and Page 1 /
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.
here for best printing of text
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.
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?
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
Man I hope this gets to you.
For some information about it go to: http://mvff.com/node/496
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.
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.
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).
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
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
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
", 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
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
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,.
Ray Carney replies:
Subject: Dreams, ideals, blowing up what is
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
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.
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.
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 McInnis has a blog at http://alienatedinvancouver.blogspot.com
Ray Carney replies:
Subject: the way a market economy works
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
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.
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! : )
and Page 1 /