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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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Subj: The Haircut
Dear Dr. Carney,
If any one could help me it would be you.
Do you know if John Cassavetes's The Haircut is available to rent, buy, or view?
Or where I could get more information on it's avalialbitly?
Any information would be greatly appreciated.
Ray Carney replies:
It's one of the "extras" on a Tamar Simon Hoffs DVD. I think it's included with
her "The All Nighter" but I may be misremembering. Check the listings and you'll
definitely find it included with one of her DVDs as a short film "bonus."
hi prof. carney,
it's about midnight here in southern california. pretty cold, to
wow, i don't know where to start. it's so late that
you would be the only person i feel like i can write
to because...well, i have a hunch you'd find this
interesting. and i really wanted to share this with
someone who i have a lot of respect for. it proves
much of the points that you constantly bring up in
your writing (i just got through your mike leigh book,
by the way...i am fond of "abigail's party" and your
discussion on it was dead-on. brilliant work).
so, i was compelled to write to you and share a little
about 30 minutes ago, i got off the phone with a girl.
yeah, a girl i like. and she's someone i've not even
met. i know, i know - it's the online community
network thing that usually spells disaster and
heartbreak, not to mention iscommunication and
self-deception. but i met her online through a
friend's message board and, well - the rest you can
sort of fill in.
but we've been talking on and off for several months.
i view her as a penpal, except that instead of letters
- we call each other. and the thing is that...because
of the nature of our "relationship," she's very honest
with me. she's told me things about myself that i
don't like to or want to hear - but she's right.
absolutely right! about my stubborn attitude, how i
contradict people just to have an argument, how i
judge people harshly, my pompous points-of-view, my
ridiculous high standards.
i don't like to 'fess up to this, but i was caught
red-handed...she wasn't wrong about any of this. i am
all those things. but in moderation, of course. like
all people, the flaws arise depending on the context.
depending on my mood.
but it got me thinking - earlier today i watched "tape" and "my dinner with andre." i'd seen both
movies before. i actually saw "my dinner with andre" a
few years back when i saw "the wife" and i became very
enamored with wallace shawn's acting style. he's truly
distinctive and carries more range than i think he
gets credit for. anyhow, both films for me were rather
compelling. it was the fifth or sixth time i'd seen
each, and i realized that as human beings, the major
characters all confront really terrible, ungainly
truths about themselves. like all the films of
cassavetes or ozu or bresson or all of the other
greats. it's about confronting other aspects of one's
personality that aren't flattering. the ugly stuff.
the real shit.
this is nothing new. you've said it many times, and
others have said it for centuries before. but with
that girl, that wonderfully honest and smart girl i
spoke to - she opened me up to aspects of myself i
hated. and i loved her and wanted to smack her for it.
i was angry and thrilled. i did cry a little. i was
humiliated. i was emasculated. and then i told her
what i hated about her personality, and she was mad at
me. and we started yelling, then laughing. and then a
minute of silence. then i told her i really found her
sexy, and she told me she didn't find me physically
attractive. i thanked her for her honesty, and she
told me she valued me deeply as a friend. on and on it
went. it was a rollercoaster conversation, one of the
most intense and uncomfortable i've ever had.
and you know what? i feel great. because for once in a
long, long time, no one bullshitted me. no one told me
what i wanted to hear. and mr. carney, i respect you
so much because on a daily basis the stuff that you've
written and the movies and books i've seen or read due
to your recommendations - i am constantly
re-understanding myself and the life i lead with
others. i've started to learn how to accept the huge,
friggin' mess that life is and can be. i read "the
beast in the jungle" because of what your wrote about
henry james. it was scary. i realized that i am
chicken. like mr. cassavetes says, "people are so
chicken. they hide behind things." i hide, i hide
behind so much in my life. the beast is my own
insecurity. the beast is different for different
people. i like that i am scared and that i don't know
what to expect.
| In desperate need of help, hell-bent for catastrophe. The melting of the polar ice cap, the change in oceanic salinity, the slowing, then cessation of the Atlantic current, the unbelieveable rapidity of a new Ice Age, accompanied by famine then extermination.
i don't really understand or know why i wrote this,
except to say that i pondered what you would say about
all this. i've always written about movies to you,
whether it was about caveh's new work or "mutual
appreciation" or random cassavetes observations. but i
lack so much genuine encounters with others in my
daily life. i think we all go through droughts of
experience...pure experience. and i know that when you
read this and if you respond, you are not a man who
tolerates bullshit. and it's not validation i need,
it's acknowledgement. that i acknowledge how
completely messed up and imperfect we are and that
i'll never have a normal relationship with a woman and
that no "hack" dr. phil is going to make my
self-esteem better or worse. this is life, and tonight
was a little bit of an awakening that's a long process
to go. very long and a very winding road, so to speak.
and i'm giddy and wanted to talk to someone and i saw
the mike leigh book by my monitor, and i thought, "dammit, ray carney...i want to share my excitement! i
want you to hear this rant!" because i still don't
even know what i'm excited about. i am and will always
try to figure out what on earth we are doing here in
this tiny little planet.
and all because of a phone call from a girl who
refused to lie to me.
and you know what? i'm still pissed that she doesn't
find me attractive. and i'm offended by her
criticisms. and i love her laugh and i love hearing
her yell, and the silences are so overwhelming. ah
well. she likes me anyway. or does she? whatever.
thanks for reading, i hope i've not rambled too far
off the edge of sanity! i got an e-mail from andrew bujalski. i am
so thrilled to hear he's teaching a class at BU.
have a good one. be hard on your students come finals
week. they'll be better for it!
Ray Carney replies:
Thanks for sharing your experience with me. It's very deep, very touching, and
very important. It's always surprising how the shocks of life can be deep
lessons. "Everything is a teaching" as a Zen master once said. All of life is
giving us lessons, if we open ourselves to learn from them. But you're right: we
screen them out usually and only want to hear the good things, the compliments.
So we go to art that flatters us and makes us feel smart; we seek out people who
reinforce our views; and we crave compliments from our teachers and mentors.
D.H. Lawrence uses the metaphor of a parasol. He says we don't want to look at
the sky, but only at the painted images on the inside of a parasol we hold over
our heads. The painted images are smooth and beautiful and calming. The sky is
fearful and rough. And only when a rock comes crashing down and breaks a hole in
our parasol do we get a glimpse of reality. But we stitch up the hole as quick
as we can in fear of the view.
But even shocks fade. I think of what another Zen master told me about a student
saying he had an enlightenment experience the night before, but when the Roshi
asked him to show it to him, the student said "It's not as vivid now. It seems
distant." The Roshi laughed and laughed. He said to me "And he called that
enlightenment!" The student didn't understand that that was a teaching too. Your
experience will fade. It will seem less vivid and more distant, but keep
allowing more punctures to happen. He who disagrees with us is our friend, as
William Blake said. No progression without contraries. Sailing or flying are
only possible against the wind.
terms of my job (since you mention it): my students don't want to hear
that any more than George Bush does. Most of them want compliments and
agreement. They haven't understood that progress only happens when
there is disagreement. That agreement is the negation of creativity.
They want everyone to get along all the time; they themselves want to
imitate and borrow and follow the leader when they should be
questioning everything constantly. It puzzles me why disagreement
scares them. Sometimes I think it's the result of too many years of
"raising self-esteem" education, where only positive things were
allowed to be said. Where everyone agreed with them all the time and
indoctrinated them into believing that agreement was the goal of life.
It makes them fear opposition rather than learn from it. It makes them
want to go along with everything. It creates passivity.
But I don't want to sound too hard on the students. Most professors are no
different either. They are born followers in their own right. Organization men
(and women) who go along to get along. Intellectually speaking, they are slaves
to intellectual fashions and styles. That's their parasol. Their way of feeling
safe and comfortable.
Keep going. There are a lot of upheavals in life. Most of them good. All of them
P.S. May I post an anonymized version of your letter on the site? There is a lot
in it that can teach others valuable truths. Compared to these sorts of
experiences, the rest of life is as worthless as TV or the (so-called) news.
(Our newspapers and magzines are worse than Hollywood in their banality, their
stupidity, their reliance on clichés.)
hi prof. carney,
thanks for responding so quickly. after a long night's
sleep, i can see how much of the initial impact of
last night's conversation had subsided. the initial
shock waves have seemed to simmer down. the facts and
the truths still remain. really, the d.h. lawrence
quote is incredibly apt. i don't think there is anyone
who can honestly say that they don't carry some form
of a parasol over their perceptions. in fact, i look
at some of what i wrote to you last night - and i am
surprised to find certain phrases and observations. am
i just that fickle about my emotions? it's been in the
past few weeks that i've come to acknowledge my own
problems - which is to say, not the problems that one
goes to a therapist for, but the inherent problems of
feeling different and having varying opinions on a
minute-by-minute basis. it drives everyone crazy. as
it would drive me crazy when i hang out with equally
indecisive friends. but you're right: the real friends
are the ones who can kick you in the ass from time to
time. the ones who don't coddle my comfortable view of
the world. because that would be a form of
self-deception - to willingly forego the waking
realities of pain and cruelty and love and compassion
and divorce and war and drugs and lies and truth and
friends and enemies. all in one basket.
it'd be fine if you posted an anonymous-version
of the letter. so many of the letters you
post there are quite affecting. the one written to you
earlier in the summer (?) wherein a man mentioned his
torrid road trip and affair with a woman. something
along those lines. it was an intense read - again,
because it wasn't laced with bullshit. i don't
remember the details of the letter, but i remember the
ferocity of the text. the urgency of his emotions.
and it's like how i view you and your writing: i'm not
in 100% agreement with all you say. there are some
works that i don't find as interesting, as i'm sure
there are certain things i value that you would
dismiss. but that's irrelevant. no one has an
obligation to agree with each other ALL the time. how
boring that would be! it still didn't prevent me from
learning valuable things from you and other writers
and artists and painters and poets and filmmakers.
the zen master is correct: everything IS a learning
experience. even writing this e-mail back to you...i'm
reevaluating some of my thoughts as i type. how crazy
and strange we humans are.
thanks again. for being an open ear.
I just stumbled across this and thought you might be interested. (Click here to
In case that doesn't open, it is a book called Early Escapades, and it's a
collection of writings and drawings from Eudora Welty's childhood. It was just
released a month ago.
Also, another Library of America volume of Henry James will be released next
year. (Click here to access it.)
I hope you are well. I recently read your note about being replaced as director
of the film program. BU's loss, and unfortunately, a bigger loss for its
students. Best wishes for next semester and all your endeavors.
i met you in 1997 and you autographed your
book THE FILMS OF JOHN CASSAVETES for me.
i'm an alum of BU (English MA '89).
i'm the author of THE ART OF KISSING and
am working on a new book for St. Martin's
press on movie kisses. my problem is i
don't know how to get good enough photos
from DVDs (still photos) to print in the
book. if you have any idea, please let me
know. (there is no way i can use actual
film as this would be prohibitively costly).
if you have any idea, or can suggest anyone
at BU or elsewhere who might know, please
pass that contact info along to me.
thanks in advance.
p.s. your website is excellence personified!
Ray Carney replies:
You can do a frame capture and run a thumbnail sized photo that is fine for
grayscale use in a book. But you must keep it small. If you go larger than about
2 by 3 inches, there just isn't enough detail resolution on a regular DVD.
(HiDef DVD will be better, but that's a year off at least.)
There is no way to improve the resolution. The source is only as good as it is.
Not very good in other words.
Color is much more fussy. And harder to get good quality off of.
Focus/definition issues arise.
But be aware that you need permission to run anything that is copyrighted.
Getting the shot is one thing. Permission is totally separate. The film owner,
not the DVD releaser, must provide that. And any reputable publisher will insist
on the paperwork being in order to avoid a future claim (or law suit.) All
photos in my books are run with permission. And it ain't cheap. I spend
thousands of dollars on that alone for each book. Sorry. Don't shoot the
messenger. You can ultimately thank the damned and damnable Michael Eisner for
most of the legal hoops you will have to jump through. He changed the copyright
law a few years ago with his high paid lobbyists and made permissions and
copyrights much more stringent and longer in duration. Corporate America
triumphs again. The same people who brought us Enron and Worldcom strike again.
PS. Thanks for the kind words about the web site. I wish my bosses at Boston U.
felt the same way!
Dear Prof. Carney,
I had the good fortune to see snatches of It's A Wonderful Life last
night. I love that movie, hadn't seen it in years. I thought I'd like
to share a few of my thoughts about it.
When I went to bed and was trying to fall asleep, for some reason, I
kept thinking about Zuzu's petals. Zuzu's petals. How precious and
wonderful. How fragile and tender that little scene between George and
his daughter. To pretend to have fixed the rose that had lost a few of
its petals, and then telling her it was better to fall asleep than stay
awake to look at a single rose, when she could dream of a whole garden
of them... And I thought of how later, the petals disappeared during
George's nightmare of finding out he had never been born. And how
Zuzu's petals returned magically to his pocket when George came alive
again, and were infinitely more precious. How to understand this
miracle? Reality intruding on magic or magic intruding upon reality?
These accidental "talismans," marking moments of magic and innocence,
these reminders that magic happens?
And then the scene with Mary and George sharing the phone as they
"talked" to hee-haw Sam Wainwright, and the flutters of feeling across
their faces as you watched them realized they were in love, falling
deep and hard, so many shifts of feeling and confusion and weakness and
awe. Being swept away by love feelings without a single word spoken.
Sooo beautiful. Amazing acting... Their faces both unforgettable... And
here again, reality intruding on magic or magic intruding upon reality?
Anyway, I wish I had your Capra book so I could read again what you had written about It's A Wonderful Life, but it will keep.
Ah, those magical moments of shifting away from reality into another
universe of the imagination. Entire worlds await us there...
And I think you
might enjoy this article "Art, Truth & Politics" by Harold Pinter.
writes a fascinating account of his creative process. (Click here
to go to Pinter's Nobel Prize acceptance speech.) And Harold Pinter
writing a whole play on a word or a phrase, brings me back to Zuzu's
petals. Zuzu's petals. I think I could write an entire volume on
"Zuzu's petals"...! Wonderful stuff...
Ray Carney replies:
know. I agree. That's what's so magic about the film. George is an
imaginer. Not a doer necessarily, or only unimportantly. A feeler and
thinker. He imagines the Explorers' Club and South Sea islands. He
imagines skyscrapers. He imagines lassoing the moon. Things that he wil
never do or that can't ever be done by anyone. And the magic of the
movie is that Capra shows us everything twice. Once with his
imagination and once without it (when he has not been born). And shows
us that THE WORLD IS DIFFERENT because of his imagination. That's the
miracle. We all have dreams, but to think that they actually change,
have changed the world, is the miracle.
love that movie. I went to a play version of it about a week ago and
cried all the way through. I couldn't stop. It's a magic work.
Downright Keatsian! "Much have I travelled in the realms of gold, round
many Western islands have I been, and many goodly states and kingdoms
seen, Oft of one wide expanse have I been told, Deep browed Homer rules
as his desmene, Yet never breathed its air serere, till I heard Chapman
speak out loud and bold........" Chapman, not sailing is what takes us
there. Imaginative gold, far greater than real world gold. Balboa not
Cortez is the rich one. Wild surmises not greedy graspings are the real
possession of life. The vision is greater than the deed.
I'm in the middle of Carlyle's The French Revolution right now and living the same thing today. I can't sleep for the desire to read it.
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