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Dear Mr. Carney,
Over the last few days I have been reviewing your website and the many letters people have written you, and I am absolutely stunned at how personally and relationally you have answered each one. Reading your thoughtful insights has made me want to investigate the work of those you most admire, particularly that of John Cassavetes. I know I have seen a few of his movies over the years, but I must sheepishly admit that he made the greatest impression on me when I saw some episodes of Johnny Staccato that were shown by an offbeat television network called “Trio” that briefly existed in the 1990s.
I may have less in common with you than most of the people who have asked for your advice, but I find there are some parallels. I am as fascinated by and as familiar with the works of Fred Astaire as you are with those of Cassavetes (though I have produced no books as yet). You may know that Astaire's widow often makes it a difficult and litigious thing to preserve his legacy, and when I was reading about the strife you endured as a result of Gena Rowlands' shortsightedness, I was reminded of this.
Though I feel I am getting a very late start (I'm 45), I would like to teach film history, and I have made some modest progress toward this (atop a full-time technical editing job) by creating a course on Astaire that I've presented at community centers and retirement homes. At the request of one continuing education program I approached, I'm just beginning to create a broader series on musicals (though all these activities have been oriented toward musicals, I'm fairly well-versed in movies in general, particularly those of the studio era). I've done some writing for pop culture websites and for The Brattle in Cambridge, and introduced musicals at the AFI Silver Theatre, but none of these activities brings in enough income for me to quit the primary job.
I have wondered if I could eventually teach film studies at the college level if I were to pursue advanced degrees in film history (I was a good ol' English major), but my chief problem now is that I'm in the Washington, D.C. area and cannot relocate. I find that all the universities in my area offer filmmaking within graduate study, but not film studies, and I've been surprised to find that there are almost no distance learning programs set up at major universities in the U.S., just at the business schools. From a financial standpoint, the most likely place for me to study would be George Mason University, whence I earned my bachelor's degree, but I was disheartened to read the following on their website:
“It's obvious that movies, television, and the Internet have become an important
part of everyday life. However, we don't think of them as 'serious' in the way
traditional academic subjects are, though ironically they have much greater
impact on our lives. If you want to know how these media really work, how they
move and inspire us, and how they purvey certain ideas of race, class, gender,
and sexuality, or if you're just fascinated by them and want to understand the
basis of your fascination, consider a minor in film and media studies. It's a
great adjunct to virtually any major, especially for students contemplating
careers in education or communication.”
I'm reasonably sure I do not wish to earn a master's in education, but perhaps a communications or interdisciplinary degree of some sort might be the way to go. I wanted to ask some people who teach film what they think. That is how I found your name and came to read about you.
I know I should get on the phone and start interviewing professors for information, but for reasons not quite clear to me, I detest talking on telephones. So I'm starting with a person who understands the instinct to write a letter instead, and hoping you will have the time to respond.
What's that old Groucho Marx line: "You said the magic word." Fred and Ginger. Astaire and Rogers. Once upon a time I memorized Arlene Croce's book (assume you know it) and adore all of their films., esp. Gay Divorcee, Swingtime, Top Hat, ah, ah, ah, "Night and Day, you are the one....." Stop me.
To cut to the chase: As I read your email, I was just about to say "George Mason" when I tripped over the clunky catalog copy you kindly forwarded. Thus the world. My own program (pretty much taken out of my hands by a hostile university administrator a year or so ago) is going this way too. Media studies. Film and TV combo platter. Race, class, gender, ideology. Feminism versus male chauvinism. Blah, blah, blah. It all strikes me as so fuddy-duddy. So old fashioned. All these 1970s understandings. You'd expect the classes to be playing disco music in the background and the professors to have mustaches and mullets. Sorry, went a bit overboard there. But what the hey?
All I am trying to say is: Yes, yes, yes, I feel your pain. I personally find the above tendencies not only dated but very discouraging. Sociology replaces aesthetics. Cultural studies takes the place of appreciating style and form. Promulgating and deconstructing ideological stances replaces feeling something. In short, you lose the movie. Fred and Ginger would become archetypal man and woman of the 1930s and depictions of wealth and power in the Depression. Is that what you love about those movies? Sure ain't why I watch them. I watch Fred's wrists and hands while he dances. I watch Ginger's boa float as he dips her backward. I hear the operatic extremity of emotion in their songs and the Musetta-like attempts to resist it. I don't see race, class, and gender. I don't see sociology. I see my life. I see love affairs I have been involved in. I see my own doomed infatuations. Perhaps you disagree. That's ok too.
But maybe there is some way you could go through the George Mason program and emerge with your heart and soul intact. If you hold onto them very very tight. For the reason above, I'm not sure my own program would be any better for your immortal soul. (Though my own classes and approach will never change, of course.)
But I have bad news on the job front. It is extremely hard to get a job in the field after you graduate. And the Ph.D. (not the Masters) is the thing most schools insist on. Ah, I hate myself for being so discouraging about this. I just don't know what to tell you, and I don't want to lie to you. Isn't there a way to "build out" your evening courses to get satisfaction from doing them? Or is that too discouraging for you to contemplate?
Let me think a bit more, OK?
All best wishes,
Somehow your letter is not discouraging (in fact your riff on the '70s had me laughing); I've had the feeling that the Ph.D. was necessary, and also that there is limited demand for the subject matter, at least the way we agree we would prefer to teach it.
My next plan of action is to talk to someone at Mason who teaches film, and see what interdisciplinary plan might be worked out, but I'm going to admit to her up front that I don't care for the philosophy of the clunky copy... I just want to study films as one would study literature, for their beauty and poetry and what they tell us about the time in which they were made.
I've wondered about the viability of simply expanding the evening courses, whether I might ever be able to cobble together enough opportunities here and there to make it add up. To be truthful, I'd rather go that route. Maybe I should drum up a greater marketing campaign and just try to get more gigs...
I absolutely agree with what you say about Astaire and Rogers. I found this marvelous paragraph in your article on Woody Allen:
“Even if we stay strictly within the realm of popular film, the romance comparison doesn't hold up. I take the two great bodies of classic romance in Hollywood film to be the Thirties films of Frank Capra, and the musicals in which Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced together. Yet in that work too one finds not expressive slackness and escapism, but the contrary: demands that the individual romantic rigorously negotiate the obstacle course of social expression and dramatic relationship. These are tough films. Only a sentimental misreading of Capra's or Astaire's and Rogers' work turns it into swoony, dreamy, unrealistic 'romancing' in the sense in which Allen's defenders invoke the term to rally round Radio Days or any of the 'masterpieces' preceding it.”
The title of my three-part course is “Fred Astaire: Beyond the Clichés,” because I get so tired of the series of assumptions that have grown up around this performer. The idea that he is purely aristocratic while Gene Kelly is the everyman (I love Gene, though). The idea that Rogers did everything he did backwards and in high heels. The idea that Astaire and Rogers were all wealth and escapism and art deco (there's actually very little art deco design in their films). And above all, the idea that Astaire is asexual, because I've been intensely attracted to his incredibly competent image for more than 30 years, and have found that I am far from the only one.
I find the Astaire-Rogers movies romantic, but in ironic contrast to what is constantly said of them, often realistic (and that overused word, timeless) in the way that they portray egalitarian love affairs, longing and pain. They are integrated musicals, pre-Oklahoma (but post-Show Boat, if I may get in a jab the musical historians who always conveniently forget that show). And unlike so many films made under the Code, they are clearly about sexual romantic involvements. Astaire made such a dramatic break from the years of dancing with sis, and Rogers was the perfect partner for him in evoking such eroticism, because (as Croce and John Mueller have pointed out) she was such a fine actor in those dances.
Ah, so you see? When you get me going...
Thanks so very much for your prompt and thoughtful reply. It does help.
A note from Ray Carney:
The following letter was written in response to my listening recommendations to a reader on a previous Mailbag page (click here to go there):
Subject: Speaking of Bach...
... Since we're on the subject, I have a question for you. Do you know of the BEST recordings of Bach's music currently available on CD, either current or out of print? I've tried several different CDs and I've loved some and abominated others, mostly due to sound recording quality. Any CDs you personally recommend with the best conductors, soloists, sound recording, etc.? I like all of Bach but I'm particularly interested in 1) the cello suites, 2) the Brandenburg Concertos, 3) St. Matthew's Passion. Only respond if you have spare time.
I'm not sure I really understand the problem, but let me take a few shots at an answer. I don't know exactly what the "sound recording" issues you have are. I don't have problems like this. In fact, I find that almost everything I own on CD is fascinatingly performed and well-recorded. But here are a few questions, random thoughts, and rules of thumb that might be of some use to you:
1) Are you playing the material on a good enough system? Ipods just don't cut it for real high-fidelity sound. The compression algorithms that get it into the Ipod and the earbuds that get it out aren't real CD quality. So the first thing to do is to check your equipment. For portable play, a CD player still is the state of the art. And you need to have decent headphones to listen through. Don't let the style system rule you! Just because earbuds are everywhere doesn't mean that they are any good. They have a very limited frequency response. I use Grado SR 80 ("open") headphones when I am at home and use several different models of "closed" Bose or Kloss headphones when I am out. (The over-the-ear Bose QuietComfort 2 headphones are pitifully weak in frequency response compared to my Grados, but they save your hearing by allowing you to keep the volume level low in noisy environments.) The physics of sound dictates that open phones are always superior to closed ones (since low frequency standing waves form in closed ones, including all earbuds, which cancel many of the low frequency signals) but the open ones, being open, bleed sound into the environment, and bleed environmental sound into the headphone, so are not suitable to use in public places. If the above is not clear, all I can say is go to the Grado web site or someone else who sells Grado to buy open phones that you can use at home and check out the the work of Henry Kloss (Cambridge Sound Works, I think his company is called) to find a good pair of closed headphones. (Bose's QuietComforts are prohibitively expensive.) If you are playing the sound in a room, speakers matter, of course, but I'll assume you have a great set. (Many recent speakers are over-tuned to the bass frequencies because of the popularity of rock-music, so be sure you have decent speakers for classical listening. And your ears will thank you thirty years from now.)
2) The next issue is the miking and other recording methods used on the CD. Generally, any CD recorded in a properly equipped studio after 2001 has state of the art frequency recording, everything that the human ear is capable of hearing has been encoded; but I'd emphasize that you need not limit yourself to CDs produced in the past six or seven years. The microphone placement and recording conditions are generally good on everything made in the past thirty years, with the exception of some live recordings. I personally stay away from most "live" opera recordings and many "live" symphony recordings since it is just too hard to mike the sound adequately, but on the other hand "live" piano or chamber music recordings can be just as good technically, and often much more thrilling than studio recordings. (And of course I am assuming you are not buying any of the "super cheapie" disks issued by companies like Naxos or Laserlight or any of the other knock-off or super discount labels, many of which are recorded in eastern Europe or are cheap reissues of live recordings with no name performers, or are re-issues of old bad-quality recordings that have fallen into the public domain.)
3. A separate note about microphone placement: The tendency in the past twenty years has been to move the mike closer and closer to the performer. This is not always a great idea, and it creates a very unnatural sound at times, but I have gotten used to it and don't mind it much. Maybe this is what you are having problems with. The mike is almost touching the instrument. In clarinet concertos in my collection, I can hear the felt pads hitting the stops, the cork hitting the valve openings, the fingers being placed on or removed from the keys. In piano recordings, I can often hear the click, click, click of the performer's fingernails on the plastic of the keys or the sounds of the pianist shifting his weight from the right to left leg (and the bench very slightly groaning in response). In oboe or bassoon recordings, I can often hear the inhaling of the soloist at breath points or the breathing of the soloist in passages where he or she is not playing. In Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations performance of the mid-1970s (the second time he recorded this piece), I can hear him humming to himself underneath his playing. Etc. Etc.
None of this is the way music was meant to be heard. And it creates a completely unnatural sound, like nothing you hear when you are really in a concert hall listening to a symphony orchestra play or at someone's home listening to a chamber work being performed live, but, as I say, I have gotten used to it. It reminds me of what it sounds like when you are actually playing an instrument in an orchestra or conducting one. These are sounds that, prior to the CD, only performers knew about. But again, I don't really mind them. If that's your problem, I'd say just get used to it and it won't bother you after a while.
The other analogy to hearing these things is to say that I generally sit in the first row at a ballet or modern dance performance if I can and when you are that unnaturally close to the stage you see things (sweat being spun off a performers face) and hear things (the crunch of toe shoes, the stretching of tendons, the pounding of landings) that are not meant to be heard and seen, and that generally are not heard and seen by anyone but the performers and the choreographer. I don't mind that in dance and I don't mind hearing the felt and cork and fingernails in the performance.
While I'm on the subject: The other thing about super-close microphone placement is that it acoustically "separates" the instruments in a way that a live performance doesn't. The Bach Brandenburgs sound completely different on a CD than they do in a concert hall, because the microphones and mixing methods create a group of soloists out of what Bach intended to be an ensemble sound. You hear each separate instrument with an intensity that you don't in an actual performance. But I have gotten used to that also and it is really fine with me. Is either of the above things what you are talking about in terms of "sound recording quality"? If they are the problems, I'd say you just need to get used to the fact that all recorded music creates a different sound (and adds sounds like the ones I have mentioned) from a live performance. It's just one more reason that live performances will never be superseded. You have to keep going to them to have that experience. All recorded music creates a different sound. It's why live operas should not be amplified. All amplified sound is different from all live sound, no matter how good the amps and the speakers.
4. But, more directly, to get to your request. I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you. It is obviously impossible to give you a "listening list." There are just too many good things, by Bach and so many others, to list them. There are hundreds of superb recordings in the past thirty years alone, and several thousand more from the LP era, before the era of CD quality super high fidelity. The fundamental fact, the best advice I can give you, after all of the preceding tech talk, is to say that the performer matters much more than the technology. It's really the same as in film or drama or dance or any other art. Have The Passion of Joan or Arc, The General, Last Laugh, and Blue Angel been superseded because of technological advances? Of course not. The idea is laughable.
There are dozens of amazing performers and performances who predated the CD era: Wanda Landowski in the 1920s, Arturo Toscanini in the 1930s, Vladimir Horowitz in the 1940s, Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer in the 1950s, Maria Callas in the 1960s, and on and on will never be superseded, no matter how many bits and cycles we build into new CDs and no matter where the microphone is placed in the future. Can Cassavetes' performance in Mikey and Nicky ever be superseded because of a technological advance? Can Laurence Olivier's Uncle Vanya ever be made obsolete because of a new translation of Chekhov? Can Suzanne Farrell's dancing in Balanchine's Emeralds movement of Jewels ever be improved upon because of some improvement in the way dancers are trained? The questions answer themselves. And what that means is that the newest, hottest, most technologically advanced is not necessarily the best. The highest-fidelity sound recording is not necessary as good as something that was recorded fifty years ago in low fidelity. What matters is not the technical side of the recording, but the "argument," the depth of perception, the statements made by the performer, the drama he or she stages. (And a performance of Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven is just like being both the director and the actors in a play. To perform the work properly, the performer has to stage an entire drama, shaping its trajectory, casting its players, and playing ALL of the characters, all of the voices, faces, gestures himself or herself.) That interpretation, that act of shaping, that dramatic performance is what you want to listen for in music. Ultimately, finally, conclusively, it doesn't matter how the piece was created or recorded, it's what the particular performer is able to show us. Some people can show a lot; and others, with the best miking and recording facilities in the world don't show anything memorable or important.
But I am sure I am wearing out your patience. You are waiting for a recommendation or two! I won't limit myself to Bach, though. Here are a few based on my current passions. I am, right now, working through most of Alfred Brendel's, Murray Perahia's, and Daniel Barenboim's piano pieces (mainly the Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart concertos). I recommend all three performers. Murray Perahia's Bach Keyboard Concertos with the Academy of St. Martin's in the Fields (Sony SK 89245) strikes me, as of right now, as the greatest keyboard performance of three of the greatest keyboard works in history (always excepting Mozart's late concertos of course). An overstatement, I know, but it kills me every time I listen to it, particularly Perahia's performance of Bach's Clavier Concertos Numbers 1 and 4. I'm wearing out my disk listening to them over and over again. : ) But ask me next month and I'll undoubtedly have another favorite!
In terms of another CD recommendation, I also adore the recording of the Mozart Concertos for two and three pianos Murray Perahia did with Radu Lupu a few years ago. It's Sony SK 92735. The duet between Perahia and Lupu in the Allegro of K. 365, with Mozart growling and Nanerl giggling in response, and the sheer bouncy, playful joy of the Rondo (seasoned with the momentary scudding of minor key clouds across the sun) is my idea of heaven. So there's another brilliant performance, brilliantly recorded (even if I can hear Perahia's finger pads hitting the keys and the felt of the stops dampening the strings and a few squeaks of the bench and the pedals!). Those are two of the CDs I have in front of me so I can give you the details.
Again the moral is that it is the performer and the performances that matter, not the high fidelity of the recording. Perhaia and Lupu "get" Mozart's jokes. They understand what he was was doing by writing this piece for him and his sister to play together. That is what makes this a brilliant and "heavenly" performance. Not the high fidelity of the recording. Daniel Barenboim has a marvelous Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, out with Warner Classics (2564 61553 2). And, if I remember correctly, he has a great live recording of The Goldbergs done in Argentina. Oh, I almost forgot Christophe Rousset has a terrific box set of Bach keyboard pieces, including the Goldberg Variations, out on Decca 4757079. But, to say it for the hundredth time, the moral of all of this is that I buy disks based on the performer. Not the label. Not the piece. Not the sound engineer (though that is important). The performer. Some simply have what it takes, and some don't. Just like in acting, in dance, in trapeze artistry, in stand-up comedy, in a magic show. The performer is everything.
I'll give you a negative and a positive example of that: There is a violinist named Hillary Hahn who has recorded with the best orchestras and using the best recording engineers and studios, but she simply is not a deep interpreter of the music she plays. So the high-fidelity is wasted. As a positive example, Glenn Gould's second version of the Goldberg Variations (which I mentioned above...by the way, skip his first version, it's a travesty, a young man's showoff piece cut to fit onto an LP) was recorded in the mid-1970s (I forget the exact year), but is absolutely brilliant in the "argument" it mounts. Now, this recording (Gould's second recording of the Goldbergs) isn't really Bach; it is Gould, pure Gould, and, as I said above, you can hear Gould humming throughout the performance, but none of that matters. Gould's playing, his vision of the piece, his crazy, eccentric bending of it to his purposes, is brilliant, insightful, shocking, and original. And the word "shocking" reminds me of one other recording I'll mention by name, though I don't have the release information about it since I don't personally own the disk. Here's the story behind my recommendation: A few months ago I was driving in my car late late at night, around 3 AM, headed back home from my office, and by sheer chance (or the grace of God), I flipped on the local FM radio station. I wanted to make sure I didn't fall asleep at the wheel. Gil Shaham and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra were playing Vivaldi's Winter section of The Four Seasons, one of the most tired, worn out, over-played pieces in the repertoire (right after Pachabel's Canon in the "please give it a rest" category!). I was about to switch the station, but, but, but .... I listened and tears came to my eyes. The performance was one of the greatest I have ever heard in my life. Really. Life-changing in fact. Shaham went over-the-top to find something on the other side of this worn-out war horse. And, to my complete amazement, he succeeded! That's ultimately what I am looking for, I should say listening for, in every CD I buy. A mind behind the music that reveals the music in a new and exciting way, that shows me how it was put together, that reveals structures I've missed, ideas I've overlooked. Shahom cleared away the cobwebs of familiarity and made the music new. He revved up Vivaldi's beat-up, rusty old junker as if it were being tried out for the first time in the history of the world. (Balanchine used to do this in every ballet he choreographed. He would be your teacher and show you new things about what the composer was getting at. He would give you a blueprint that would reveal secret chambers in an otherwise familiar mansion.)
And that's ultimately why your journey through CDs should be a great adventure, and is ultimately not reducible to questions about super high fidelity or microphone placement. Go back to the old Pablo recordings of Art Tatum. Go back to the late 1920s recordings of the hot sevens and hot fives with Louis Armstrong ("West End Blues," "Ski-dat-di-dat"), go back to Billie Holiday's work with Lester Young, or Coleman Hawkins's recordings, and you will find things that wax and shellac were enough to capture. That's real music and it doesn't matter what headphones or speakers you hear it on.
A note from Ray Carney:
A frequent visitor to the site suggested that I post a list of "Viewing Recommendations" and sent me a table containing the directors and titles of films that I have mentioned or discussed on the site as well as a list of sources for obtaining the titles on video. (I offered to give her personal credit for her contribution, but she modestly declined to have her name included in the table.) With thanks to this anonymous reader, I have accordingly added a link in the left menu that goes to the list she sent me. Click here to access it.
Note that this "Viewing Recommendations" list is a work in progress. There are many other directors and films that deserve acknowledgment but which have undoubtedly been overlooked in the list. I would ask visitors to the site to send me names of directors or titles that they would like to see added to the master list. I will post the most interesting responses in the Mailbag section of the site and update the master list after I have reviewed the responses. Thanks to one and all.
I've read everything you've ever written about John Cassavetes and am a big fan. I admire your work very much. You offer insights that avoid the wishy-washy as well as the standard fare of tinny commercialism.
Because of your willingness (on your website) to offer people advice, I feel that perhaps it would not be too awkward for you to address a few questions from me.
I believe this is a bad time for artists of any sort. You say a few times on your website that many people who want to be artists are too familiar with TV, commercial movies, and newspapers and not familiar enough with real, chancy, flesh and blood art.
I graduated from the Mason Gross School of the Arts several years ago with my MFA (playwriting) and my time there was miserable. It was a completely soulless place with arrogant professors and mindless students hoping to make it big someday on TV. Studying real art was discouraged, although we did get our share of Shakespeare and Moliere. But no one knew Cassavetes or, believe it or not, even Samuel Beckett. We were encouraged to study sitcoms, soap operas, made-for-TV crap.
Ambition was King. We were encouraged to do ANYTHING to MAKE IT. For instance -- We were told that in times of a national tragedy (911 or Katrina-esque) smart writers would get to their computers and belt out a script right away in order to be the first to sell a script to some production company. While I am no saint, this callousness to the world around me depresses me as a writer. And of course, with the political system in this country dangerously out of whack, it is sometimes hard to imagine much of a future to live in anyway.
Before I entered graduate school I wrote plays, directed them and produced them in a small theatre company I helped form in upstate New York. While it was a seat of our pants type of thing, it also seemed like I was growing as an artist. I then went to graduate school to become a better writer and artist. To become a real writer. But since graduating I have been unable to write a play at all. It is as if a "what's the use" cloud has overtaken me.
Now I am married and have a small son who I am determined to raise healthfully and wisely. (My family growing up was, at best, badly dysfunctional. I don't want to pass that on to my son.) How does art fit into a world like this?
Was Cassavetes' life really worth it? Did the money he made make it worth it? How hard it is to see commercial crap held up to be the pinnacle of artistic achievement when the artist, the sainted artist, sits home unable to pay his bills. John's films are wonderful. "Opening Night" "Love Streams" are beautiful films. But maybe John should have stayed more with his family and he would have been a better father? He was certainly an alcoholic and that alone says that he was not a healthy man. Did he have doubts about his worth as an artist? How did he keep going in the face of vile criticism? Was it worth it for him? For us as fans?
New Jersey USA
A note from Ray Carney:
I shall post a response in the next few days,but I would encourage readers to write in with their own responses on the subject of "Is making art worth it?" I will post the most interesting.
Dear Prof. Carney:
Here's a great quote for you I heard the other day by Marianne Williamson. I thought you might like it. We should all be like the fall leaves at their richest, most intense hues before we go down to earth... the glory of God fully alive...
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There isnothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
Have a beautiful day teaching. I'll be watching, at your recommendation, Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice.
A great great quote. There is a titanic combat. God loves extremity. God wants us to dare to love passionately, to live totally, to laugh boisterously. The world tries to force us to moderate our desires and expressions. The world tries to make us small. And too often we let the world convince us. Read Meister Eckhart. Read William Blake. Listen to Bach or Mozart. Our laughter is the twinkle in God's eyes. Our cheers and shouts of enthusiasm are the sounds of God's breathing. We are infinite and imagine ourselves caged and bounded. It's the tragedy of selling our souls to the values the world believes in.
Subject: The power of urgency
I just saw the posting about Meister Eckhart on your site (see the letter preceding this one) and wanted to write you about it. What you say is so important. After I read what you wrote, the call of the autumn leaves propelled me out the door.
I cast everything else to the side so as not to miss the the glory of the leaves before they fell. Alas, most had fallen, but a few were still in full color and not yet nipped by the frost's chill. And I loved the "late bloomers" to the last leaf, and laughed that I had gone out to greet them, to capture them in full glory so that they were noticed and not forgotten. Cherished and not ignored.What is passion without a sense of urgency? A call to grasp the fleeting gold before it vanishes in a twinkling, gone forever. Who knows if the sparkling leaves would be there tomorrow? I might miss them. Or they might have turned dull and brown like the dragonfly I sent you, the life fled out of them. If we can learn to live passionately, urgently, in each moment as if running to greet an elusive lover before they disappear, giving up everything for one moment, think what energy we would release.
I'm reminded of a moment my daughter told me about when she sat with the father of a friend who had a few days left to live. They set out some lawn chairs at his request, and he listened to the birds chirp. He said there was not a sweeter sound in the world... Passion, urgency and attention to the moment, nothing else exists. All else is an illusion. The trick is to have all these things through God's eyes, hands, ears, feet and lips in each moment before it's gone.
With passion, with urgency, with attention. We must live each moment as though it's our last, as though there is no tomorrow. Our life depends on it, otherwise we're not living--every golden moment marked, not missed--new moments all within reach.
Margaret (last name suppressed at the writer's request)
Thank you. You say it better than I ever could. Our lives are so short. It always shocks me that some people waste so much of them on silly pursuits--like making money, trying to outfox someone else, competing with each other for promotion or recognition. The only valuable way to live our lives is to cherish each other and love our mother the earth, and give as much as we can to help and preserve both, in the limited time available. And, yes, when we laugh we see things for a moment though God's eyes, which is why when things go against us, the only remedy is to laugh.
I'm an aspiring independent filmmaker, and a great fan of your work. You have the guts to really tell it like it is. Although I have the fire in my belly, I don't have the funds to attend your BU classes. Anything you can offer to point me in the right direction for personal studies? I want to make artistic films, not commercial crap. Specifically, these are my questions:
1) What makes a film great? (This is asking a lot, I know.)
2) What is the best way to learn how to make great films?
3) Do you have any plans to ever post a "master course" of your recommendations for those of us who can't attend your classes?
4) Your Cassavetes on Cassavetes is my current bible and inspiration. Do you have anything new coming out on him or his work? He really rocks.
5) Any other materials you can recommend or refer me to that might be worthy substitutes for your lectures? Any plans for ever videotaping your lectures?
Thanks, and keep fighting the good fight on behalf of the film artists of the world.
As I did with the letter from Jack Florek several screens above this one on this page (click here to read it), I shall turn questions 1 and 2 over to readers of the site. How would you answer them? With respect to question 1, what excites you about the greatest films you have ever seen? What do they do? How are they different from mainstream movies? What makes them great? With respect to question 2, how important do you think going to film school is (both from those who did and those who didn't). Can you become a filmmaker without spending tens of thousands of dollars getting a degree in film? What do you need to know to be an artist? What kind of person do you need to be? Can such things be learned or taught or are some people simply born that way?
I'll post the most interesting responses on the Mailbag pages.
This is only the "To Print" page. To go to the regular page of Ray Carney's www.Cassavetes.com on which this text appears, click here, or close this window if you accessed the "To Print" page from the regular page. Once you have brought up the regular page, you may use the menus to reach all of the other pages on the site.