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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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Subject: re: bill hicks, richard pryor
hey prof. carney,
it's david from los angeles.
i just wanted to drop you a line about this quote -
which i think is funny, true, and quite deep.
someone i know saw the comedian bob odenkirk (of "mr.
show" at the UCB theatre). he said this:
"You know, those 'pure' artist types... they're all
single guys. I never wanted to be one of those guys, I
wanted to have a family and a life. The other day I
was throwing out junk mail and there was this brochure
from the Broadcast Television Museum and inside I saw
this blurb for 'A Tribute to MASH' and I thought,
'Ugh, MASH, who wants to sit through that?' And MASH
was a show, I remember when I was a kid, the whole
nation watched MASH, and it was funny and political
and edgy and meaningful... and now, I mean, no one in
their right mind wants to watch 5 minutes of MASH. I
could put MASH up on the screen right now, and you'd
all find excuses to leave, like 'Oh, my car's
triple-parked' or 'My dog's really sick' or 'I have to
get up at twelve tomorrow!' So basically, I mean, what
we do... it's nothing. In the end, it's nothing. I
think I got that when I was 20, but the older I get,
the clearer it is."
it made me think that, while i'm not a huge mr. show
fan or even a odenkirk enthusiast, there really aren't
a lot of comedians who make any REAL observations
anymore. i always hate it when people call chris rock
the new richard pryor. first off, chris rock is not
nearly as edgy (the real kind of edgy, that is). and
second, he doesn't risk his career like pryor did.
certainly pryor did a lot of shitty movies and
eventually lost a lot of his flare, but in his
hey-day, he was saying things that truly could have
gotten him killed. and we just don't have that today.
just like bill hicks is inimitable. no one tells it
like he does. sometimes a david cross will come along
and get within that realm of truth-telling, but then
david cross also gets involved with some shitty
either way, i guess the point is - life is so
complicated, and anything (films, music, paintings,
quotes, experiences) that supports that theory is
something worth probing. because it isn't fueled by
the "bullshit" mentality. like you say, no one likes
flattery. it's insulting. and those who do nurture
this kind of flattery - they are part of the problem.
for instance, peter bogdanovich's book(s) is a
centimeter thick of truth, and mostly a lot of
fawning. this is true.
all the best,
ps (with regards to la-based art and commerce): as
hard as it is in los angeles to preserve a clear
state-of-mind, i assure you...there are people here
who appreciate the finer, truer things in life. we may
be few and far between, but art can happen here. we're
all still waiting. but lest we forget, guys like
burnett and araki are la-based, and certainly j.c.
embraced the la landscape (without actually condoning
the way it functions). but la is not a lost cause,
because hollywood looks very, very ridiculous and
phony to us. and the true la-natives are keen to this.
hope resides everywhere and knows no borders.
Ray Carney replies:
First off David: Thank you! Wonderfully perceptive. Very deep. Yes, our comedians are like our politicians. Afraid of saying anything that matters. I have a quote from Antonioni on the site somewhere: "Hollywood is being nowhere. Saying nothing. About no one." Well, that describes a lot of our culture. And if and when someone does try to say something about something, what happens? Protests that you may have "offended" someone. Complaints that you are actually criticizing something. Objections that you are not "neutral" or "objective." Demands for time to reply and rebut you. Insistence that you apologize or retract what you said. Anger, irritation, impatience, offence is always easier than actually thinking about what was said (and maybe learning something from it). Must be in our DNA to get mad rather than actually try to learn something from things we don't understand.
Boy, do I agree with you about Bill Hicks and Richard Pryor. Add Lenny Bruce to the list too. And at times George Carlin. To paraphrase Melville's Moby Dick, Bruce was my Harvard and Yale. (And, as someone who actually went to Harvard, let me tell you that's no exaggeration. I learned more from my classmates, my roommates, my girlfriends there than I ever learned from the stodgy, hidebound, in love with themselves professors.)
Don't take my attacks on L.A. too literally. L.A. is just a metaphor in my writing. What the rhetoricians call a synecdoche. The name of the city stands for the stupid things that it disseminates into the culture. I know there are wonderful people there. You're there. Every place can have wonderful people. Even Harvard and Yale. Even Washington, D.C.. But it's always a question of what the local culture -- be it Harvard, Yale, Washington, DC, or Los Angeles -- encourages, rewards, promotes. Good people can do good things anywhere, but they might just be a little more appreciated and rewarded and celebrated in some places than in others.
Keep going. Keep thinking. Keep studying this screwed up culture we live in. As long as you can keep remembering how screwed up it is, as long as you can hold it at imaginative arm's length, it doesn't own you. As long as you can hold onto yourself apart from it and not really deeply care what it says or believes or tells you to do, you're OK. That's why the real danger is not criticism and failure, but success. Watch out if you are ever widely admired and appreciated in L.A.---watch out if the studios are bidding for your next picture---and if you care---then you'll know you are in trouble.
Keep making the other kind of trouble,
Re: Dreyer's Love One Another and Other Silents
Dear Mr. Carney,
I saw Nick Wrigley's posting on the Masters of Cinema Web site that you
were going to introduce 1922's Love One Another at a rare screening last
Thursday evening. I hail from the upper midwest so I regret that I was
unable to travel to Boston to attend. What kind of condition was the print
in? I've read that only four interpositives of the film exist. I am a
Dreyer fanatic and would give an arm and a leg to see this film. I've tried
to find everything I can about it and read in David Bordwell's book on
Dreyer that it is the filmmaker's most ambitious attempt at deep space and
deep focus. My anxiousness to see it has intensified as I've seen several
frame enlargements from the film. I have conversed with Thomas Christiansen
at the Danish Film Institute and he told me they may try to release it on
DVD in the next year or two. Have you heard anything about Image Entertainment, Kino or another Region 1 distributor getting their hands on
it? I know David Shepard a little and he restores many silent classics so
hopefully this is something he could work on.
I've tried to get my paws on every publication related to Dreyer and will
be reading your book, Speaking the Language of Desire. The reviews I see
point out that you tend to focus on Dreyer's late career (Day of Wrath,
Ordet, Gertrud) and postulate a counterargument to Bordwell's Russian
Formalist analysis of those films as well as the theatricality of Dreyer's
cinematic staging. It should be an exciting read. Do you address any of the
Outside of his film on Joan of Arc, my favorite silents of Dreyer are
Leaves from Satan's Book, Der var engang, and The President. I'm quite high
on Leaves and believe it to be the most misunderstood film of Dreyer's
oevure simply because historians get so caught up in its stylistic
resemblances to Griffith/Intolerance. I also am fond of The Parson's Widow
but not so much of Mikael. While I admire the production values and
Kammerspiel tradition that Dryer so elegantly depicted in the latter, I
don't feel the relationship between the painter and his apprentice was as
compelling as it could have been. Dreyer surely captured the homoerotic
tensions between his two protagonists but failed to deliver in the
psychological realism that is the bedrock of his work. One late silent I'm
dying to see is The Bride of Glomdal, which I've read is a tribute to
Stiller and other great Scandinavian film artists.
Ray Carney replies:
Good to hear from you. My book only deals with Day of Wrath, Ordet, and Gertrud. As a reviewer of my book said (alluding to Vredens Dag), in the book I play Anne to Bordwell's Merete. I'm all over the place celebrating life and movement and emotional lability while he busies himself locking everything up in terminological closets.
I must confess to having little patience with Bordwell's writing, and being completely mystified that his work is taken so seriously -- his Dreyer book and everything else. His jargon is more smoke than light to my eyes.
To answer your question: The print was in medium to good shape. Sharp focus so that the grain of the emulsion was crisply visible but high contrast so the lights and darks were too pushed. I understand that the Danish have a better copy and are working on a serious restoration. But that was not the print we showed.
I revere Joan of Arc and the sound films, but don't find any of the other silent works up to those heights artistically speaking and this film was no exception. Its interest is more as an anticipation of the other work than as a free-standing work in itself. But there is too much to say and I can't repeat the introduction I gave in an email. As to the "deep space" Bordwell argument, it is advertising talk rather than critical perceptiveness -- as is usual with Bordwell. The narrative and the visual spaces in the film are complex in interesting ways. But not for their "depth."
The great forgotten or "lost" Dreyer film in my view is not this one, but Two People, which is a genuine masterpiece. Of course, Bordwell doesn't appreciate it, but what else is new? It's amazing. That's the one I'd like to help with the release of if I could. It's wonderful.
Re: charlie parker/free jazz
Dear Professor Carney,
Just a small point I've been pondering, and one probably not requiring a response. I was reading "The Films of John Cassavetes" and in your discussion of Shadows, you twice used Charlie Parker as a point of comparison. While I still marvel at the fleetness of Parker's fingering, I'd argue that at this date, the lessons of bebop--and the greatest moments of Parker and Gillespie--probably sound quite tame to our ears today; I think the shifts and twists are familiar and fully acclimated to our range of hearing. I began thinking that free jazz might be a good illustration of the defamiliarization and dislocation that you discuss Cassavetes' films as inspiring. Think late period John Coltrane ("Live in Seattle"--oh, man-- "Ascension" "Meditations") or Cecil Taylor (after the mid 60s, take your pick) or The Art Ensemble of Chicago ("Baptizum" "Message to Our Folks") or any number of others. No real chord changes to fall back on, pulse rather than rhythm, a heavy reliance on nuance, embouchure, microtones, overtones--talk about being forced to live in every second of the music rather than being able to frame it in any familiar drapery. There's nowhere the music is heading, only process. Only ever process. And wholly dependent on emotion and response to other players. and beautiful in its utter unfamiliarity. Anyway, just a thought. if you aren't familiar with the stuff and you know someone who owns some...
Ray Carney replies:
I take your point, but am not sure I really agree. The harmonic progressions, the sprung melody, the surprising turns and moves in Parker's work still seem astonishingly open-ended and free to my ears. I'm not sure they are passé or conventional. Note that I am not really talking about "defamiliarization" with my Parker comparison, but more specifically about how a certain kind of jazz (Parker rather than Ellington or Dorsey for example) plays against or on top of certain predictable or expected trajectories. It uses the predictable as a trampoline to bounce off of. It uses the expected as a jungle gym to perform against. So my comparison is more specific than merely arguing that Cassavetes and Parker are both "strange" or "weird" or "unfamiliar." In terms of the things I name above, Parker's playing still seems to be an excellent illustration of this.
By the way, a guy I know named Ted Gioia and another guy named Paul Berliner and another guy named David Sudnow have written wonderful books on these concepts. I highly recommend all three. I didn't know their work when I wrote the passage you cite, but I discovered it later. See Sudnow's Ways of the Hand and Talk's Body. See Gioia's The Imperfect Art: Reflections on Jazz and Modern Culture. See Paul Berliner's Thinking in Jazz. Sudnow is the furthest out. The craziest. The wildest. The most visionary and insane. Gioia is the middle bear, logical, coherent, consecutive in his argument, but still pretty wonderful and amazing in its import. And Berliner is the daddy bear, almost a scholar of jazz. Sane. Sober. Academic. But still brilliant. So pick your poison if you want to go further.
The present-tense, step-by-step, moment-by-moment issue, which is so crucial to so much of my own view of Cassavetes (but is different from my comparison with Parker, which involves departures and returns, flights and landings, conventions and violations) and my view of so many other filmmakers is dealt with best by Sudnow's writing. The temporality of experience is a crucial artistic concept that film studies--with its quest for visionary moments and metaphors and symbols and representations---still has not assimilated. It's why I don't read most film critics. The scholars, the professors leave time out of their accounts. And time, process, evolution, development, change, movement are everything. But read my Leigh or Dreyer or Cassavetes books or my "What's Wrong With...." packet for much more on the temporality of artistic experience, for more on what meanings in motion feel like. (Click here to go to the Leigh section of the site; click here to go to the Dreyer section of the site; click here to go to the Cassavetes section of the site; and click here to find out about the packets I have put together about the study of film.)
All best wishes,
Subject: Need research on benefits of Filmmaking in high school curriculum
I am a high school teacher and am writing a proposal to the our school board that they consider offering a filmmaking course for our students. I would like to present to the board academic research which will support the benefits of having such a course. I am hoping you might be able to steer me in the right direction, or perhaps already have a list of such references available.
Thank you very much for your time and help.
Science/Math/Spanish/College Prep Teacher (yes, its a small school...)
Troup High School
Ray Carney replies:
Dear Mr. McGehee,
I am the wrong one to ask. I can see the "benefits" of filmmaking as an "afterschool activity" or in a "club" setting on a par with work on the yearbook or football practice or the bridge club or the Prom committee--in other words strictly as a fun and relaxing thing to do with a few hours a week of spare time; but I would strongly argue against making it possible for a student to replace a regular, demanding academic course (e.g. in literature, physics, French, or history) with a filmmaking course. Or regarding the filmmaking course as being equivalent in any way academically-equivalent in its importance or value to the rest of the life of the student.
The current generation of students is, in my judgment, already too obsessed with the media, with movies, with "hands-on" projects; and too uninterested in what are viewed as "irrelevant," "boring" or cognitively "strenuous" activities like reading difficult books, studying challenging science problems, discussing complex social issues, debating philosophical questions, or grappling with serious artistic questions in an intellectual way.
I wish you luck locating "research" that supports your goal, but (based on decades of personal experience) would dispute the results of any such research. If you are interested, my "A Modest Proposal: Why Filmmaking Majors should be replaced with Auto Mechanics" -- though it is partially tongue in cheek and focused on university-level education -- has more about the intellectual superficiality of filmmaking courses. (This link should take you there.)
Yours in candor,
Since I know how much you believe in the importance of reading and writing and thinking, and how opposed you are to multiple choice testing and other image-culture "dumbings down" of the educational system, I thought you might find these articles interesting:
Subject: New interview with Caveh Zahedi re: "I Am A Sex Addict"
Hello Mr. Carney,
I am a DC area based indie filmmaker & (self)distributor (I will be doing a US tour with my new feature "Date Number One" http://www.wilddiner.com/ starting in '06) and I recently interviewed Caveh Zahedi re: his film "I Am A Sex Addict". Here is the link to the interview:
Director "Date Number One"
A Note from Ray Carney:
I recently received an email from an acquaintance, Charles Lyons, passing along the text of an article he published in the New York Times about the horrors of trying to get indie films into theaters. And don't think this story only applies to people who make odd or eccentric or overly "personal" movies. It applies to every interesting indie filmmaker I've ever known -- from Rob Nilsson and Jon Jost on down. You could remove the names Lyons has in his article and insert John Cassavetes and Rick Schmidt and Caveh Zahedi and Su Friedrich in their places and you would not need to change another syllable of the story.
It's hard to know whether to laugh or to cry at the state of art. Given the situation, it's no surprise that the films that do make it into the theaters are generally so awful. We get the films we deserve. The films that are about money and power and that are devoted to making money and flattering those in power. I highly recommend reading Lyons's piece. Click here to access it.
I had read the part about the Shadows discovery, but not the timeline. (Click here to go to the timeline of events connected with Ray Carney's discovery of the first version of Shadows and the long-lost long version of Faces.) My comments about Shadows weren't intended to be negative, I was more just trying to think about what the other side of the story must be. A person who spends a good portion of his life trying to unearth a piece of film history cannot be criticized for it, and the story of how it was found deserves to be known, if only for the random method in which the film found its way to you. (Click here to go to the story of Ray Carney's discovery of the film.)
What I was speculating on was why Gena Rowlands (and perhaps it says volumes about me that I almost put "Geena Davis" for her name) seemingly hates your work or perhaps you personally. You are a forceful personality; unafraid to give your opinion (something that becomes ever more refreshing as I die a little each day in the business world, where a true opinion is something to be treated with disdain). All I could think is that maybe in some of your personal dealings with her, she's taken a dislike of you for some reason, although its intensity seems beyond all rational thought. From the outside, her actions would seem to make zero sense. I could understand if you unearthed autopsy photos, or perhaps footage of Cassavetes saying, "Gena must die!" that she might want to keep that under wraps. But I would think that at the very least she'd want to take the version you found and get it shown in the form you found it in. It's a piece of his history, not yours.
So maybe the question that I should ask you is, "Why the heck does she seem to hate you so much?" I can understand protecting her husband's legacy from unflattering portraits, but this isn't commentary on how he drank too much or how he treated the people in his life. It's a piece of his work.
What made me feel that there had to be another side to the story is the fact
that most of the story you tell makes zero sense to a rational person. (Which
is probably the way you feel.)
Why would a woman who would appear to have supported her husband's work for so
many years suddenly want to hinder a look into his creative process? I mean
we're not talking about The Day the Clown Cried here, we're talking about famous
and treasured works by an important filmmaker. I could understand not wanting
to talk to you if you were writing a biography, but to deny the existance of
another version of one of his films seems like the actions of a fruitcake, not a
While I'm sure that Cassavetes DVDs aren't going to sell as many copies as Star
Wars VII, Revenge of the Action Figure, I would have to think that if she makes
money off of their sale (which I assume that she must) it would be worth her
while to put out all the product she can with all the extras she can (including
those by Ray Carney.)
Again, I wonder what is at work here. Is she a supreme bitch? Is she mad at
you for reasons that aren't clear? Is she mad at John for the life he led?
Is she hoping to make a living off his legacy without anyone else profiting
(although I'm guessing whatever you could have made from DVDs was far less than
you've invested in your research)? I didn't mean to slight you in my
comments, it just makes absolutely no sense to me that one person could
seemingly hate another person so much without a reason. What the hell did YOU do
that made her cut you out of every single thing that she could possibly control
in regard to his life?
Ray Carney replies:
My best answers to all of your questions are on the Discovery pages and on the Chronology pages. Page after page of speculations. Many theories. Many facts. I lay it all out there. (Click here to go to the Discovery pages and click here to go to the Chronology pages.)
I give you and every reader everything I know. While she refuses to discuss it
(with me or anyone else). Reporters say she forbids questions about it being
asked of her.
But note: Rowlands or Ruban have not really disputed one thing I have said about
their conduct. If I have lied in my account or slanted it, it would be so easy
for them to destroy me by saying x, y, or z is not true. But they just remain
So who do you think is the guilty party? The person who ponders the possible
explanations and volunteers all the facts and publishes it all for everyone to
see or the one who won't talk, who refuses to explain why they had me fired, who
shuts up and won't give an explanation of their behavior? It seems pretty
self-explanatory to me. Someone who has done things that won't stand public
scrutiny is someone who doesn't want to talk about what they have done.
But I can't lay it all out again here and now. Over some weekend or holiday,
read the Chronology and the Discovery pages on the site. The explanation is
there. The facts are all there. But the explanation is complex and subtle like
life. It's not about villains, but about frightened people afraid of losing
control of things they want to be able to control, or afraid of having someone
else (me) reveal too much or tell the whole truth about their lives or
Cassavetes' life, and not the PR version they are devoted to perpetuating. It's
about wanting to perpetuate a myth in the Hollywood way and wanting to stop
anyone who calls it a myth. But read the Discovery pages. it's all there.
A reply from Rob Mattheu:
To quote the great philosopher, Homer Simpson, "Celebrities. Is there anything
they don't know?"
So I guess I won't be seeing a final reel in which you and Gena sit in the front
row of a darkened theater, gaze lovingly in each others eyes, and then turn to
the screen as the camera pans up to show the original version of Shadows? Fade
to black as Gena says, "Ray, I've always loved you."
Believe me, I believe your account 100%. It just boggles my mind because
you're not some guy from the Enquirer trying to smear either of them, or some
hack biographer interested in dishing the dirt. The story is fascinating to me
because it flies in the face of what you'd think a wife and supporter of his
craft would want. Heck, the very story of how you came to find Shadows should
be enough for her to be appreciative.
I confess I haven't read your books on John. I've only been in your class and
read your website. I find nothing on there (beyond the descriptions of how
she's tried to thwart your every move) that is disrespectful to John or his
legacy. You seem more interested in what the man reveals about his films and
what his films reveal about the man and life in general than in how much he
drank, how he treated people, or sordid details of his life. Call me cynical,
but you're a great marketing tool to sell the DVDs and get people to appreciate
his work. What little I know about Cassavetes suggests that a Hollywood PR
spin on his life is a slight to what he was trying to do.
But, as you said, it's subtle and complex, like life. We often search for
explanations where even if we had the 100% truth, it still wouldn't satisfy us.
As I said, I'm on your side on this one. I just would like to get inside
Gena's head and figure out why she's so afraid of a college professor.
Finally, a film question. When I'm not watching a frothy comedy, chick flick
with my wife, or overheated sci-fi film designed to sell action figures, I
occasionally watch a film that all (or most of) the critics say I'm supposed to
like. While my taste runs toward the directors who are typically most
acclaimed, it seems as though most of the acclaimed filmmakers from my
generation and the one prior create films that are not about anything I've
experienced in life, but from things that THEY have experienced in other films.
PT Anderson is a prime example. I thought Magnolia and Boogie Nights were
garbage created by a guy who has seen too many Altman films and learned
everything he needed to know about life by reading magazines, watching movies
from blockbuster, and thumbing through scripts of movies he really liked.
Nothing in either film struck me as original on any level. The dialogue wasn't
believable. The shots were stolen from other films. And yet, they were
both acclaimed as great films.
Quentin Tarantino, who is enjoyable, if only because he seems less pretentious,
seems to be the same way. His movies can be watchable, but I never believe them
for a second.
Just wondered if you felt that my generation has no perspective on life anymore
because we're so oversaturated with mass media cultural references.
Ray Carney replies:
There are some really good films and filmmakers, but they're just not the ones everyone is talking about. Look at the last five or ten pages of my Mailbag pages and at other places on the site where I have lots of recommendations: the Duplass brothers' Puffy Chair, Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation and Funny Ha Ha, David Ball's Honey, Jay Rosenblatt's Human Remains, Sam Seder's Who's the Caboose, David Barker's Afraid of Everything, the work of Gordon Erikson, Paul Harrill, Eric Mendelsohn, Josh Apter, and too many others for me to remember their names right now. Then there are Rob Nilsson and Jon Jost and Su Friedrich and others in the older generation.There's lots of room for hope. There are many young filmmakers who are doing great things, but whose names aren't known yet. Many more than the ones I've listed. The tragedy for art and for America, which needs their wisdom, is that many of them will never get a chance to make a second or third or fourth movie because the PR system is so clogged up with the artistic bimbos and high-rollers, the movie stars and the celebrity suck-ups who hog all of the attention in the media. It is a real tragedy that they are not being helped or encouraged by anyone. America needs to see their work. They tell us who we are and where we are heading. But of course the reviewers aren't interested in that. They are interested in flashy stylistic effects and slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am narratives. In other words, the problem with the reviewers is that they are part of the problem that besets the rest of our culture. Their values are the same as the "shock and awe" values that get us into trouble in our foreign policy and the same as the "worship of glamour and power" values that pollute our universities and corporations. While the reviewers should be detecting the fraudulence of America, and celebrating films that show us what we really are and what really matters, they are actually part of the whole fraudulent system, helping to perpetuate it and to promote work that shares the same corruption as the rest of our culture.
By the way, you can skip the much hyped Miranda July of Me and You and Everyone We Know. She's Hal Hartley lite. And he's already Guy Madden lite. And he's already Mark Rappaport lite. So that's so light-weight it almost doesn't exist. She's a creation of the media. Typically bloated, over-rated nonsense.
If you are interested, I have discussions of Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson,
Neil LaBute, and the others in a chapter in a book due out next month. The title
is Your Life is a Movie. It's edited by Don Thompson and Nicholas Rombes, and
is an anthology of pieces by me and others, including some supremely smart
people, smarter than I am, like Todd Gitlin (one of the great media critics of
our era) and Rob Nilsson (the indie filmmaker). It has tons of insights into
what's wrong with contemporary film. And lots of discussions of how American
critics and reviewers are part of the problem, how they have sold their souls to
Mammon and Hollywood (if there's a difference). It should be out around January. It's being published by a small press, but you still should be able to ask for it at a bookstore or find it listed on Amazon. (Click here to read about it on Amazon.)
Subject: The USC film program
I am very pleased to report I received your "Necessary
Experiences" packet in the mail. Thank you very much. I also must say that the 'why film production majors should be replaced by Auto mechanics' piece is so right on the nose it's scary and hilarious at the same time. (Click here to go there.)
Quick Anecdote: In the 3 and a 1/2 years I spent in the industry's
waiting room they sometimes call the University of
Southern California, I would rack my brain trying to
understand how the professors could all be so limited
in scope about all they were teaching. After
experiencing Drew Casper put on overblown broadway one
man shows in his Introduction to American film class,
and then listening to Todd Boyd legitimize the
ghetto-gangster appeal of such masterpieces of African
American film as Superfly and The Mack in his Race
Class and Gender in American film class, I thought
perhaps I was missing something. However, by the time
Hugh Hefner rolled around, for a "guest appearance" in
the Censorship in American film class he sponsored
(i.e. subsidied), I pretty much had the whole place
figured out. True enough, that university is one randy
whore of a marketplace.
You, Professor Carney, and the Artists out there doing
real cinematic work of our day, are the only hope
young filmmakers have for getting the real picture of
both what dedicated film art can do, and secondly,
knowing upfront the real costs of what it takes to
move in that direction.
Ray Carney replies:
I often imagine that I am the crazy one. That I am inventing the problem I decry. That there is really no problem out there. Or that everyone knows about it already. I get so much criticism about what is on the web site (from the film department chairman at Boston University, from other faculty members in my college, and from outsiders) that at times it half-convinces me that maybe there actually is something wrong with what I have posted. That maybe everyone already knows everything I am urging. That maybe everyone already understands the obvious value of truth-telling art and the Faustian horror of selling your soul to the devils of money and power and fame and success. And then (on almost a daily basis) I get a reminder, a note from a student or recent film school graduate, a letter from a filmmaker, a plea for recognition from an artist who thinks no one understands what he or she is doing--or a note like the one you wrote--that convinces me that maybe, just maybe, it's of value for me to be saying some of the things I do. That maybe, just maybe, they will help to inspire a future artist. That maybe, just maybe they will help to keep him and her from giving up, from feeling so alone.
Thank you for your heartfelt note. I appreciate it.
Dear Professor Carney,
I just ordered Cassavetes on Cassavetes from your web site (after perpetually
renewing it from the library) and would very much appreciate an inscription in
my copy. Simply put, your work has inspired me more than anything else I've
encountered in the last year and a half. Your writing on Cassavetes, as well as
the pieces on your website (including your recommendations of art and artists)
has stimulated my creativity and changed the way I look at things. It's
unfortunate that I didn't discover you until my senior year of NYU film school.
Since graduating in May, I've felt tremendous pressure (particularly from my
parents) to move to L.A. and "make use" of my degree. I'm determined, however,
not to follow that route. Your writings have motivated me to make this decision
and have encouraged me in my artistic endeavors. Thank you for the inspiration
and keep up the outstanding work.
A student of mine, Alex Lipschultz, directed me to a statement about film school and learning to be a filmmaker by Andrei Tarkovsky, one of the greatest artists who ever lived. It is from his book Sculpting in Time, but since the translation in that book is pretty dreadful, I've re-written it in contemporary English. It is worth pondering:
"What is important to the education of a filmmaker is not a matter learning a set of skills and techniques, but having a vital, passionate need to express something unique and personal. Above all, the student has to understand why he wants to become a filmmaker rather than work in some other art form and he has to ponder what he wants to say in film's unique form of expression.
"In recent years I have met more and more young people who go to film school to prepare themselves to do "what they have to do" (as they say in Russia) or "to make a living" (as they say in Europe and America). This is tragic. Learning to use the equipment and edit a movie is child's play; anyone can learn that without half-trying. But learning how to think independently, learning how to be an individual, is entirely different from learning "how to do" something. Learning how to say something unique and different is a skill that no one can force you to master. And to go down that path is to shoulder a burden that is not merely difficult, but at times impossible to bear. But there is no other way to become an artist. You have to go for broke. You must risk everything in your quest to express a personal truth. It must be all or nothing.
"The man who has stolen in order never to thieve again is forever a thief. Nobody who has once
betrayed his principles can have a pure relationship with life ever again. When a filmmaker says he will try to please people - relatives, friends, teachers, or reviewers -- this time in order to get a degree or earn the money to make the film of his dreams the next time, he is lying to you, or even worse, lying to himself. Once he heads down the path of deceit he will never be capable of making a real film."
--Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time, p. 124 (adapted and updated by Ray Carney)
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