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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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A note from Ray Carney: I continue to invite readers to weigh in on the function of art. See the questions and comments on the bottom of page 73 (accessible via the blue page number menus at the top and bottom of this page). To stimulate discussion, here is another quote from Mark Edmundson. Change "book" to "film," and his point remains the same. Are these the kinds of films that are shown in university film courses? Is this the way film is discussed? Is this the way film is written about by film critics? Is this the way it is treated by reviewers? Why and why not? Can film (and other art) be treated as if it mattered, as if it were a matter of life and death? -- R.C.


"The test of a book lies in its power to map or transform a life. The question we would ultimately ask of any work of art is this: Can you live it? If you cannot, it may still command considerable interest. The work may charm, it may divert. It may teach us something about the larger world; it may refine a point. But if it cannot help some of us to imagine a life, or unfold one already latent within, then it is not major work, and probably not worth the time of students who, at this period in their lives, are looking to respond to consequential and very pressing questions. They are on the verge of choosing careers, of marrying, of entering the public world. They are in dire need of maps, or of challenges to their existing cartography. Perhaps most of all, they seek ways to unfold their promise, to achieve the highest form of being they can. Works of art matter to the degree that they can help people do this. Books should be called major and become canonical when over time they provide existing individuals with live options that will help them change for the better. A democratic humanism can have no other standard for greatness."

A note from Ray Carney: Here is another response to the posting at the bottom of page 73 from a site reader:

Read this from Calvin and Hobbes. May not be great art, but it sure helps me at times:

(Calvin, the six-year-old boy, and his "imaginary" tiger, Hobbes, make clay sculptures on the floor.)

Calvin: Fine art is dead, Hobbes. Nobody understands it. Nobody likes it. Nobody sees it. It's irrelevant in today's culture. If you want to influence people, POPULAR art is the way to go. Mass-market commercial art is the future. Besides, it's the only way to make serious money and that's what's important about being an artist.

Hobbes: So what kind of sculpture are you making?

Calvin: Please! It's not "sculpture", it's "collectible figurines!" See, the problem with fine art is that it's supposed to express original truths. But who likes originality and truth?! Nobody! Life's hard enough without it! Only an idiot would PAY for it! But POPULAR art knows the customer is always right! People want MORE of what they already KNOW they like, so popular art gives it to 'em!

Hobbes: And how are the movie sequels this summer?

Calvin: Great! Man, there's nothing I hate more than paying five bucks and having to deal with some new plot.

Ok, two more:

(Calvin and Hobbes ride in a wagon.)

Calvin: It's true, Hobbes, ignorance IS bliss! Once you know things, you start seeing problems everywhere...and once you see problems, you feel like you ought to try to fix them...and fixing problems always seems to require personal change...and change means doing things that aren't fun! I say phooey to that! But if you're willfully stupid, you don't know any better, so you can keep doing whatever you like! The secret to happiness is short-term, stupid, self-interest!

Hobbes: We're heading for that cliff!

Calvin: (Covers eyes) I don't want to know about it.

(They fly off the cliff and smash into the ground.)

Hobbes: I'm not sure I can stand so much bliss.

Calvin: Careful! We don't want to learn anything from this.

One last one:

(Calvin and Hobbes walk through the woods behind their house.)

Calvin: Most people just muddle through their lives! They're passive and unmotivated! They lack ambition and drive! Not ME, though! I'm going to have an EPIC life! I'm going to wrestle the issues of the age and change the course of history!

Hobbes: How are you going to do that?

Calvin: I'm going to sit here and wait, so opportunity will know right where to find me when it's time to change the world.

Hobbes: I wish I'd brought a book to read.

Calvin: Nahh, it'll be any minute now.

- Reagan

Subject: The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie

Hi Ray

I don't know if you remember me, I'm the film student from Ireland that got in touch with you last Christmas about "A Constant Forge". I'm contacting you on yet another Cassavetes related matter! I just watched the 1978 re-release of Chinese Bookie and I found the experience very interesting. I have to admit that although I love it now, the first time I watched the original version I was frustrated by it even baffled. For one thing, it seemed like the film kept stalling every time the plot picked up any momentum. Also, it was as if the camera was oblivious to the action that was taking place. Like the scene at the start, where you can hear Al Ruban's voice but you can't see who's speaking.

Anyway, when I watched the re-release version it was as if Cassavetes had made a conscious effort to change all these things and I was wondering what he was up to. I know he was hoping to follow up the success of Woman Under The Influence with this film and was disappointed when it failed. In Cassavetes On Cassavetes there isn't much said about this re-edited version but did Cassavetes ever say anything to you about trying to come back from the film's box office disappointment? Or do you have an opinion on this yourself?

All the best,

Sean Plunkett

RC replies:


Great email. Excellent points. Thanks for the thoughts. Very interesting and suggestive. I have extensive discussions of the multiple versions of Shadows, Faces, Woman Under the Influence, and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, as well as discussions of the revision history of the scripts associated with those films and others (Husbands and Love Streams, in particular) in a forthcoming book. There is much to say about this revision history, and it is extremely revealing. In some respects, Cassavetes' alterations of these scripts and edits tell us more than the final films about his intentions and meanings. However, I can't summarize it here. Please revisit the site and I will announce the appearance of the new book there.

All best wishes,


subject: please help!

hello mr. carney! i am a big fan of your cassavetes work and thought that you might be able to help me with a question that i have.

i love the song playing in the home movie style sequence at the end of minnie and moskowitz, but can't seem to find out what it is. do you know?

thank you for your time,


Subject: urgent money-making deal


I almost missed your email. Never write to me with that kind of subject line!!! I thought it was a Nigerian plane crash widow with a ten million dollar money-making deal!!!!!!!!!!!

Bo Harwood wrote and performed that music. He was a rock-band musician who worked with Cassavetes on several films. (E.g. Woman under the Influence has a similar concluding piece by him.) The music was done especially for the film and was never released or distributed otherwise. It is not available except in the film.

Tell me something about yourself: who you are, what your dreams are. I'm always interested--in dreams, hopes, and visions, especially -- much more interesting than facts and events.


Subject: *not a scam* For Mr. Ray Carney


Sorry about that headline!  I wondered what you could have possibly replied when I saw your headline in my inbox. Thank you so very much for your swift reply.  I am really disappointed that the song was never released! Initially I thought that the artist may have been Donovan, or someone equally psychedelic.

My dream is to act in brilliant films, to meet an exciting director and have a collaboration or eventually direct myself. I have been doing student films and to find a like minded director who actually places any emphasis on acting is quite a difficult task.  I may have to try and take matters into my own hands.  Until then I am studying art history and philosophy, and loving every minute of it.  I see myself living in Paris, working as a curator in a small gallery, and spending all of my money on the films I want to make!

Cassavetes on Cassavetes changed everything for me, thanks.


Subject: Taking your life in your hands


Good luck. And sooner or later, when the time is right, "take matters into your own hands." It's the only way to change the world. You can't wait around for someone else to start, someone you can just tag along with. Life is about doing. And doing now! Risk everything every time. It's the only way to go.



A note from Ray Carney: The following reader of the site wrote to me with a pricing question about shipping materials to Canada. I answered his question and invited him to tell me more about himself. He replied:

Dear Mr. Carney,

I was (and I guess still am) an actor in the Vancouver area.  But I've been disappointed in the roles that are being offered in the area as they tend to gear towards the MTV crowd.  Although I'm still young (21 years old), those types of roles have no interest to me personally.

In my early teens, I lived near a video store and rented one movie per day.  That's how I discovered Truffaut, Godard, Ozu...the Criterion Collection, basically, and discovered what film could be.  I moved to Vancouver and enrolled in an acting class, thinking that I wanted to be an actor.  But after auditioning for roles that didn't feel true to life, I kind of got fed up.  I then realized that what I wanted to be was a writer and director, and what I wanted to focus on was human emotion.  And this led me to discovering John Cassavetes.  Although I saw some of his films when I was younger, I was at an age where I didn't exactly realize what was happening.  And it shocks me how he is virtually unknown to most of the actors I talk to.  When I mention him, people say, "Oh, I think I've heard of him.  He's in...that movie...with the baby...Rosemary's Baby, that's the one."  I have since tried to collect as many articles or videos related to Cassavetes as I can.  So to answer your question, I'm a filmmaker still in his early stages.

That brings me to another question.  For documentaries and interviews of Cassavetes that are not commercially available, I have "The Making of Husbands", "I'm Almost Not Crazy", and "To Risk Everything Is To Have All".  I have read that he did an appearance on "The Dick Cavett Show" and I'm sure there are radio interviews and television interviews scattered around with Cassavetes talking film.  Have you collected these and if so, are there any plans to release them?

Thank you,

Ronaldo Acuna

Ray Carney replies:


The Cass. materials you are asking about are not mine to release. And you don't know the half of it--there is MUCH MORE material than the stuff you name. Some AMAZING material that would make your jaw drop. Work directed by John. Writing by him. Documentary footage of him. The works! I possess copies of all of this material (some given to me by John himself), but Gena Rowlands and Al Ruban would be the only ones able to allow its release to the public. They would be sure to call in all the hounds of hell, I mean the lawyers, against me if I started distributing it, just as they already have with the first version of Shadows. They clearly have no interest in releasing any of it. I have written Gena pleading, begging, groveling letters asking her to do this, but she has done nothing, absolutely nothing, about releasing or facilitating the release of this material for fifteen years, and there is no reason to expect anything to change in the future. My only conclusion is that she probably doesn't feel there is enough money in it. That seems to be her sole motivation, as far as I can tell. The films are her cash cows. They have made millions for her (while John lost millions making them.) I don't expect that priority to change. That's pretty obviously Rowlands's and Ruban's view of things.

hey professor,

i'm a big fan of your site, writing, and taste.  as a little homage, i have started a 'customer list' on netflix called "ray carney championed films."  i'm not sure if you use netflix, but essentially every subscriber can create various lists concerning their fancy:  "grindhouse favorites," "tall t's favorite TV treats," whatever.  whenever a film is on one of these lists, the list is accessible (by turns) on the film's page, and other customers can view it; sort of "if you like this, try this" recommendations.  my list contains the films below (keep in mind i could only choose available films--but 133 isn't bad!).  i had to make a couple educated substitutions here and there just to get in certain directors, but if you object to anything, please let me know & i will happily remove it (likewise if you note an absence).  i'll try to keep it updated.  hopefully this'll aid an eager snooper here & there.

thanks very much for all you do. 

be free,

alfred c.  

 The Killing of a Chinese Bookie 
 Mikey and Nicky 
 Opening Night 
 A Woman Under the Influence 
 The Puffy Chair 
 The Heartbreak Kid 
 Funny Ha Ha 
 Mutual Appreciation 
 What Happened Was... 
 The Bed You Sleep In 
 I Am a Sex Addict 
 Taste of Cherry 
 Mystery Train 
 Stranger than Paradise 
 Down by Law 
 Julien Donkey-Boy 
 Signal 7 
 Heat and Sunlight 
 The Indian Runner 
 Early Summer 
 Floating Weeds 
 Late Spring 
 Tokyo Story 
 Yasujiro Ozu's Good Morning 
 Au Hasard Balthazar 
 A Man Escaped 
 Killer of Sheep 
 To Sleep With Anger 
 Scum (Theatrical Version) 
 Umberto D. 
 The Bicycle Thief 
 The Connection 
 Buffalo '66 
 Abigail's Party 
 All or Nothing 
 Bleak Moments 
 Four Days in July 
 Grown Ups 
 Hard Labour 
 Home Sweet Home 
 Kiss of Death 
 Nuts in May 
 Secrets & Lies 
 Vera Drake 
 Who's Who 
 In a Year with 13 Moons 
 BRD Trilogy: Marriage of Maria Braun 
 Rock Hudson's Home Movies 
 Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender 
 Road Movie 
 Vampire's Kiss 
 It Happened One Night 
 It's a Wonderful Life 
 Lost Horizon 
 Meet John Doe 
 Mr. Deeds Goes to Town 
 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 
 Top Hat 
 Swing Time 
 The Passion of Joan of Arc 
 The Word 
 Flesh (Andy Warhol) 
 Grand Illusion 
 The Rules of the Game 
 The Celebration 
 The Sacrifice / Andrei Tarkovsky
 Boccaccio '70 (2-Disc Series) 
 Death in Venice 
 The Damned 
 La Terra Trema 
 Le Notti Bianche 
 The Leopard (Original Italian Version)  
 Rocco & His Brothers 
 Breaking the Waves 
 Dancer in the Dark 
 Edvard Munch 
 Punishment Park 
 The War Game / Culloden 
 La Commune (Paris, 1871) 
 Mother & Son 
 Raining Stones 
 Short #2: Dreams 
 The General (Silent)  
 Go West 
 Steamboat Bill, Jr. 
 All the Vermeers in New York 
 Coming Apart 
 The Little Fugitive 
 Diary of a Country Priest 
 Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne 
 The Order: From Cremaster 3 
 My Brilliant Career 
 Landscapes in the Mist 
 Gas Food Lodging 
 Tomorrow We Move 
 A Couch in New York 
 La Captive 
 The Homecoming 
 A Midsummer Night's Dream 
 Lancelot of the Lake 
 Savage Eye: Interviews with My Lai Vets 
 Father and Son 
 Moscow Elegy 
 Russian Ark 
 The Second Circle 
 Spiritual Voices (2-Disc Series) 
 Un Coeur en Hiver

Subject: Carney on de Tocqueville


Thanks for the good words. And the list. There are a few titles here and there I don't know or am not an aficionado of (and too bad Mark Rappaport is so sparsely represented, but indeed that is all that is currently available by him), but all in all, it's a pretty awesome list. What would a film department look like where the students studied these films and a hundred other similar ones, instead of the films of Hitchcock and Spielberg and Lynch and Tanantino and the Coen brothers and their ilk? It sure wouldn't look like any film department in America. Imagine an Englishdepartment where the students read murder mysteries and thrillers and Tom Clancy and Stephen King potboilers instead of Wordsworth and Milton and Chaucer. Imagine an Art department where students looked at the work of Salvador Dali and his half-brother Norman Rockwell instead of Rembrandt and Velasquez and Titian. Imagine a drama department where the students looked at Seinfeld and The Sopranos instead of Chekhov and Williams and O'Neill and Moliere. Imagine a culinary institute that taught how to cook fast food and a hotel management school that focused on how to run a Holiday Inn. Well, that's the equivalent of what our film departments and film professors are doing. It's fast food for the mind. And if you think of what it does to the body, just try to imagine what it does to the brain -- and the soul. Long live pop-culture study! Long live cultural studies! Long live television studies! Long live semester-length courses at UCLA and USC on Spielberg and Stone and Lynch! (And hell is not elsewhere: In the interests of full-disclosure, I have to say that my own department of film and television at Boston U. has been running as fast as it can in this same direction for the past few years, under the leadership of a new administration.) Keep defending quality and excellence. The tide of averageness is rising everywhere. Let's at least build the dykes around art to hold back the fatal flood.

Yours apocalyptically,



what films did i get wrong?  jeez!  i'd hate to have something on there that you don't fully endorse.  let me know what to remove, if you are inclined... 

i've always found art (other than lit) much safer outside of academia!  outside of a few sturdy warriors at this or that institution (like yourself), the worthiness of entire departments would be lost.  I went to college, but film & music exist for me wholly outside of that scene.  i'm pretty sure i keep up a film-watching schedule that would rival any film student (as i like to say:  a fine feature a day keeps whitey at bay).  but i don't do it for any reason other than astaire's fingers, bette's eyes, cassell's hotdogs, and spall's cab rides.  it just makes my heart beat.

be free,

alfred chamberlain

A note from Ray Carney: This just in from major indie filmmaker Jon Jost about his current status and situation and the difficulty of "making it" commercially or critically in contemporary America.

May 29  2007, Lincoln NE.

Hi The living room is filled with the scatter of packing up (late stages - most the chaos has crawled into boxes, feigning order).  Outside a late spring shower adds to the vivid greening of Nebraska.  We're a bit wasted from a long sequence of travels and work, with much more just around the corner.  A little re-cap:

We've been in Lincoln since last autumn, sometime in October, as "artist-in-residence, vaguely connected to university.  Busied here with some self-chosen things - once a week at a few high-schools (stopped one when the situation proved hopeless) teaching teenaged kids.  Then 4 times we went out to the Sandhills, up on the South Dakota border, about 250 miles west of here  -   it's a sparsely populated grassland with ranches, few towns, and in a huge space a whole 6000 people.  We went to pass along some know-how in digital media to the teachers and kids of the 12 one-room school houses sprinkled through this area - which meant a lot of driving for little 2 hour pit stops before heading on to the next.  Taught what we could and at end they had a little screening in Valentine, the area's biggest burg (2000 or so).  It's beautiful there, in a particular way with the thin grasses, rolling hills clusters of trees, occasional house or tiny town.  And the cowboy ethos remains real: guns, pickups, friendliness, and real good steak.  We both had a great time, with Marcella fully participating, good with teaching the kids editing and all.   The last time we went up - about 3 weeks ago - we went on a smaller road across the northern top of the State, from where the Niobrara and Missouri rivers meet - gorgeous hilly terrain, small towns nestled in the valleys harking back 50 years.  Of course most of small town Nebraska is being abandoned - of the State's 1.5 million souls, over a million live in Omaha and Lincoln.

Here in Lincoln we were kept busy with shooting a new film, with some local people - Marjorie a painter of geometrical kind, with lovely pastel colors, and her husband Mark, a teacher of bio-chemistry at UNL.  And Bill Wehrbein, who teaches basic physics at Wesleyan and sings in a choir.  We shot them in the context of some vaguely thought out essay something film which will be called SWIMMING IN NEBRASKA, and won't be finished for some time as it'll involve a lot of computer work in post.  But a look with an audience a week ago, of a very rough cut, suggests a very beautiful and intriguing film.

And the last 2 weeks we shot another, with actors brought in.  I had a very very vague idea in mind, and willfully refused to think further about it.  So we really started off from about zilch.  We went down to visit a friend in Stanberry MO, the upper NW corner of the state, and shot a few scenes there.  I was at the time ready to call it off.  Then we got kicked in, got a few good sequences, drove up to Lincoln to gather in 2 other actors, and went out to a friend's farm 25 miles out of Lincoln.  John is someone who stayed a summer on my Montana squat in 1974 we think it was.  He was a jockey at the time, and came with some other friends, horse-trainers.  Bumped back into John thanks to serendipity of Tom's visit to Omaha, and me in an article in the paper.  They contacted me, and we visited farm, asked OK to use, and ...  So we spent 4 days shooting the weirdest stuff out there, and a finale.  Looks to run 80 minutes or more, no real story, but instead a whiplash ride for the spectator from serious to farce to near porn and back and forth not a few times.  I think it will work, but for the moment it goes into a box and we'll take another look in September once we settle down, wherever that may turn out to be.

Meantime we had a trip 6 or so weeks ago - Denver for screenings (went very well, and Denver is a nice town); then on to LA where took Marcella on a too fast jaunt through it, So Cal down to Del Mar, desert, all in a few days, then back to city for screenings at UCLA, USC and Cal Arts.  Stayed with nephew Brad one night (where humorously Brad the nephew got to meet his aunt Marcella, 9 years his junior).  Nice time with them if all too rushed.  After that it was back to Lincoln and very shortly after to Sandhills.  So we've been on the run for 2 + months.

And the coming ones look to be the same:  in a few days we drive to Portland Or., unfortunately a bit faster than we'd like (6 or 7 days instead of 14).  I get a few days before flying on to Seoul for a week while Marcella visits friends and runs up to Seattle for some days.  Job interview for me at Yonsei University - their oldest and biggest and I am told best.  I'm told its in the bag, but one never knows.  If it pans out it's a 2 year contract, 6 hours teaching a week, with their academic schedule running Sept 1 to Dec 20 or so, then picking back up at end of Feb to end of June.   My load looks minimal, and thanks to lingo and foreigner status, I think I will be exempt from internal departmental politics.   We've visited Seoul a few times and like it, so if it works out it should be fun.

But, after job interview it'll be off to NYC for a week to shoot some more on RANT, Steve Lack doc which is almost done, edited by Marcella, likely to come in around 90 mins.  We've sent it off to some fests and hopefully it will get in one or more.  And I am sending out OVER HERE, shot April a year ago, but only really finished up in February this year.  It is very powerful, addresses Iraq war vet situation (poetically), and I suspect like HOMECOMING will have a hard time getting in US fests.   Of which, I have concluded that I've become a Soviet-style "non-person" out in the official world, that little one I occupy.   It's a mix of "styles have changed" which in my sector means things are a hell of a lot more commercially minded basically, and where I once might have made quite similar films, and found an distributor in the US, however small, or a TV sale, or some sure TV sales in Europe, today the simple fact of the matter is the is no market whatsoever for what I do.  At least in the sense that used to exist 15 years or so ago.  And with that vanished "market" and miniscule visibility so it seems that the festivals (in many cases run by the same people as yore) have no use for my work.  [Though I suspect there is more to it than that - I suspect that the festivals having corporate sponsors and all now toe the ideological line a bit, and as all of my recent films have openly called for the impeachment and trial of Bush/Cheney for violations of the US Constitution, laws, and war crimes, I think the programmers have found reason to say my stuff is too slow," or whatever their particular problem is (though I know they show films far slower, etc., just that those lack this political something….).  Anyway the bottom line is I'm a kind of non-person culturally speaking, and economically I'm deleted.  Which sounds rather awful, but in a way it is very liberating - I no longer give a millisecond of thought to accommodating myself to some would-be market and its demands.  I can just do whatever I damned please and I will earn the same nada, no matter what.  And I can skip wasting my time tracking in any manner the biz of the biz.

Meantime the little "market" that does exist seems to be in DVD sales, which I get in little bits, why and how I don't really know or understand.  One of them is a periodic request for LAST CHANTS FOR A SLOW DANCE, generated it seems by its listing in a book called 1001 FILMS YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE.   Others, including juicy university library sales, wander in once in a while.  If Korea is next, Marcella and I will make a genuine effort to make the website more utilitarian, and we'll stabilize our DVD writing, etc. situation.  I imagine we could make a modest little living annually from sales of them.  Maybe!

After NYC we go to Amsterdam 2 weeks to try to salvage some older films and get them on HD, and as well help a Syrian friend wrap up his film, an overview of the Arabic view of current and past things - I am doing the voice over, including writing some of it. And finally, after that, we go to Matera, Marcella's home town and supposedly take a month off while waiting to go, presumably, to Korea.  If though that doesn't pan out we'll be staying in Europe for a year or more.

Other recent adventures include a nasty case of identity theft, apparently routed via PayPal.  It has been a little nightmare to say the least, at one point minus $13,000, no small sum to us.  I can't say that either PayPal or BofA has a decent system for dealing with this at all.  In fact I can say they are really lame about it given that it apparently is a relatively common thing that they should have sussed out how to deal with customers in a more useful manner.

* * *

And now it's June 4, we're in Burns, OR., headed to the Cascades and then the coast for a quick visit before landing in Portland.  Car runs fine, seen some gorgeous countryside (a bit too fast), and already Lincoln seems a blur of another time.

Next time from Korea, or so it looks.


Jon and Marcella

Subject: punching through the pasteboard mask (Herman Melville)


Sorry to hear about the uphill battle. But you're right, alienation confers freedom. Every great patriot, every great thinker, every scientific genius has been reviled or ignored. That's the way it works. As Marshall McLuhan said: "New systems of knowledge do not look like revolutions and breakthroughs when they are first proposed. They look like chaos." And what's Clement Greenberg's apercu? Something like: "All profoundly original art looks ugly at first." Same thing, two different ways of saying it!

Keep making trouble. Taking a pick-axe to the fake truths, the fake heroes, the fake thoughts. God knows, the world needs more of it. And less of the other kind of trouble. Ad bellum purificandum. Thanks for the update. Bon chance and bon voyage!



From: Jan Philippe Carpio

Subject: Re: NOT coming to a theater near you

Dear  Professor Carney,

I've only been able to get a hold of a computer with internet access now and I have been also busy editing a film.  So this e-mail is to initially thank you for the notes you sent me regarding the "THE NEW WAVE" program that you are doing for Harvard.  (Go to page 63 of the Mailbag to read the announcement of the festival, and click here to read the films selected for the festival.)

Finally went through the list. ......Wonderful line up. Wonderful writing for separating each film into its own distinct and unique voice and making us aware of it without giving it away or reducing it in a synopsis. Wonderful respect for each of the artist's different vision of life.

On a personal note (even though I have yet to see the film) thank you for including David Ball's HONEY.  The manifesto he wrote for the film that you posted on the letters page several years ago (a note from Ray Carney: see page 2 of the Mailbag, accessible through the blue menu at the top and bottom of each page) was instrumental in helping me get started on this path of exploring through film.

Let me know as soon as the screening schedules et al are final and I'll help spread the word there for the people I know based in Boston or willing to make the trip there for this festival - a celebration in the truest sense of the word.

trying to stay true

with love,


Subject: the leveling influence of ideas


Re: "Wonderful respect for each of the artist's different vision of life."

Ah, thank you, JP! That's the ultimate compliment. And is, in fact, what's wrong with most university film courses taught at my school and elsewhere. The teacher has a one-size-fits-all toolkit: Looking for "symbols" in every film. Looking for "depictions of minorities or women" in every film. Looking for "the male gaze" in every film. Looking for "reflexivity" in every film. Looking for, looking for, looking for, looking for the same damn theoretical, political, sociological, intellectual, stylistic thing everywhere.

These critics, with their Procrustian theoretical tools, are no different from terrorists. Or the occupants of the White House. They see the same thing everywhere they look. They erase individuality, homogenize uniqueness, deny specialness. Thank you for the compliment!

In haste,


In response to a comment I made to a reader about the quality of the MacArthur "genius grant" fellowships, she wrote back in response:

By the way, your MacArthur comment reminds me of a brief Al Gore interview I read the other day.  He says our political system is stuck in the "spin" cycle, and that all our culture focuses on and cares about is "image."  Perhaps our fatal flaw is not only hubris but also narcissism.  I was thinking about that yesterday, and even looked up Ovid's Metamorphoses tale of Echo and Narcissus.  Americans have fallen in love with an artificial image of themselves presented to them by the miracle of advertising. Celebrity is part of that system, people think they live more exciting, "cool" lives by virtue of living vicariously through or "knowing" someone famous.  What amazing lengths people go to do block out their sad and lonely existences.  Yet Americans still think they are superior to everyone else, morally and any other way you care to look at.  They may end up falling face down into the pool and drowning, unable to embrace their own false image.

RC replies:

Very deep, very true, and very scary (your final metaphor is aptly chilling). Yes, we are the sons and daughters of Puritans. We do think of ourselves as the city on a hill. We do The Japanese edition of <i>American Dreaming</i>confuse our petty self-interest with moral virtue and rectitude. How sad--for the world and for us. My College (the Boston University College of Communication) has a department devoted to teaching advertising to undergrads and grad students majoring in the field. Does a single faculty member in that department ask these questions, probe these issues in class? My College has a department of Film and Television where students are taught the art of the pitch, the importance of turning themselves into salesmen and hucksters of their own work, even as they're taught to attempt to make it palatable and appealing. Does anyone in the Film Department talk about the dangers of doing this? The profound loss to the culture? The destruction of human values that results? You know the answer without being told. And when I, in my small way, even raise these things as issues, I am reprimanded or punished financially for expressing a different point of view. The system, at my College or in America more generally, does not tolerate debate and free discussion of these issues. The system does not want REAL DIFFERENCE. It wants only the APPEARANCE OF DIFFERENCE. The same McDonald's Chicken McNuggets with a slightly different sauce. And when the system encounters REAL difference, the system retaliates. I once thought of buying my Dean a copy of John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty,"  the central text on this subject. But I didn't -- because I realized he'd never read it. That's my definition of "narcissism." It's not staring at yourself in the mirror. It's refusing to open your mind to genuinely different points of view. For an idea of how film can deal with this issue, see the note I wrote about Ronald Bronstein's Frownland for the "under the radar" film festival. (Click here to go there.) Bronstein's film gives us the much-praised depiction of "difference" that all of the social workers and arts educators (particularly the ones who try to treat art as a form of affirmative action and social work) say they are in favor of, but he gives it to us in a way that most people (most students, most reviewers, and most professors) don't want and would, in fact, cross the street to avoid. In other words, he shows us what we really are like, when the idealizations are stripped away. He shows we don't really want "difference" -- that we can't really tolerate it.



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