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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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Hello Professor Carney:

I am a graduate student in English at UC Davis. (One of my dissertation readers is Scott Simmon, who says, 'Hello.') I've read your site off-and-on for a year, and you've got me intrigued by the films of Mark Rappaport. I've been looking for his films. I've had some success with expensive used copies of his earlier work, but I can't find your recommendation, Three Short Films. It was released by VideoActive Media in 1997, but it seems to have disappeared in the meantime. Do you have any leads on how I might track a copy down? Thank you for your time, and thank you for sharing your ideas.

Sean Allan

Ray Carney replies:

Hi Sean. Hi to Scott too.

I'm not sure what to tell you about the three short films. I was involved with the Videoactive release (a former student of mine was part of the arrangement to finance it) and have a video copy of my own, but am too straight out with work (and lacking in access to equipment right now) to dupe it. Also, I'm not sure if the site says it, but I might as well mention that I now have many other things that have never been released. I mean not only not released on video, but not released on film either. Mark amazingly gave me his complete work, his files, his papers, his script drafts, the whole nine yards of thirty years of work he has done, etc. last year when he moved. So I now have thousands of other things that the world doesn't know about and hasn't seen. So there's lots more beyond the three films that is worth looking at. Just wanted you to know that.

What is your dissertation on?

And more importantly, I wonder why more people haven't asked me this question or hundreds of other questions. If my memory serves, you are the very first film academic, the first film studies grad student or professor, ever to ask me about Rapp's work. Isn't that strange? What's wrong with our profession? Film studies, I mean. Why don't film scholars want to know more about Rappaport or Cassavetes or any of a dozen other topics I could name? Why don't they care? It's completely different in other fields. If I had special information about the Reimann hypothesis, the location of the zeros in the zeta function, or about one of Gauss's theorems, twenty thousand math professors and grad students would be all over me to get it out of me. Even if I was telling them about the music of "Clap Your Hands Say Yeah," it would matter more to the indie music scene. Why doesn't it matter when I tell them that Mark Rappaport is one of the greatest filmmakers of the past thirty years? Why aren! 't film scholars--professors or students--interested? It mystifies me why they aren't really paying attention--or just don't care--in a parallel situation. They seem to have their heads in the sand. Or, even more weirdly, to take their scholarly agendas from the New York Times. In my academic experience, among serious academic areas, only film has this sort of lowbrow mentality. Almost no one is interested in finding out about things they don't already know or have a theory to apply to. Why is it?

Sorry. Forgive the preceding outburst. I temporarily lost it. The questions are strictly rhetorical.


I left a message on your office answering machine last night, the name's J.R.Heffelfinger, I was a student of yours a few years back and really learned a great deal from you. Needless to say you were very influential to me. With your permission I'd like to send a copy of my film. It would be only fitting that I share with you something that was borne entirely from my soul and commuted through the medium, amidst sacrifice, compromise and starvation and yes even blood loss from which I (for the most part) and it emerge intact, for you to see. From a student to the teacher I hope you accept. If and where do I send it to?

Man I hope this gets to you.


For some information about it go to:

Ray Carney replies:


Got your message. Good to hear from you.

The address on the web site (where, presumably, you got this email address) is the right one. With any luck, it should also appear at the bottom of this email.

But please note that I am inundated with mailings and requests for responses. (See the first page of my Mailbag pages for more about that.) I can't really guarantee that I will be able to respond to your work. I tell everyone that, and then two months later, they still write and ask me to tell them what they thought of it. So I don't want to disappoint you. If you knew how many things I get every day, you'd understand.

Read any good film books lately? Most are so dismal. So irrelevant to anything the soul cares about. Most films are too, of course.

Best wishes,



Just happy to get word from you man. Trust me I understand. I know how valuable your thoughts are and could only imagine the amount of tapes and dvd's that have formed mountains on your coffee table. I consider myself guided in ways by fate and having the opportunity to have learned from you is some evidence of this....

If and when you get the time, just know it's from the soul, entirely.

Keep at it Ray, and thank you,



i took "cassavetes on cassavetes" with me to europe... read the whole thing through for the first time (had previously only skimmed chapters)... i love the way you present him... all of his bullshit rhetoric, double talk (and self contradiction) don't diminish your love and respect for him... and, as a reader, it makes me appreciate him as a "character" the way he appreciated the characters in his films... i.e, fucked up and highly lovable... great work, ray...


A note from Ray Carney.

The preceding writer is Mark Duplass one half of the dynamic duo of Mark and Jay Duplass, the writer-director-actors who made the feature, The Puffy Chair, and four extraordinary short films, including the amazing Scrabble/Scrapple and The Intervention.

Ray Carney replies:

Subject: Food for thought....


Thanks for the kind words about my C on C.

But just to show you how strange life can be: those parts you are alluding to--the parts I was so careful to put in that show Cassavetes wasn't a God, but a man, a man with human failings and foibles, just like his characters--are one of the main reasons that Gena Rowlands has been so horrible to me lately. She just can't stand to have the "human" side of her husband revealed. (And trust me there is a lot more to reveal that I didn't put into the book. You should see the half million word version! Or better yet, you should not see it!) Rowlands caught me a couple years ago and told me that I had called him a "liar" and that she was very disappointed with me and very unhappy with the book as result.

A lot of her treatment of me has come out of her resentment of things like that (starting way back with a remark I made in a NY Times article more than a decade ago).

The lesson I take from it is that you can be married to Cassavetes and still not appreciate the value of "truth-telling." That you can still prefer the press release version of life. Isn't it completely bizarre to think of someone so close to Cassavetes believing that? Too weird for words.

I tell you the story for a more personal reason: As a "truth-telling" filmmaker, be prepared if it happens to you too someday! That the very thing you are most proud of doing is the thing some actor or producer involved with the film most objects to and wants taken out of it.

No reply expected. Keep doing great things! Puffy Chair deserves the best!



Subject: It's a wonderful life

Hi Ray,

This is Jonathan writing to you deep within a tenement building in the east village, NYC. We used to write back and forth when I was at NYU regarding Cassavetes work as I became obsessed with his films and your writings which have illuminated so much for me over the last few years.

The reason I'm writing is because I was doing a search on Wikipedia regarding It's a Wonderful Life, one of my favorite films of all time, and I found this....

", but it is much more than that: a look at the pettiness, incompetence and bullying of small-town life. It is also an almost frightening portrait of a depressive man (played by Jimmy Stewart) with suicidal wishes. The fact that this tone is ignored in the public perception speaks to Capra's talent in creating this dismal story, throwing the hero into an alternative world nightmare and then shattering it with a blast of pure joy and love at the end as he realizes that his life has been wonderful after all with his sacrifices making him one of the most admired and influential figures in his town. The film critic Ray Carney has popularized this view and provided the most insightful commentary on the film."

First, I was wondering where I can find your commentary/writings about It's a Wonderful Life, and secondly I wanted to let you know that coincidentally I'm actually writing a screenplay that has it's heart rooted in "it's a wonderful life". I've been working on it for the last few months.

My story concerns an idealist who leaves his Illinois small town during the great depression to pursue a film career with the goal of "making people feel good" but his dream is shattered when he finds out the world is not so friendly. People like "Potter" and others try to destroy the protagonist, but he ultimately returns home and through a twist of fate, he has a similar realization to George Bailey, discovering that during his whole life up to that point, he had in fact been fulfilling his dream, but was unaware of it.

I'd love to send you the script when I'm finished and I'd be thrilled to chat with you further.

I hope you'll be in touch.

All the best and wishing you joy this holiday season,.

Jonathan Blitstein

Ray Carney replies:

Subject: Dreams, ideals, blowing up what is


Good to hear from you after so long. I remember your previous notes to me. But I forget whether we have ever met. I don't think so. But just for the joy of it, I might as well quote the Yeats' poem. It goes something like this:

Speech after long silence
William Butler Yeats

Speech after long silence; it is right,
All other lovers being estranged or dead,
Unfriendly lamplight hid under its shade,
The curtains drawn upon unfriendly night,
That we descant and yet again descant
Upon the supreme theme of Art and Song:
Bodily decrepitude is wisdom; young
We loved each other and were ignorant.

Yeats is the master of nostalgia. A very modern emotion. I think he and Matthew Arnold may have invented it.

But to your question: I wrote a whole book about Capra! I guess you didn't know that. I think the chapter on It's a Wonderful Life is almost 100 pages long. And the Wikipedia entry is right. (How rare that is! Their entry on my Cassavetes and Rowlands work is stupidity epitomized.) But in this case, I'm glad to say that they are spot on. The book is an attempt to firebomb the Norman Rockwell/"triumph of the common man"/Up With People reading of Capra's oeuvre. The films make that obvious: The melodramatic accesses of imagination; the stunned silences; the wild, impassioned gasps; the emotionally intense music; the narrative propulsiveness; the Slavko Vorkapich montages are all evidence that the Charles Maland/Robert Sklar/Richard Glazer/John Raeburn version of Capra CAN'T POSSIBLY be right. Capra is a lot closer to being the poet of breakdown, loss, and crisis--of problems and failures--than a celebrator of American democracy. To call him the poet of idealism is to put your finger right on the sore spot. Idealism is always AT ODDS WITH/IN CONFLICT WITH reality. That's why we call it idealism. Norman Rockwell is not an idealist, he's just a silly light-weight sentimentalist, which is an entirely different thing. You and I are idealists. Cassavetes was an idealist. Capra was an idealist. Karl Marx was an idealist. Henry James was an idealist. Emerson was an idealist. And that always causes problems--big problems, major league problems--for the person and the world. Ideals are dynamite. They threaten everything. They put everything into question. Those problems are what Capra's films are about.

But I can't say it all here. Get the book! : ) It's available on my site of course. Go to the Film and Other Arts section and click around.

Oh, an afterthought: Be sure to get the Wesleyan revised edition. It has a new Preface that addresses the specific issue you are raising about past misreadings of Capra's work.

Good luck with the screenplay.

Stay well and all holiday best wishes,


Subject: bo harwood question

Professor Carney -

Sorry to bug you, hope you have time to answer, because again, I know no one else who'd know. I'd really like to track down some of the music from Cassavetes' films, particularly the songs on LOVE STREAMS. I'm having no luck finding a useful site on Bo Harwood on the internet and I don't know if any soundtracks were issued for any of Cassavetes' films after FACES. Any leads you can give me would be appreciated. I'd gladly pay for even a CDR burn of those songs, if Harwood has them and could obligeŠ

Looking forward to reading about "yet another major Cassavetes cinematic discovery" of yours, mentioned on your site.

Merry Christmas and so forth -

Allan MacInnis

Allan McInnis has a blog at

Ray Carney replies:

Subject: the way a market economy works


Glad to answer. Bo is a friend of mine. None of his music has been commercially issued in any form. Sorry. Just not the market for it I suspect.

Don't forget that Cassavetes is still really far out on the margins in terms of the public taste. Even at this late date, how many years after his death. In other words, his work or things about his work or things connected with his work are not profitable enough to justify a release. As proof, even Love Streams and Husbands are not "commercial enough" for anyone to issue them on DVD. Heck, I'll go further: Even most American universities have internalized the same business values. There are film professors in every major program in America, including my own, who haven't even seen all of his important work. That's like teaching art and not having seen Picasso's major paintings; but in terms of film that's just the way things are. And it may be a long, long time, if ever, till they change.

As to the discoveries: I actually have made three major "finds." All really, really wonderful. But I don't want Gena to electrocute me, the way she did with the Shadows find, so I'm lying low at present. Like a bank robber after a big heist, I guess you could say. Just kidding. Hope she doesn't try to use that in court against me! : )

Holiday cheer,


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