, or with Conrad
Aiken, "a yea sayer with nothing to say yea to."
Yet I say "yea" to the occasional film which rises
to the level of honesty and a search for "the way things
seem to be." But when was the last one? Hard to remember.
Oh yes, I was very moved by Mike Leigh's VERA DRAKE. What
a terrible wasteland we've fostered with the determination
to make art a handmaiden of politics. I was a reluctant warrior
25 years ago, but I saw through it even then. Pointing out
injustice is to put a finger on your own heart. Look next
door. Watch the squirrels. It's the nature of things. Then
comes Art to give you some sort of reason to feel. Along with
your daughter, a brew pub, sex, passionate friends and the
untrammeled universe no mind could ever comprehend... let
Ray Carney replies:
Thanks Rob. Funny, funny coincidence
that you would write today of all days. Dealing with some
"academic issues" right now. Have to post a disclaimer
on my BU Film Studies pages. (Click
here to read it.) Don't mind doing it, since the wise
ones will understand or already understood without being told.
Don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind's blowing.
But, as do your comments, it brings home the fear that people
are consumed by.
Delighted to include KB's quote on
the site alongside the other. And that too is another coincidence!
Near the top of my Mailbag page 34 I have an exchange with
Jay Duplass, where he and I meditate on the difference between
films with and without "life" --in other words about
the difference between the morbidity of Hollywood and the
truthfulness of particular independent works -- in almost
exactly the same sense that Karen Black intends. But I have
to thank you for her quote. She describes the difference much
better, much more clearly, and more passionately than either
Jay or I do. Ah, if only one critic or reviewer in America
understood what she, you, and I are talking about........
Watching Rob Nilsson's film "'Need",
I became aware that I was watching an entirely new kind of
film. Shockingly new the way cinema verite was new in its
time, the way "Easy Rider" was new, the way the
impressionists were outcasts because no one had seen the world
through a painter's eyes that way ever before. And new in
the way that once these new forms of art were seen, nothing
could ever be the same again.
One is not watching a scripted
movie and so one doesn't watch actors doing their lines ,
achieving their emotions well, or very well, or not so well.
We're just not watching actors at work. And one isn't watching
an improvised movie. I've seen them and I've been in them.
In an improvised film, one knows somehow that the actors feel
a camera directed at them and that they'd better come up with
something. We're watching them improvise.
In Rob Nilsson's work, there is
no script, yet this is not really improvisation. So what is
it? Well, it's life. We seem to be watching life unfolding
as it will, without a prompted direction, without any given
path.. As if we could, for these precious moments, stand inside
the rooms and touch the very skin of these people, mark the
walk they take to the window in the night. For Mr. Nilsson
has created a technique that makes it possible that the stories
can be inside the players and the players aren't playing,
it seems. They are just living.
This is historic film making in
the true sense of the word. Historic, because if everyone
suddenly began to make movies the way Rob Nilsson makes them,
Hollywood would vanish. The world of filmmaking would be an
entirely different one. When something truly great is spawned,
there is always the obvious question: why didn't anyone ever
do this before!? And the sad answer may be that no one ever
Have you ever wondered what it
would be like to become invisible and follow an interesting
stranger down the street and into his apartment, to be able
to watch him and wait inside his room to find out more about
him? Now you can. Great movies have changed: now they don't
have to be dandified, orchestrated mirrors of life. With Rob
Nilsson's work, they are life.
Actress, Writer, Singer
A follow-up from indie filmmaker Rob Nilsson:
Read the ludicrous mea culpa, or I guess it's a
youa culpa on your site. Yes, it's a joke... cruel, but much
like those in American movies where nervous laughter reveals
the zero in the hearts of duped audiences. Still, it
is an eloquent testimony to the very purposes of art, that they
should gather the shards of random inspiration
and prove a weave and warp of the uncharted mind of the creator.
How interestingly the BU folks support what you've done on your site. Only
the Fascist mind thinks that Art is coherent, orderly and easily
understood. No valuable experience of life or of art can be
understood... only undergone. You've been there, promoting your blasphemies and they
haven't had the sense to thank you.
Why? Because you distribute the bad news. That being that most
of what people like and praise is mediocre. Do you think the mediocre
like to hear that? No one wants to work to understand why something
which looks rough and unpolished could actually be closer to the "way
things seem to be."
But or course we have to have a giggle now and then. Always dangerous
to start believing our own stuff. Or if we do, we've got to move on from our
dearest positions. Nothing stays true for long, not if we're growing.
Anyway, let's maintain. It's pretty simple. We have to go with what we
see. The rest is what someone else sees.
Power on and don't look back!
Just a quick note
about Antonioni's re-release of "The Passenger".
I don't know if
you have seen this film from 1975, but I was absolutely blown
away!!! I put it up there with Tarkovsky's "Stalker"
and "The Sacrifice" in telling the deep understories
of the soul. A profound work of psychological and conscious
states with one of the greatest last shots in any movie. I
was riveted in my seat for the whole show. Anyway, if it plays
in Boston or anywhere else where you can catch it, don't miss
All for now.
agree. It's great! That reminds me, I should teach an Antonioni
how styles, fashions, trends come and go and reputations rise
or fall in a decade or two, even in terms of the greatest
art. Antonioni was all the rage 35 years ago. You could hardly
pick up a critical essay without seeing a mention of his work,
an allusion to it, a comparison with it (the sort of critical
popularity that eluded Cassavetes throughout his lifetime,
and that Hitchcock had then and still has now), but I hardly
hear his name mentioned anymore. But of course the films are
just as great as they ever were. And The Passenger
is among his greatest.
think Jack Nicholson was the one who prevented it from being
screened for a decade or two by buying up the rights to screen
it and then suppressing it (a little like Gena wants to do
with the first version of Shadows), but I'm glad
to know it's back out there being seen.
to hear about the hell Rowlands is putting you through. It's
Been ages since
we've spoken, but after finding out what's happened with the
Criterion set, I wanted to send my sympathies.
I saw the box set
in the shop a while ago, and while drooling over it, I notcied
that your name was nowhere to be found. I thouht it was bizarre,
but I didn't know of your original involvement, so didn't
think anything of it - except for noting that it was really
shitty that that other guy got to do the notes, as I felt
his book was feeble at best.
Anyway, I'm only
now discovering the truth and backstory as I go through your
site. I hadn't checked your pages in a while, and wanted to
see what was new. I'm sad to see all of the misery that Rowlands
is giving you, especially as you've done so much to share
Cassavetes' work with others. Your "Unknown Cassavetes"
series was one of the best things I've ever been to, and I
hope that someday you'll be able to make that DVD series a
Thanks for getting
the other version of "Chinese Bookie" on there.
When you screened it, I felt so lucky to actually see it that
I remember everything about that night, even where I parked.
All the best,
P.S. Forgot to
mention how deeply unfair to fans of JC's works that these
various items are suppressed. My general hopes in life include
the potential for seeing those alternate cuts of "Husbands"
he made (if they exist; the missing reel from "Husbands",
and any other lost gems.
Just wanted to
mention that. Also, if there is any chance of getting copies
of that Opening Night restaurant interivew, or The Cavett
show, I would be thrilled. Even audi only of the restaurant
interview - I've described it at length to my fellow Cassavetes-freaks,
and their eyes get all misty when I tell them of the wonder
Craig. I remember you. And of course I remember the astonishing
"Unknown JC" Harvard Film Archive event. Didn't
it go on for something like three or four hours. What larks!
I loved doing it. Most of those things came from my personal
collection. I don't think anyone else has them. Remember the
tape where John's mom (Katherine) says she wished her son
had not become a director??!! And remember the two other clips
of John working with actors? And, yes, the Cavett hijinx were
great too. What a wild man he was. And that speech he gives
in the restaurant I played a video of where he practically
begs for people to take him seriously. So sad and wonderful
at the same time. It was such a great evening. I was glad
to do it and the audience loved it. You're right--I wanted
to put all of that on the Criterion disks or issue it separately,
but Gena and Al had the final say. Business is business, and
they can't make money off of those sorts of things. Thanks
for the cheering words. I appreciate them.
A Note from Ray Carney:
response to questions I have been asked about the first version
of Shadows and the status of Gena Rowlands's attempts
to confiscate and suppress the film, I have recently posted
a new section of the site entitled "Rowlands, Ruban, and
the first version of Shadows: A compilation of frequently
asked questions and answers." Click
here to go there.
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