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I mailed Damon Packard's SpaceDisco One to you last week. I hope you received it. Film Threat has just published a positive review on their website (not sure if Film Threat is one of your bete noires, but at least they ain't Leonard Maltin).
Damon is that rarity in today's consumer culture -- he's a dedicated artist who lives in abject poverty in order to make films his way. This is remarkable, not only in the U.S., but in L.A., a city where image is everything. Damon lives in a boarding house, in Eagle Rock. He just turned 40, and he's been making films for 25 years. Most folks would give up. Damon gladly plunges into the abyss.
I've been fortunate enough to become a patron of the arts -- specifically, Damon's art.
Well, I hope you find the time to look at Damon's film.
By the way, back in 1981, when I was at USC, they did a Cassavetes retrospective. You can imagine how well that went over.
Received the disk. For which thanks. I'm glad it doesn't come recommended by Leonard Maltin. I'd throw it in the trash. There are some reviewers (a local Boston one named Jay Carr, for example, and almost all T.V. reviewers) whose "two thumbs up enthusiastic recommendation" is all I need to know to avoid the movie forever!
By the way: I'd be curious to hear any memories of the 1981 USC Cassavetes screenings: Were the films poorly attended? Cat-called and booed? Walked out on? People muttering and complaining in their seats? Or what? Even the least snippet of a memory would help to document that moment in American cinematic appreciation. I list the above reactions since I was at the MoMA screenings in New York the year before and all of the above took place. Most of the films only half-full houses. Much derisive yelling at the screen. Much head-scratching and walking out before the end of the films. It's hard for people to imagine this nowadays. But that was the response from New York's (and the Museum of Modern Art's) best and brightest -- to Archie's puking in the men's room in Husbands, to Mabel's nervous breakdown in Woman under the Influence ("why won't that woman just shut up, her screaming is giving me a headache -- what a basket-case"), to all of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie ("what a confused, disorganized mess of a film"). No one talks about that now that Cassavetes has been officially canonized by the same people (sheep then and sheep now), but it's important for young filmmakers to hear it when their own work is treated this way in 2007. Tell me what you remember. Did any faculty teach his films in class? (I think I know the answer to that one.) What filmmakers were they big on at USC in those days, in courses I mean? Hitchcock? De Palma? Who else? Put your thinking cap on and see if you can remember.
A note from Ray Carney: Shortly after the preceding note about the University of Southern California film program was posted, another former USC student (who asked that his name not be used) offered to describe his experiences in the film department in the 1980s. I reprint his comments as a slice of cultural history from that period. -- R.C.
Subject: USC cinema - golden memories of the 80's
Oh boy, do I have some great USC stories. All I ask is that you don't use my name if you decide to print any of this in your letter section.
Let me start at the beginning. I applied to USC Cinema in 1980, and didn't get in (I think only 1 out of 100 applicants got in -- only 10 spaces available). I decided to attend USC anyway in the fall of 1980, without declaring a major. They allowed undergraduates to reapply right before junior year. A very elite program, one would gather.
I grew up in Reno, and made a bunch of Super 8 films. My primary influences were Kubrick, Scorsese and Altman. I did see Husbands when I was a senior in high school, and enjoyed it a great deal. I certainly was aware of Cassavetes. When I went to USC, I made a point of meeting film majors. I worked on a crew of a senior thesis film -- for a class entitled Cinema 480. Making a 480 was the holy grail of USC Cinema. Everyone was aspiring toward making a 480. After all, THX 1138 started as a 480. Robert Zemeckis's 480 got Spielberg's attention. Only six or seven 480's were made each semester. Only film majors could submit 480 scripts, which could be no longer than 20 to 25 pages.
So in my first week at USC, I volunteered to be a production assistant on a 480. They were willing to use non-film majors as crew members. Since I had a car, I was able to retrieve actors who lived 10 miles away from campus. I worked on the crew for a few weeks, and then grew bored. However, I did meet some film majors. By the end of my freshman year, I had met pretty much all the film majors.
As I worked on the crew of the 480, I noticed that the film didn't seem very interesting. This impression was strengthened when I saw some dailies. The film played like a sitcom. This was disappointing to me. I thought USC would be a place where aspiring film artists would experiment and push the envelope. Wrong. My initial impression was reinforced when they screened some of the greatest 480's a few weeks after I arrived at USC. I have to say, I was underwhelmed by most of the 480's. Lucas's THX short was pretty good. Most of the films were like standard issue studio fare. Zemeckis' 480 was as bad as his subsequent major studio output.
I had only been at USC for a month, and I felt in my gut that something had gone terribly wrong. I should have just dropped out. But I stayed there until I got my degree (I majored in English, although I took a lot of film classes -- and learned a lot of things I've since unlearned).
I imagined that USC would be this wonderful place filled with dedicated artists. I was disappointed to discover that no one had heard of Altman, Ashby or many other directors I admired. The only reason students knew about Scorsese is USC did a retrospective of Scorsese in fall 80, and Raging Bull came out that November.
I discovered that students my age idolized Spielberg and Lucas. Everyone was gaga over David Lynch, as Eraserhead played every weekend at a midnight show, and then Elephant Man came out that fall. Alien, Star Wars, Halloween and Eraserhead were the influential films.
My first week in LA, I went to see Altman's Health, which played for a week or so. I didn't meet any other film majors who went to see it. Many of them didn't even know who Altman is. You can imagine that Cassavetes was a non-entity to them as well.
I noticed a strong divide between students my age (when I was 18) and older film students (in their early 20's). The older students enjoyed foreign films and had artier sensibilities. The students my age hated foreign films, and loved sci-fi and horror films.
I had enough awareness at age 18 that the 80's were not going to be as good as the 70's. It is little wonder that mainstream Hollywood has gotten dumbed down, because many of the creative (I use that term lightly) and managerial forces that run Hollywood came out of USC. Even as 18 year olds, everyone was thinking in terms of box office grosses and three picture deals.
They did the Cassavetes retrospective in Spring 81. I went to see most of the films (although I didn't see Shadows or Faces until 1990 at UCLA). I did drag a few film majors to see Killing of a Chinese Bookie. One of my friends, who was a heavy Star Wars/Alien fan, actually enjoyed it. I can't recall the general audience reaction. There weren't catcalls or anything like that.
I recall in 82 or 83 there was a Cassavetes class, taught by Drew Casper I believe (he was a good professor, actually).
There was also a divide between the film production majors and the film history/criticism majors. The production majors looked down on history/criticism majors, called them "critters." Most production majors hated taking film history classes, especially History of Foreign Film.
Going back to the 480's -- most of them played like soap operas. A great majority of them dealt with adult sons coping with a dying father. In fact, many students used to joke that the way to get a 480 accepted was to write about someone whose father is dying. One of my friends actually wrote a script about a guy with a dying father, and it got accepted.
At the end of my freshman year, a guy named Kevin Reynolds did a 480 called Proof, and he got the magic call from Spielberg. A few years later, Proof became the major studio film Fandango starring Kevin Costner. Every film major longed to make a 480 and get discovered by Spielberg.
The 480's were screened each semester at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills. Agents and producers attended. Many 480 directors obtained reps at major agencies.
In effect, at that time USC was a trade school, and it definitely prepared students for Hollywood. To me, it was like a droid factory. I definitely didn't fit in. There were a few mavericks, mainly punk rock types, but in a way they were just as narrow as the Spielberg/Lucas acolytes. I felt that Lynch was just as shallow as Spielberg. I worshiped Altman, and people either hated him or ignored him. I'll say one thing for Altman, in the 80's, when most Hollywood directors towed the line, he went underground and made low-budget films his way. Also, Cassavetes during that period continued to do things his way.
It is no mystery to me why Hollywood has turned out so much crap in the 80's, 90's and now. I expected film school to be what it was back in the 60's, a place to experiment and try to shake up the system. But then film school became the system.
One other fun anecdote -- in spring 1981, I saw Apocalypse Now at a huge theater on campus. When the village got napalmed, hundreds of people in the audience erupted in cheers....
Here's something else I remember -- most of the instruction dealt with technical issues, at the expense of learning how to work with actors. One thing I noticed about most student films was that the acting was terrible. This should come as no surprise, when you consider the quality of acting you find in your typical Zemeckis or Ron Howard (another USC alum) or many others of their ilk. Indeed, Hitchcock was worshiped. Didn't Hitchcock once say that actors are cattle? That seems to sum up the esteem in which actors were held by USC film school. De Palma was looked down upon by faculty and students alike because he "ripped off" Hitchcock. Without a doubt, Godard was hated by most students. His films can't be absorbed in one viewing.
Oh, here's a nice little detail -- I remember this from a screenwriting class I took -- the instructor actually said that we must ignore people like Brecht, that screenwriting is anti-Brechtian.
When Gloria came out in 1980, I didn't know any other film students who bothered to see it. There was no stir amongst film students about Cassavetes' new film. How and why a Cassavetes retrospective was mounted in such an inhospitable campus is beyond my reckoning.
Also -- in 81 or 82 someone taught a Paul Mazursky/Woody Allen class. I think there was an Altman/Cassavetes class as well. USC also did retrospectives for Peckinpah and Don Siegel in 81 or 82, Bresson in 83 and Nick Ray in 83 or 84.
Flash-forward -- a friend of mine from USC who is now a TV producer said he hated Pollock because Ed Harris was too "actorish." Gee, I thought Harris was just trying to explore the role to its depths.
But your disillusionment with the state of film schools today is something I can relate to -- and it is certainly nothing new. I get the feeling things were different in the 60's and 70's.
In high school, I had this mythic conception of film school as it was in the 60's, but what I experienced in the 80's was disillusioning -- and a harbinger of the yuppie culture that was to come.
I'm not sure how USC is today, but it certainly was the most brazenly commercial film school back in the 80's. I attended from 80 to 84, but I knew a lot of grad students, so I really observed the film school closely all the way to 88. In many ways, the mainstream film industry is film school writ large.
Anyway, I appreciate your efforts to bring attention to Cassavetes, Mike Leigh, Jon Jost and other artists who are fighting an uphill battle against the Lucas/Spielberg/Bruckheimer machine.
(name withheld at the writer's request)
Thanks for the memories. This is an important slice of cultural history, which is why I run your comments at such length. It is really important for the current generation of students to hear these things.
History repeats .... and yes, this will give you a laugh--- in my own film program even today, some of the most serious student films continue to be about the death of a close relative or friend, and end with visits to a cemetery and a moment in front of a headstone!! : ) It's their attempt at "seriousness," and, yes, the imaginary conversation with the dead person can be dreadful. But I don't want to be too hard on these student filmmakers. That sort of event defines the limits of their imagination of importance at their age. (When I was that age I wrote poetry in a similarly morbid vein.) ... Well, at least it's an attempt at seriousness. They are not making SNL farces or goofy, stupid, unfunny parodies of this or that, like many of their peers.
History repeats in other ways also: Just as much as USC did back then, my own program teaches students how to "pitch" their projects to studios and investors and drills into them how important it is to make a film that will be financially and commercially "successful." And the students (who know no better) buy into the delusional state of mind that they are going to be famous Hollywood directors some day, even though it hasn't happened even once in the entire history of the school. It's like children playing pretend, but the students take it seriously and practice their "pitches." (I have some other discussions of this on earlier pages of the mailbag and in the links attached to my "Why Film Production Should be Replaced by Majors in Auto Mechanics" piece. Use the site search engine, which is one of the blue ticket icons in the left margin of every page, to find that essay.)
Another thing that hasn't changed is that the acting in student films continues to be dreadful, and continues to be downplayed in courses. The film courses and the film professors who teach them are, with the fewest of exceptions, all "camera happy." Their definition of a movie is a fancy, tricky, surprising narrative, fancy lighting, fancy framing, and fancy editing. I've just described ninety-nine percent of everything taught in my department, and most other film departments in America, and ninety-nine percent of the value system that informs serious American film criticism as well, which reinforces this obsession with clever scripting and shooting. The actor is the missing person in cinema studies. Acting is what people do in the drama department down the street in another building. Acted cinema is not really, essentially "filmic" or "cinematic." I've heard professors in my own university make that argument. How poorly (and misleadingly) these students are being educated.
Sounds like most things haven't changed. Thanks for the memories.--R.C.
Subject: Bo Harwood's music?
You and I were briefly in touch about 8 years ago. I was 17 and in the midst of an identity crisis when your book (Pragmatism, Modernism & The Movies) appeared, seemingly out of the thin blue, at the foot of a hotel tub I was lounging in one day in Toronto. I had been watching the Madonna doc Truth or Dare about 6 times a day and had taken to wearing sunglasses all over the place, buying dresses I couldn't afford and refusing to ingest anything but champagne. I sat there in that bubble bath and read your book til my lips turned blue. It changed my life. It's almost a decade later and I still can't enjoy most films anymore, but the world still seems much wider, stretched to the point of bursting with possibility. I hadn't seen any of his films when I read your book. And, now, having seen them all many times, I don't really care whether what you saw in them is what he intended to be there or what was there for you; I have found your reaction to his films so enormously inspiring and life affirming that, as much as I do love most of them, the films really are inconsequential to me. You showed me things that I didn't even know were possible, things I didn't know could even exist. You're the reason I went to film school. You're the reason I wrote, directed and produced a feature and a fistful of shorts. It's been interesting...I'm not sure whether I want to thank you or beat you up. I, often, wish I could go back to my pre-Carney head where I could easily enjoy crap, the days when I didn't try to thrust your books or his films on every film inclined person I met, the days when the objectives were so much more simple...but you've reinforced in me some kind of crazy optimism that, despite everything, refuses to lay down and die.
On the spur of the moment, I "accidentally" moved to LA from NYC last year and left all my stuff there. I got hungry for Love Streams the other day and ordered a copy of it from the French Amazon. I was struck again by Bo Harwood's music. For a long time I've had his closing bits from Woman on my iPod, but I really want to hear the rest of "I'll Leave It Up To You". And, really, everything else he's recorded. Do you have access to any of his recordings or a way to contact him about them? Is he inclined toward making his music available? Please, let me know when you get the chance.
As for the Rowlands/Ruban weirdness, sorry you've had to deal with all of that. About five years ago, I guess, I saw a screening of Shadows and Ruban was a total dick to someone in the audience who asked a totally benign question. Barked the guy down and made everyone in the audience really uncomfortable. The reaction just seemed to come out of nowhere. And I don't remember the question so long after the fact, but I do recall that the reaction was bizarre. Gena was "off", too; she would forget the questions she was answering while she was answering them and would babble until cut off. Falk was in the audience and was nice to everyone and spoke up a bit. But it made me sad to see Gena so obviously out of it and Ruban being such a creep for no discernible reason. And it made me sad that Goldoni had a nose job that made her look like someone else. On the upside, the print was good and I got to introduce a friend to Cassavetes.
Anyway, if you have any leads on Harwood's music, I'd really appreciate it if you'd let me know. I hope you're well.
Sorry to have been the cause of your becoming a filmmaker! : ) But, as someone smarter than I said once, that madness is in your genes. There's no avoiding it. If it had not expressed itself in art, it would have expressed itself in some other antisocial behavior that would have caused you just as much pain and suffering and gotten you into just as much trouble. Blame your DNA! Blame your parents! Being an artist is a doom, a curse, a fatal fate you'll never escape. A glorious doom. A beautiful, fatal fate.
About Bo's music: Funny, someone else just asked me about that a couple days ago. He must be making a comeback! It's just not available anywhere, anyhow, in any form. He never recorded it other than when he was making the films, working with John, I mean. Sorry to break your heart, and not to be able to tell you there's some bootleg CD somewhere that has hours of it.
Thanks for the Gena and Al stories too. In a way, I feel sorry for Gena. She is, by and large, a trusting, sincere person; but Al is Iago to her Othello. He is a master conniver and manipulator. And, in my case, he's been working all the angles. From the very beginning, he was threatened when film festivals started inviting me to speak at events and he had to play second fiddle, since people were asking me questions about the films rather than him. He hated it. His reponse was, over the years, to work, step by step, in every way possible, to undermine me and, eventually, to keep me out of the festivals altogether. (He told them he refused to provide Cassavetes' films for screening if I was going to be present. He lied and told them that he was speaking for Gena directly.) The Shadows find unfortunately played right into his hands! When the question of whether it should be destroyed or preserved arose, he used my possession of it as the coup de grace against me with Gena by telling her that the print I found was rough and unfinished, and was never meant to be shown publicly. That's a complete fabrication, since Cassavetes showed it publicly a number of times to paying audiences, and the version I found is actually in much better condition and even more beautiful than the later version of the film is. In short, he made up a lot of lies about me and the print, and since she didn't know any better (she had little or no involvement with either version of the film), she fell for them like a ton of bricks. Of course, she is not entirely above criticism, since she allowed herself to be used.
I better stop with that. Your story touches me so much. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.
Thanks for getting back to me.
Ha! Yeah, trouble seems to be a constant regardless of where I'm directing my energies. But I work in other mediums, I act and sculpt and write prose-poetry/short-short fiction, etc. and I really think all of my work would have suffered had I not encountered and embraced your work. Frankly, and more importantly, my experience of life would have been much more limited and much less interesting. Thank you so much for the awakening. I've felt an obligation to share your work with as many people as I can, everyone who might even half-listen; between the lost loaner copies and the gifts, I don't even know how many times I've bought that book! But I know it's opened, at least, a few other minds and that makes me happy. It's always terribly exciting when I meet someone I can turn on to you.
Well, it's a shame that Bo's music doesn't, actually, exist! Weird that he wouldn't have preserved any of it even if only for sentimental reasons.
I don't know if she was inebriated or has Alzheimer's or what the deal was, but Gena really was forgetting the questions about 5 words into her answers. This happened numerous times during the Q&A. Ruban was the one who would cut her off when the rambling would get so off topic everyone was baffled by what she was saying. This was a handful of years ago and you'd probably know better than I what kind of state she's in now. As for Ruban, I've only seen that kind of reaction one other time during a Q&A. I was at a Marge Piercy reading and, very similarly, someone asked a totally innocent question and she twisted it up and turned it into something else entirely and embarassingly berated the woman who asked the question much to everyone else's discomfort. No idea where her extreme insecurity was coming from, but I guess I kind of get Ruban's angle though it seems totally senseless, a waste of energy and self-destructive. It makes me wonder what he really thinks he's protecting by trying to stifle your and John's work.... (personal material omitted).....
Thanks again for the note.....
I don't know about Gena's mind. She is 78 if I'm counting the birthdays right. She's getting up in years. But I do know that she lets Al push her around. She did that even fifteen years ago. As is pretty obvious from your stories, Al is not an artist or a deep thinker, and he doesn't have a particularly deep view of the films. No real insights or wisdom about them. He is a money man, a businessman, plain and simple. Back in the day, when John was alive, he worked as a producer and a technician (he sometimes did camerawork). Back then, even more than that, he was John's "hit man," his "union buster," his "hard-ball negotiator." That's what he was -- and it's what he still is. So he can be very tough and nasty and pushy. That's what John needed him for. In fact, it's the only way he knows how to be, in my experience. It's what he is.
Now the only tragedy is that Gena put so much of the estate in his hands after John's death, and that film festivals and other screening events feature him as a presenter of the work. The problem is that he really knows almost nothing about the art of John's films and has nothing really insightful to say about them. He's made lots of money for Gena (millions and millions) in his pushy way by licensing the films, but he's alienated everyone who deals with her in the process, alienated audiences as you note, and -- worst of all -- given Gena lots of bad artistic advice over the years--including telling her to suppress my Faces and Shadows finds. It's a shame. But she's not a businesswoman, and he pushes her around too, and she lets herself be pushed. Too bad.... (personal material omitted)....
A note from Ray Carney: The following letter has another account of Al Ruban's conduct at another, very recent public event -- at a screening conducted at the Museum of Modern Art in June 2007.
Subject: Faces screening at MOMA (confronting The Rube)
I took your advice last week. At the MOMA showing of Faces on June 1st, 7:00PM. Unknown or forgotten by me, the fact that Mr. Al Ruban was there to talk talk talk. He talked smooth, jokingly. I missed his opening salvo before the film started, but afterwards there was a Q&A session, and when I heard that this was to take place I felt something surge through me. It's a feeling I've only gotten a few times in my life, and it always comes when I'm thinking about doing something naughty. Something I know will not be taken in stride by the surrounding entities. Something that is out of step with the regular flow of our lives, the flow whose repetition allows us to filter out the majority of the square pegs. This feeling I get only comes when the peg I have to give is big enough to dwarf the hole, to temporarily reveal that maybe the hole was square all along. Clumsy metaphors aside the feeling I get is fear. Nervousness. I am so dreadfully nervous, most of the time. To speak publicly, to speak at all, is something new and frightening. Practiced little enough so that the wound I make always heals enough for it to feel new every time. But in this circumstance I felt courageous because for once in the swirling confusion of my life, I knew I was right.
I raised my hand, again and again. The questions that were asked of him before mine were for the most part benign. I had one of those moments of horror-at-predictability when the question was posed (I paraphrase): "How do you think the reactions of the audience at the time this arguably difficult film was released differs from the reactions of today's audiences?", and immediately Ruban goes on the defensive. He seems to deny the fact that this film could be a problem for anyone, based solely on the facts that, at the time of release, the critics loved it. The lines went around the block. There were academy award nominations. So we easily see the value system he subscribes to, when the question was obviously meant to be about the reactions of... well, ordinary people. The people in the theater all around us. But ticket sales = GOOD. That's the bottom line for Mr. Ruban, I guess. No need to consider what the people occupying those otherwise empty seats are thinking and feeling! I'm surprised he allowed it to be screened on MOMA's free day.
Another question that made me shake my head, from someone at or around my own small age of 22. Typical sort of new york hipster vibe to him, maybe a proto-Bujalski character asks: "Blah blah blah, How wasted were you guys making these movies?!" - self satisfied clever afterglow on his face once blurted. And Ruban lights up as well, relishes telling amusing anecdotes about Ben Gazzarra refusing to play Husbands scenes without real champagne in the cups. Lots of laughs all around, myself included. I'm not above amusing anecdotes. But is the history of the Cass crew to be denigrated to just some sub-ratpack tomfoolery? Surely it meant more than that even to Ruban? I hope.
The only two other questions that were somewhat difficult for him were one rambling but personal and interesting comment by an elderly woman, which the room strained to hear properly. I didn't get the entire thing but it came off as honest and personal, but not formatted in an easily digestible way for a crowd of people. I liked this about it, even if what she was saying could mean nothing to me. Ruban turns it into another joke, twists her words of gratitude for his being there into some weird remark about "You only like the movie because I'm here?"... it was odd and awkward for everyone. Good, I like social glitches. Fine by me.
Second most difficult remark: a question about Husbands... the asker remembering as a young man seeing a really long cut on television, something like 200 minutes, and asking if that would ever be released. Ruban's only reply is to give a small summary of the business dealings it took to get Husbands made, where different cuts were deposited, and then closes with the fact that the film was finally "restored" by UCLA, glossing over the whole missing puke scene, and that was that. The final version meant to be seen. The end. Forget your memories kid, forget what you saw on TV.
Now the night is winding down and I still haven't been called. The host who is picking the questioners is sympathetic, he sees me and seems to guarantee with his eyes that I will be called.
One more question he says. You there.
And so I go. I had considered bringing up Shadows and that whole ballgame, but decided since the night was about Faces I would stick to Faces. Just as much meat on that bone. So in my awkward small voice, unused to use, I manage to spill this on him: "There is an excerpt from an alternate cut of Faces on the Criterion collection version of the film; when will the full version of that cut be available to see?"
Now is where things get dicey because when I get courageous enough to speak I go into some kind of trance state and so my memory of the rest is a little foggy. I would not want to attribute any statement to Ruban that he didn't actually make. All I know is that his reply to that first line of mine was to explain how during the making of the film they needed to get it copyrighted so they rushed an unfinished print to the copyright office and forgot about it. And how that clip on the Criterion collection wasn't supposed to be there, that he didn't approve it and wishes it could be removed. And when he finishes his nonsense, this is where I didn't stop.
"But why?" I asked. The innocent question, the naïve question, I suppose. Why can't people see it if they want to?
This is where I really lose count, because he has a microphone and I don't and at this point the emotions in me are surging relentlessly and I believe I try to say over his microphone something about "How many books of poems come out with the early drafts side by side the finished versions?" and in real life could not remember or pronounce the term "de rigeur" but that was the simple premise of my argument. Why not? That's the question. Such a simple question which he didn't seem to be able to answer in a way not to do with legalities and 'final versions'. Of course it's not the final version! That's the point. No one's claiming there's two official versions, or that this was the 'real' intended version, nor with Shadows. Could the misunderstanding be so small as that, semantic? But you would know more than me and doubtless you've explained countless times the reasonable argument for the freedom of these versions.
That about wrapped up the evening, I suppose on a sour note for nearly everybody. Poor host/question-picker. I didn't mean to embarrass him. My friend had sneaked away to the restrooms and when he came back was seated rows behind me, heard at least one person call me a dickhead while it was going on. The initial reaction when I didn't shut up after his final word on the matter was laughter. That weirdly human uncomfortable laughter people bark when something is going all askew. But in the restroom myself after the seeping of the crowd out of the theater, I could hear the stalls reverb with an argument, one party for and one against my position. And I felt satisfied. As long as people know. That's all I could hope to do. I know I wouldn't change Ruban's mind that day. I knew it would be just another annoying blip in his life he'll barely remember by the next showing on the 14th. Or maybe this time he'll refuse a Q&A at all. Or maybe he won't even be there. I wish I could attend and ask again, this time with composure and more foresight, but work/finances do not permit. I would urge all your readers who care about the scholarship of cinema to ask the hard questions of Mr. Ruban when they can find him. Afterwards my friend (who had no idea I planned to do such a thing) was shocked and embarrassed for me. He tried to tell me it was disrespectful, to ask hard questions in public. Tried to tell me writing Ruban a letter would have been the appropriate forum. Maybe he's right. I'm sure from outside my own head I appeared extremely rude, possibly crazy. Just another crackpot weirdo. I'm sure if I was in my normal mode at that time I'd be very embarrassed with myself. But what's the point of a public conversation, even one as structured as that, if there is no friction? What answers will we ever get if the questions we ask are all softballs? I guess I just don't understand this urge people feel not to rock the boat anymore. I definitely used to. I still feel that urgent fear all the time. But lately I guess I've realized that if no one else is speaking up for the things I'm thinking, it's going to be me or silence, and silence gets us nowhere. My voice might get me nowhere too, but at least I acted in this world. I made a nick in the normal. That fabric everyone's always rushing around trying to keep so clean and shiny, covering the holes with chewing gum. If I look a fool in the process, it doesn't matter. Once you don't care about being the fool, once the embarrassment of a spoken thought of your own can be overcome, I find you're so much better off. Your life feels a bit more yours. I might have learned of this whole Cassavetes stewardship situation from you and your wonderful site, but people better not think I'm some damned parrot enlisted by you. I did this of my own will, and it was very difficult. I went back on it in my mind over and over. In the end I let the moment take me and put me in that beautiful trance of unique action, action that's meant to be seen and heard, instead of my usual shadow lurking. That's all. Thanks Professor.
Ps. Feel free to post this, and cut out whatever rambling you want, to keep the points tight. I'm just gushing this and have no time to edit. Thanks for all the knowledge and inspiration.
Subject: a deep experience and a deep story
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your account of the evening. And thanks for your "courage" in "speaking truth to power." Good practice for the rest of life. Keep it up.
I will print your letter on the site. And I won't cut a word. It's great as it stands, and for anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see, it says it all. It speaks eloquently about the nature of audiences at such events, about Ruban's attitude toward works of art and "alternate versions" of Cassavetes' films, and (most generally) about the nature of most film events at museums and festivals in America. You say it all.
And thank you again for your integrity and strength. The world can be changed. It really can. But it will be changed one event, one person at time. That is the only way it happens. Each of us has to call the world to a higher standard of conduct, to deeper forms of understanding, to more insightful views of art and life. Whether you intended to or not, that's what you were doing. It goes way beyond Ruban and Faces and Husbands and Shadows. Thank you.
A note from Ray Carney: To read reports from other site visitors about Al Ruban's behavior at other public events, click here.
Subject: greetings from Seoul
A later, more detailed and leisurely missive to follow shortly. In brief, living in Seoul now with Christina and little Eric. Lecturing at a women's university in the city, Christina found work at a big firm. Eric likes to climb things.
I visit your site regularly so i haven't felt out of touch though, technically, I have been. Used your Path of the Artist pt. 1 in some of my freshman English courses (along with screenings of Bruce Baille's All My Life, Norman Mclaren's Pas de Deux and Gunvar Nelson's My Name is Oona) to try to kick-start some brains. May have only succeeded in kicking my own butt, but it was worth it.
To the point: I read with great interest about the imminent and auspicious arrival of Jon Jost in Seoul. Please forward him my personal info (**omitted material**) as I am in a position to and gladly would serve as his welcoming committee/local guide/sympathetic audience. Am familiar with both the university to which he has been invited as well as the local arthouse film venues, though, to be clear, not personally connected with either.
In parting, your words are always a welcome respite from the violence and insanity of the media-maelstrom. I pledge to contribute shortly to your indispensable mailbag with my musings on Wong Kar-Wai (smiled when I read that you finally got around to watching those videos ten years after I dropped them off to you!); my internal Fassbinder vs. Bresson dialogue; and appreciations of such under-appreciated (by you!) geniuses as Edward Yang, Tsai Ming-Liang, the Dardennes, Samira Makmahlbaf, Claire Denis and Eric Rohmer (!).
And finally, from Lawrence...
Flowers and Men
Flowers achieve their own floweriness and it is a miracle.
Men don't achieve their own manhood, alas, oh alas! alas!
All I want of you men and women,
all I want of you is that you
shall achieve your own beauty
as the flowers do.
Oh leave off saying I want you to be savages.
Tell me is the gentian savage, at the top of its coarse blue stem?
Oh what in you can answer to this blueness?
A note from Ray Carney: I was delighted to be able to put David and Jon in touch with each other.--R.C.
Subject: What is sacred?
....Then there are the sacred texts-and I don't mean the Bible, the OED, or Shakespeare's plays. The great visionary scriptures, predictions, seeings. But I'm sorry I can't share them with anyone by email. We don't know each other well enough and some things are too special to be taken out in the light, too fragile to be touched with bare hands, too dangerous to be opened without sufficient preparation and warning...
What is it? What is it? What is it? Damn curiosity! :)
I feel like I will miss something if I don't know what is it, but then I know how many things I miss every day, on every step... in ordinary life - for example in my relationship with my father and my mother...or with my friends, with people who care for me. I have that feeling that I'm missing something all the time. And that I'm not living full life... I think it would be crazy to start expressing what I really feel like - but it would be far more interesting and rewarding for me and people around me.
There is another question it raised from that quote... Are there sacred things that shouldn't be shared easily with others? There are many artists, books and films on your web page and in your books that became "sacred" to me. I mean, really, some things are too special to be taken out in the light.. I'm very jealous about some things that I appreciated and moved me and it meant so much to me. Few times I decided to share that experience - and I shared informations... but soon I started to feel bad about it because it was received superficially. But, then, I think, who am I to make those decisions and why keep it all to myself? What is sacred? Should what is sacred to you be sacred to me?
No time for a real reply (I'm lost in the deepest, darkest jungle of words and ideas and emotions completing a crazy, ridiculous million-word manuscript) ..... except to say: all excellent questions. All nourishing, vital food for thought and reflection. My only overly-brief response will have to be: Only T.V. and Hollywood lay it on the line, spell things out, bathe the world in light. Reality is deeper and darker and different. There are many mysteries that I can't open to view at present. (And I'd emphasize that the ones alluded to in my books or broached on the site are not mystical mumbo-jumbo, but absolute, factual, provable realities. As I told someone else who asked me about them: "You can take them to the bank. They are as true and real and certain as anything you have ever known.") A few friends, lovers, and close, close associates also know most of these same facts, events, and details, and could verify what I am alluding to. Some people I know have told me that I have already said too much, even now, in such a public way. They have expressed dismay or fear that I should not have said even as much as I already have. That's the way things stand at present. In short, these secrets must, at least for the moment, remain secrets. I can't force the rose to bloom. Their revelation must come in its own time and place. How and where that may be, whether in quiet and secrecy or in blaring publicity is not for me to know or predict..
With warmest best wishes,
P.S. An important afterthought: Your own personal quest is the important thing. Not the intermittent, temporary findings. The never-ending quest. Or to put it more accurately: the quest is the finding. There is no difference. But make no mistake. I am not saying that everything is relative and unresolved and subjective. I am not saying that wherever you go is right. No. Not at all. There are many false prophets, many mistaken turns, many misleading roads. There are better and worse paths, truer and falser outcomes, immoral and flawed and cowardly dead-ends. But I am saying that the best way, the ideal way, is to find your way through the maze on your own. There is a path with your name and destiny written on it, and only you can find it. That's why you ultimately don't need me or my explanations. You don't need anyone else's. T. E. Hulme had a useful metaphor: We think the world is a highway and we merely go down the long, paved lane. But that is true only if we are followers; only if we never bring anything new or creative into our lives. We really make the road ourselves. We aren't on someone else's road, going in the same direction they are. We make our own individual paths if we live our lives as we should. Nothing is predetermined, nothing is fixed, nothing is dictated. We make it all anew.
Subject: A few quotes and video-links for www.Cassavetes.com
I've been reading DH Lawrence's Phoenix I and II that I bought on ebay (why are these amazing books out of print?!) and I've been trying to think while reading them. I try to notice how his way of explaining the purpose of art and life builds on my former beliefs. Sometimes I find myself disagreeing with him and then I argue with him. Sometimes he wins, sometimes I consider myself to be right.
From Morality and the Novel, Phoenix I:
If we think about it, we find that our life consists in this achieving of a pure relationship between ourselves and the living universe about us. This is how I save my soul by accomplishing a pure relationship between me and another person, me and other people, me and a nation, me and a race of men, me and the animals, me and the trees or flowers, me and the earth, me and the skies and the stars of the sky: that makes our eternity, for each one of us, me and the timber I am sawing, me and the very motion with which I write, me and the good bit of gold I have got. This, if we knew it, is our life and our eternity: the subtle, perfected relation between me and my whole circumambient universe.
But the novel, no. The novel is the highest example of subtle inter-relatedness that man has discovered. Everything is true in its own time, place , circumstance, and untrue outside of its own place, time circumstance. If you try to nail anything down , in the novel, either it kills the novel, or the novel gets up and walks away with the nail.
From A Propos of Lady Chatterley's Lover, Phoenix 2
The body of men and women today is just as a trained dog. And of no one is this more true than of the free and emancipated young. Above all, their bodies are bodies of trained dogs. And because the dog is trained to do things the old-fashioned dog never did, they call themselves free, full of real life, the real thing. But they know perfectly well it is false. Just as the business man knows, somewhere, that he's all wrong. Men and women aren't really dogs: they only look like it and behave like it. Somewhere inside there is a great chagrin and a gnawing discontent. The body is, in its spontaneous natural self, dead or paralyzed. It has only the secondary life of a circus dog, acting up and showing off: and then collapsing.
From The Real Thing, Phoenix 1
And then there is nothing for men to do but turn back to life itself. Turn back to the life that flows invisibly in the cosmos, and will flow for ever, sustaining and renewing all living things. It is not a question of sin or morality, of being good or being bad. It is a question of renewal, of being renewed, vivified, made new and vividly alive and aware, instead of being exhausted and stale, as men are today. How to be renewed, reborn, revivified? That is the question men must ask themselves, and women too. And the answer will be difficult. Some trick with glands or secretions, or raw food, or drugs won't do it. Neither will some wonderful revelation or message. It is not a question of know something but of doing something. It is a question of getting into contact with the living cent of the cosmos. And how are we to do it?
Then one from Emerson
From the Divinity School Address
In this point of view we become very sensible of the first defect of historical Christianity. Historical Christianity has fallen into the error that corrupts all attempts to communicate religion. As it appears to us, and as it has appeared for ages, it is not the doctrine of the soul, but an exaggeration of the personal, the positive, the ritual. It has dwelt, it dwells, with noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus. The soul knows no persons. It invites every man to expand to the full circle of the universe, and will have no preferences but those of spontaneous love. But by this eastern monarchy of a Christianity, which indolence and fear have built, the friend of man is made the injurer of man. The manner in which his name is surrounded with expressions, which were once sallies of admiration and love, but are now petrified into official titles, kills all generous sympathy and liking. All who hear me, feel, that the language that describes Christ to Europe and America, is not the style of friendship and enthusiasm to a good and noble heart, but is appropriated and formal, -- paints a demigod, as the Orientals or the Greeks would describe Osiris or Apollo. Accept the injurious impositions of our early catachetical instruction, and even honesty and self-denial were but splendid sins, if they did not wear the Christian name.
I know your computer is too old and slow for videos, but I think some of your readers may appreciate these.
Paul Taylor: Black Tuesday (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
Shaham - Vivaldi's Winter (beware of the loud noise at the end)
Bach Channel on YouTube
Mike Leigh Shorts:
A Sense of History
Five Minute Films (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
Bela Tarr - Visions of Europe Prologue
Tom Noonan acting clips
- magnus eik
Subject: Hooray for pirates who dig up gold dubloons!
To use a phrase my lead research assistant used to shout out every time she found something we could use in the Cassavetes on Cassavetes book: "What a treasure trove!" Thanks. Shall post for readers of the site. Best wishes to you and everyone in Denmark or wherever the heck you told me you lived. I forget. What a treasure trove!
I'm sorry for not getting back to you sooner... I didn't want to just dash off a quick response. I appreciate you sending me the film schedule. I think it's great that you've put together that program- I wish I was in Boston and could attend. (and in general I miss the Harvard Film Archive- many wonderful screenings I was able to attend back when I was at BU- though I've got a lot of affection for BAM, Anthology, and others in NY). The David Barker film is one I've been wanting to see for a while. I hope it works out well, and the filmmakers get a boost. (Click here to read the screening schedule and list of filmmakers for the upcoming Harvard events.)
And it's great that you've put the Shadows clips online- though when I first saw that you were going to post them, I thought "oh jeez... here come the lawyers". Do you ever have days when Cosmo seems particularly close to you? I admire how much you stand up to do what is right, but I do worry about how it will (has been) affecting you. (Click here to view three video clips from the first version of Shadows.)
I wish that I were able to see the whole first version of Shadows. I've been thinking about Cass' films lately after recently screening a few of them again. Especially the differences between the two versions of Bookie and the extended intro to Faces. It's given me a lot of respect for his strengths as an editor. As far as I'm concerned, cutting down the Faces intro was really smart. There's nothing in the alt that you need to know that isn't in the final version. And the final is actually stronger for not being so clear. To cut right to Jeannie's face after the title and than to Richard - those two shots alone register much stronger than the whole buildup in the alt. Another thing- you can tell how Marley and Draper hadn't quite the handle on their roles as they do later in the scenes at Jeannie's house. I had to go back and check Cass on Cass for the chronology of the shoot, and yup, bingo, it came near the beginning. Even Cass seems more tentative in that scene. I think of Richard yelling at Freddie "Oh how can you be so stupid, I'm talking about us!" In the bar scene that interaction doesn't seem possible with where those two (actors, characters) were at that point.
Of course, you may completely disagree with what I've just said, but I'm glad he cut the scene, even though I'd love to be able to examine and compare different cuts, screenplay drafts etc.
The difference in the Bookie cuts is really interesting too. In Cass on Cass, I believe he says that they're similar, but "there's a little more action in the nightclub", or something to that effect. But in the 76 cut, Cosmo going to the poker club seems much more of a set-up, that he was really roped into going there by Seymour. When I watch the 78, it's totally different, that Cosmo went without any provocation. By removing Cassell's scene, I can't look at Cosmo in the same way.
I'm probably not expressing the above very well, but it had been on my mind, and after reading your note on page 75 of the mailbag (accessible through the blue menus at the top and bottom of this page) about the importance of comparing the cuts, I thought I'd make an attempt at writing down something. Cass was really sharp about structure- how arranging scenes in different ways, how denying a piece of information, about when to cut from one shot to another can make a huge difference. I would have loved to have been an assistant in the editing room to actually see how the scenes were pieced together, rethought, etc. Of course, two days in I would probably be crying for relief! I heard that Cass actually had a cup holder attached to his editing chair to hold champagne while he was editing. True or not, I can imagine that it would have been an interesting experience to share an editing room with him.
I'm really excited that you will be having another book (two? three?) in the near future. It's been much too long. I hope that one day you will make some of your unpublished work available on the website, or at least to some of us. It's funny how often I feel the difficulty in communicating with people, even people you care about, in person, on the phone, in e-mail, but how reading a good book can somehow provide that desired feeling even though it's words on a page, usually from a stranger, sometimes long gone. Does that make any sense? Maybe not, but that could be the point.
(omitted personal material)
Anyways, I know this e-mail ran on for a few miles so I'll end it here. But after a week I couldn't just say "Thanks Ray!". But thank you, and good luck with everything.
Thanks so much, Rob, for the good thoughts. I agree with much of what you say, but would simply note that there are important parts of the revision histories of the films that you aren't aware of and that would affect your conclusions, I believe. Ruban and Rowlands want to suppress the various alternate versions of the films. (See the letter above on the page from "jason d." where he mentions that Al Ruban told an audience he was even opposed to Criterion including the short snippet from the alternative print of Faces. And the attempt to suppress the first version of Shadows that I discovered is documented throughout the site.) But there is more to these revisions, many more of them, many more forms of them, than you realize:
1) In the first place, there are more alternative shots, prints, and versions of Cassavetes' films that you don't know about. Just to take Faces as an example. Criterion included (at my urging) 17 minutes from the alternative print. But, I'm not sure if you realize, other parts of that Faces print also contain alternative material that Criterion did not include. I was, as you know, scholarly advisor for that project, and I recommended that they include at least the 17 minutes at the start, but there was more that they chose not to put on their disk, which you haven't seen.
2) Then there are many other Cassavetes films that you have not seen the alternative material for, and that most people don't even realize there are alternate versions of. Husbands is an example. If you saw more examples from more films, more than just the 17 minutes of Faces, I think you might see more value in the alternative versions.
3) Finally, and most importantly: Cassavetes' revisions are not confined to his editing process and you don't want to limit your understanding of Cassavetes' revisionary process to alternative shots and edits of the final films. Faces existed as a stage play before it was a film. Almost totally different from the film. And, after Cassavetes decided to turn the play into a film, but before he began shooting, the film script went through many more re-conceptualizations. Woman Under the Influence started out as a stage play. With events and characters and interactions totally different from what is in the film. Then Cassavetes re-wrote the stage play and turned it into TWO stage plays! And then he wrote the first draft of the film script, but a film script quite different from the script of the final film. Opening Night has almost 100 more pages of script that was filmed but never included in the edit. Love Streams went through eight or nine massive re-conceptualizations. Different scenes, conversations, events than are in the film. Etcetera. Etcetera. Get the idea? See how many "versions" of these films there really were?
If you ever had the opportunity to look at all of this material (I may be the only person alive who has done this, since I have all of it in my possession, much of it given to me by Cassavetes himself before he died), I think you'd see how revelatory it is. It absolutely, totally changes our understanding of each of these films. It tells us an enormous amount about Cassavetes' artistic intentions and goals in each work, about his vision of who and what his characters are, about his understanding of their situations--things that the films don't tell us. Important things. Crucial things. As I said on a previous Mailbag page, these changing drafts, these ur-texts, these alternative visions and versions (both written and filmed), in my mind, often TELL US MORE about Cassavetes' understanding of life and experience than the final works do. That is why they matter.
Unfortunately (as previous letters and replies on this page discuss) Ruban and Rowlands don't appreciate any of this. This material is what they are refusing to make available and trying to prevent me from making available.
It's a real shame. A real loss for art, and a loss for Cassavetes himself.
Thanks for noticing -- and caring,
Dear Mr. Carney,
I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and introduce you to Tropfest@Tribeca.
On September 23, 2007 Tropfest, the world's largest short film festival, will be staged in New York City.
Tropfest was founded in Australia in 1993 by John Polson and is attended by an audience of over 150,000 people annually.
In the spring of 2006 Tropfest formed a partnership with the Tribeca Film Festival here in New York City creating Tropfest@Tribeca. Our first year was a huge success so this year we are staging it as a stand-alone event.
We would like to offer you and your students the opportunity to shoot and submit films for this year's festival. You can visit our Australian and New York websites to get an idea of what we are all about.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Thank you.
Tropfest Australia: www.tropinc.com
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.