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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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Dear Professor Carney,

Just a quick missive through the swill and piss of cyber-space to express a very heartfelt THANK YOU for your work.. I'm a long-time Cassavetes and Leigh-phile who only recently happened upon your site and books.

Like that of those guys and others, your work has split me wide open, made me fidget in my seat, baffled me, at times angered me, sent me off in directions i never could have expected, and ultimately brought me a near-Archimedian feeling of joy -- that of a bleary-eyed "survivor".

Like them, you are a teacher in the truest sense of the word -- one who guides not by offering answers, but by encouraging and equipping others to find them within themselves.

Like them, you have a gift, an itch, and fuck all if you don't look that bug in the face and grapple with it and hold it up to the light for all to see!

Kind regards and much respect to you, Ray,

Jason (Austin, TX)

RC Replies:

Thanks, Jason. Thanks for the thanks. My values are in the minority in my department and my university (and in the world!), so I can use all the praise you can bestow! Heap it on! Keep those cards and letters coming! Just kidding.

Try to do something creative, say something different or controversial, speak the truth to power at least once a day, and if possible at least once in every conversation. The world will hate it, but it needs it. It's the only way that change will ever stand a chance of happening. If enough people, one by one, conversation after conversation, keep shaking the tree. As the world now stands, the corporations control all of the discourse. The world needs more non-corporate voices.


Subject: Hi Ray, do you ever make it to Chicago?


I am a filmmaker who lives in chicago and was wondering if you ever come to these parts. I enjoy your ideas, and think filmmakers would benefit from your perspective.  I used to be on the IFP board here and know they bring speakers in on occasion. 

Your "Independent Vision: An Open Letter" in particular applies to art on many levels.  I have a son who wants to be an architect--I read segments to him.  I have a theater and actor training program, and I find things appropriate to their process, and certainly mine.

Thanks for the inspiration,

John Mossman

RC Replies:

Subjects: kites and kittens and clouds

Hi John, thanks for the kind words. Haven't been to the windy city in years, heck, decades. But I'd come in a flash if someone would invite me and give me a hotel room and some time to hit the Art Institute and a few other local cultural hot spots. Let me know if anything is ever possible. Here's an idea or an enticement: I could show the first version of Shadows and talk about Cassavetes' revisionary process.

Stay well and keep your eyes on pole star: not fame, not money, not media attention, but leaving a unique personal mark behind before you go. It doesn't matter what it is. It can be anything from a barbaric yawp to a catnip dance to a transcendental vision of grace. All that matters is that it breaks free from the corporate/institutional modes of group-speech and non-thinking that otherwise fill the airwaves and hog the column inches.


Professor C,

Not to sound like Batman's Robin, but HOLY COW! I just saw the posting on page 60. When will the film itself actually be posted? I can't wait. JUMPING JOLLY ROGER! HEE HAW! YIKES! WOWSER! YAHOO!

Your student at a distance,

Albert Romero (a frequent reader of the site in Brazil)

RC replies: I take it you are referring to my posting of video clips from the first version of Shadows. The answer is: Very shortly. In a few days. But, for anyone interested in the story of the discovery and status of the print, who does not already know it, the other links about the film are already active.

Edited excerpts from a recent email exchange between Ray Carney and Mike Akel, the writer-director of the great (and hilarious) Chalk, with any luck soon to open in a city near you:

Mike Akel:

Hey Ray,

..... Not sure if you knew or not but CHALK is being released in 8 cities nationwide starting in LA May 11th. We are being distributed theatrically by Morgan Spurlock who made "SuperSize Me" and the TV show "30 days." We will be his first theatrical release under the label of "Morgan Spurlock Presents".  He is partnering with Hart Sharp Video for the DVD distribution so we are very pleased with our deal.

Boston will be in our second phase of cities if we perform well the opening couple of weeks.  I'll keep you posted.

Also, what new books / essays / articles do you have out right now? I've read and reread all of your essay/articles on your website and would love to get my hands on some of you new material.

Hope all is well in professor land.

cheers,  mike

Ray Carney:

Subject: Morgan Spurlock presents

..... Congrats! Chalk is a great film! Glad to hear about the release. Hope it works out. But I despair of the intelligence of audiences, if many of my students are a fair indication. So many of them actually prefer the mainstream experience.

Got a laugh from your (or rather his!): "Morgan Spurlock presents." What a crock. Is everything celebrity endorsement bullshit? Guess that question answers itself.

Do you know Sam Seder? His Who's the Caboose, for example? A great movie. And similar to what you have done. You should meet him and talk. A good guy in the same boat rowing in the same direction.

About my writing: As I say a thousand times on the site, the site is just about a hundredth of my work. So many books published and unpublished. And lectures and class presentations. In a few weeks I'm sure "Morgan Spurlock will present" them all. Then I'll be a made man.

Don't misinterpret my sarcasm. It's not about you or Morgan Spurlock. It's about America. A much bigger and more serious problem, alas.



Mike Akel:

Subject: "Ray Carney presents"

Well said... and well received.

What a delimma we live in as artists. I was talking with some friends the other day about the world having "heroes" vs "celebrities." ie:  (Nelson Mandela vs. Paris Hilton)

i'm curious what you think about Bono of U2. who is, i believe an artist / activist / and yes a huge "celebrity." he seems to be someone who uses the "currency" of celebrity to do good things.  sad but true... that celebrity status has to often pave the way before people will listen.  what are we to do? 

what drives me crazy is that all of Hollywood seems to VALUE the "celebrity actor" being in the film at the expense of a good story. I'm sure you have some thoughts on the matter.

Also, I'm not familiar with Sam Seder.  Would love to meet him  and/or know his work.

lots a lovin,


Ray Carney:

Subject: all the news that's fit to print

Bono IS different. Even before 1997. Look at how he fought TicketMaster (or whatever the hell it is called) over their monopolistic raking off of absurd commissions for ticket sales to concerts and events.

Funny you should mention him. Bono is actually connected with something bigger than most people realize. [details about Bono's project that were in the original reply are omitted ] As is Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. (And see page 8 of the Mailbag to read the names of some of the others involved in the same project.) Bono is the real deal. Of course, he's not American, though. That figures, n'est-ce pas, in a world where even the turn against the war in Iraq, the turn against it, mind you, is just another fashion statement not one iota different from the patriotic rallying in favor of it four years ago. Same thing identically. No one can stand outside the fashion system. Or damn few. It's all fashion, on both sides of the aisle, pro and con. I tell some of my students (only the good ones, the ones who can really benefit from finding it out, and can maybe do something about it) that they are already deeply embedded in the style system, and I'm not talking about their stone-washed jeans and uncombed hair. It's their minds and hearts I mean. They are the subject of the really dangerous, really scary, really profound cultural programming process. It's their emotions and ideas that the culture is out to control, to make places of unfreedom, of slavish stylistic servitude. And that the culture is winning, has already won, has already succeeded in getting control of. I know some of them don't believe me, and none of them wants to hear the bad news about how the system is already inside them, deep inside them like a virus, a sickness that they can't see because it has insinuated itself into their emotional and mental DNA already, even now--but I can't help telling them the truth.

...... Any recommendations for "under the radar" films from the past three or four years? Things that most people haven't heard about? Directors who need to be discovered? Who need a little boost? I want to try to help them.

Tell the truth to power as often as you can,


P.S. Only kidding with the graphic. Wish that was really me.

P.P.S. I just remembered something else about Bono. He has a new book out. I think the title is something like On the Move. It's pretty basic, pretty short, pretty bare bones. Just the transcription of a lecture he gave a few years back. But it's terrific. Here's a question: Why is it so revolutionary, so astonishing, so amazing when someone just utters commonsense truth? We've gotten so far away from that nowadays that it seems like genius or radicalism, but it's just good old plain commonsense. That's what Bono's book is. Revolutionary commonsense. If more people dared to think (and speak) such plain commonsense, the world would be a heck of a lot better place.

Mike Akel:

Good thoughts on Bono.  I happen to agree with you that he is the real deal.  His life inspires me to "live in the tension" of a messed up world without judging it... which is so easy to do as a "passive spectator" of life.

my artist friends and i here in austin are walking out the question... "whom am i loving with my art". this is a b-iatch to put into practice... but onward we row. let's stay in touch,

cheers,  mike

Ray Carney:

Subject: truth or beauty? knowledge or emotion?


If you'll allow me. A brief afterthought on your (and your friends') commitment to art as love: Yes and no. Yes, love is necessary. Yes, the greatest art loves its characters, even the flawed fallible characters. Shakespeare loves old Lear, loves callow cruel Hamlet, loves scenery-chewing Cleopatra, and loves even flat-minded, unimaginative, actions-speak-louder-than-words Othello. Love is necessary. Altman's, Todd Solondz's, and Neil LaBute's work is fatally stunted by their emotional penury, their tight-assed, closed-minded, judgmental lack of love. Their fear of love. Their need to feel superior to their characters.So, yes, love is necessary. Absolutely. But it is necessary not as an end in itself, but because it allows the artist to take another even more important step. The step to deep inward knowledge and understanding. As Henry James once put it: Thackery doesn't love Becky Sharp because he knows her, he knows her because he loves her. Knowledge is the ultimate goal. That's the move virtually no mainstream work ever makes, no matter how much it loves its characters. It's the move great art has to make. We have to learn something, something completely new, something revolutionary, something unexpected--something often shocking or bewildering in its unexpectedness. Great art is ultimately not about beauty but truth, not about emotion but knowledge. Or to put it more precisely, the emotion of great art comes from the shock of the knowledge revealed, the discoveries made, the new ways of knowing opened up. When I leave Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice, Kiarostami's Taste of Cherries, Cassavetes' Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Rappaport's Scenic Route, Burnett's Killer of Sheep, or Noonan's What Happened Was, I leave knowing and understanding things I never even guessed I didn't know, or realized I needed to know about, before I saw the films. I learn things about life.

Sorry, sorry, sorry. Forgive me the lecture! End of sermon. Ite missa est. Consummatum est. But I felt like I had to write that out to help me understand it. And your comment got me started. Thanks for that.

All warmest wishes,


P.S. But when it comes to your (or Bono's) "living in the tension"--about that I have nothing to add. That's about the best definition of great art I ever heard in four words or less.

"Much have I traveled in the realms of gold.... but never breathed this air serene" category: I dashed off the following note tonight to So Yong Kim and Bradley Rust Gray, the co-creators of the amazing In Between Days:

Dear So and Brad,

You can call me late for supper, or behind the times, or anything you want ... but only tonight I saw your movie for the first time, and was deeply moved by it, and, just as deeply, moved to tell you how amazing I think it is.

Thank you for creating such a great, sensitive, restrained work of art. As used to be said about George Balanchine's ballet choreography, you manage to get so much from so little. No fancy dancing. No flash. No virtuosity. No rhetoric. No inflation. No cleverness or cuteness (thank God for that, above all). Just truth twenty-four times a second.

It's especially wonderful to see a woman's point-of-view represented so deeply and sensitively in a film. It may not be politically correct to say it, but how unique and special that view of life is. How different from a man's view. How different your film is from that of a male filmmaker. And how few films capture it, even in the group of low-budget, fringe, independent films.

And, then, I was so affected by the courage of the ending. Not to resolve, not to hold out false hope (beyond a glance or a look), not to clarify. I held my breath, I was afraid for your movie when I realized that the final scene was coming up. I was afraid that the tension would abate, that you might go for a sentimental way out of the confusion and sadness. Thank you for not taking the easy way out.

You open a whole world to view. And, as you create it, you stand back and don't point-make or editorialize or judge, so, as you create it, it stays complex and unresolved and multivalent--like life. Like all of the greatest art.

Thank you very much. I am in your debt.

Ray Carney

A note from Ray Carney: I recently received a letter in the mail from someone who has been a film student at a major university. He included a copy of an essay he had written eight years ago as a film student, attacking my treatment of John Cassavetes’ Faces in the book on Cassavetes I published with Cambridge University Press in 1994. (The book is my The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies, available by clicking on the "Bookstore" blue ticket icon on the left menu or the "Bookstore" link in the top menu of this page.) He tore the book limb from limb. He eviscerated my stupidity. He ridiculed me for not dealing with the work of Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, Tanya Modleski, Laura Mulvey, and Jacques Derrida, and for not subjecting Cassavetes to their critiques. He told me he had received the highest evaluation he had ever received on the paper, and been told it was the best work he had ever done. He asked me what I thought of it. I was momentarily left a bit speechless, I have to admit, but I dashed off the following response. I share it with my readers, in case it’s of even remote interest. –– R.C.

March 6, 2007

Mike –

Thanks for the essay. You want my reaction? O.K. Put down your negativity. Forget about what I wrote 15 years ago! Forget about all those stupid theories – feminism, Lacanianism, and all the other bumper-sticker short-cuts for thought that students -- and the professors who teach them -- use to avoid dealing with the complexities of experience.

Study the art – in this case, Faces. Don’t let the ideas get between you and the experience. Your ideas are blocking your view – and even my writing (in your understanding of it, at least) is apparently doing that too. Toss it all out. Toss out the theorists. Toss out your old thinking and writing. Toss out my books. Live in the present. See only what is in front of you. Celebrate, investigate, study the art. I feel bad that your teachers have put so many intellectual obstacles around you and apparently put them around all of their other students too. They did you a disservice without realizing it. Break free! Theories of anything are reductive, simplistic dead-ends. Study the art, the art, the art. The artists, Cassavetes in this case, are so much smarter – and freer – than the critics and theorists!!

Good luck,

Ray Carney

P.S. Humility is crucial. I tell that to my own students. Put your ego aside. Put your pet theories aside. Put everything you’ve been taught in other courses aside.Humble yourself in front of the great works of art. You can judge Hollywood but must humble yourself in front of art, or you’ll get nowhere.

P.P.S. And break free of the past. My past and your past. Forget what you wrote and thought eight years ago. Forget what I wrote in a book twice that number of years ago. Think and do something new and creative today and tomorrow!! That’s what great artists always do. Picasso ate up his own styles and spit them out. Mozart kept re-inventing himself every year or two. Freud swerved away from his past theories. As a critic, a viewer, a lover, you must do the same thing. As Emerson put it: “The way of life [i.e. not of death, not of stasis, but of living, flowing responsiveness] is wonderful. It is by abandonment.” Abandon your past emotions, renounce your old positions, give away your old ideas, and move ever onward, onward, onward.

A note from someone who was a student of mine a decade or more ago and whom I haven't seen in person since then. He is now an important artist and teacher:

From: Hisham M. Bizri

I love your site/sight and have been reading it since the day before yesterday, nonstop at times. Very funny and very sad. I wish you could see my films. They will make you happy and proud.

with much love and admiration.


RC replies:

Thanks, Hisham, for the kind -- and cheering -- words! And the pun. Much appreciated. No idea what particular pages you've read, but I was just posting some new material at the end of the Mailbag when I received your note. Good of you to write it.

We're all in this together -- critics, scholars, and artists, I mean -- but the site's best and most responsive readers are always artists. I take heart from that. It's a good sign. The artists are the bravest ones, the vanguard in the lead furthest out ahead of the pack, mapping the brave new world we live in and are moving forward into. (Scholars and professors, unfortunately, tend to be trapped in the past. Their eyes are in the backs of their heads.)

I would love to see some of your films someday.




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© Text Copyright 2007 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.