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I received your booklet of essays on Cassavetes. Thank you!
I'm wondering if and when you'll be screening the first version of Shadows at BU. Are you teaching this spring? I'll be there when you screen it.
On a strictly personal note, I'd like to offer my services if you would consider a new idea: why not record your own commentaries for each Cassavetes film and sell them on your website as CDs? Or downloads? I'm no businessman as you know, but would offer you my heart and soul to help you record, edit, and press the CDs.
As a man, you are the most impressive of many. I know soldiers, survivors, quiet heroes, and fighters. You trump them all and I am proud to have studied under you. No matter what Criterion does, every one of us owes our appreciation for film art to you. Peter Becker can fire you from a disc set, but he cannot snuff your influence on so many souls.
I came across your website last week and I've been devouring it at a steady pace. You remind me a lot of the literary critic/teacher Howard Bloom-- knowledgable, controversial, and inspiring. I read his book on Shakespeare and went back to Hamlet with a new slant on things, and I enjoyed it a great deal more. Reading your stuff about Cassavetes-- I have a friend who's going to lend me Cassavetes on Cassavetes-- has given me a new slant and I think I can enjoy his work a lot more than I did when I first tried to watch it, back in High School. I was not ready for it yet.
I'm a director myself, and I don't pretend that I'm any sort of genius. I'm not going to create anything new, different, or revolutionary. I can tell stories and I can create characters. I've learned to be content with that-- but I know that life doesn't have endings, except for death, and then nothing is really resolved, is it?
I enjoy some of the work that you dismiss as tricks-- Tarantino (though his contemporary Roger Avary at least provokes SOME thought), DePalma, and even Spike Jonze-- but I enjoy it for what it is, an aesthetic experience with nothing deeper. Yes, it's manufactured, button-pushing emotions. No, it doesn't challenge me. I value substance over style, but I still like the style. To each their own.
The only two points that I really disagree with you on, or take umbrage to, from what I've read so far, are as follows:
First, Gena Rowlands, Roger Ebert, Martin Scorsese all say Cassavetes makes his films about love. I never really got that myself, and I agree that films are never "about" anything. And, from what I remember-- there are certain images from Faces in particular that have stayed with me after all this time-- it did seem to be "about" life and people. But what I disagree with, intensely, is the idea that Rowlands (who does seem a bit blonder than most), Ebert, and Scorsese are WRONG. I don't think any response, emotional or intellectual, is the wrong response to a work of art. Olivier thinks Hamlet is about "a man who couldn't make up his mind"; Bloom thinks, more or less, that Hamlet is a character in the wrong play. Neither one is wrong. Granted, there are people who just don't get a particular work of art-- for example, I look askance to anyone who says Straw Dogs is a facist film, or that it endorses violence as a solution. In my opinion, they've misread the film completely. But that's my opinion, just as it's their opinion that I've misread the film completely. That's part of what makes it interesting.
The other thing I disagree with you on is the proposal that for "arthouse" fare, the ticket price goes up to forty or fifty or hundreds of dollars. Yes, I do believe that film is an art, not just an entertainment. But it's also the art that reaches the highest number of people, the masses. If the arthouse stuff was forty bucks a pop, then it would cost me and my wife eighty to see a Bergman or an Ozu or a Cassavetes. We don't go to concerts or operas or sporting events (the last one we have no interest in) because we can't afford it. We're lower middle class. To raise the price is to deny the lower classes access to the art. In Shakespeare's day, there were expensive seats for the upper classes and cheap seats, or even standing room, for the lower classes. The reason why many (sadly) see opera as an outdated, white European's art form is that it is unavailable to the masses, except perhaps on video or compact disc, where it loses all its power and glory. That's the only exposure I've had to it.
Also, just as Hollywood high-jacked the independent label to include everything from the new Star Wars prequels (which were, technically, produced out of Lucas's own pocket, if you want to look at another definition of the word) to Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love, isn't there the danger that they'll high-jack the arthouse or "prestige" ticket prices? Tarantino's next flick would cost us fifty bucks a pop if the idea catches on.
So, what is there to do? My films are low-budget and character driven, shot on digital video-- I've been saving up for seven years to buy that camera. And now it's time to try to sell this one, while I'm making the next one. And, if I do sell it-- and it has been and will continue to be a struggle-- how many tickets is it going to sell? Is it even going to play in Michigan, which has been denied some of the arthouse stuff because all we know how to do is eat, get fat, get drunk, start riots, and make automobiles?
I don't think raising ticket prices is the answer. I think the public needs to be educated. Which is what you're doing. So, god bless you, sir.
And thank you for your time. I have a tendency to get verbose when I get going, and, well, I did. Sorry. Just wanted to offer some thoughts while they were still bouncing about in my cranium.
Ray Carney replies:
Thanks for the thoughts. As to the arthouse tickets, you are being denied these films right now. By the forces of commercialism in our culture. You can't see them anywhere. Wouldn't it be worth it to pay a little more and be able to see them?
The "everyone's entitled to their opinion" thing is a mistake, but an understandable one, since it is one that is very common. There are right and wrong facts, opinions, views in film. We accept this in other areas of life. A plumber can be wrong when he repairs your pipes. A mechanic can be wrong when he diagnoses your car. A physicist can be wrong when he says nothing can move faster than the speed of light. But somehow when we deal with art we get all squishy soft and think everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. I'm ok, you're ok. Don't dare correct anyone. Don't say they're wrong. That's just not correct.
I'm a teacher. If I didn't tell (or tactfully point out to) my students when they were wrong, I'd be like all those other "that's an interesting point of view" teachers. All the ones I wouldn't trust to do my plumbing or car repairs. There are better and worse, truer and falser, righter and wronger interpretations of films. Everyone is not entitled to an opinion. Many opinions are shallow, uninformed, stupid, false, bogus, wrong.
Why do you want to live in an I'm OK, you're OK world? Bin Laden has a point of view. The Israelis are not wrong to bomb Palestinian children. North Korea is not wrong to sell nukes and rockets to others. Let's not judge Bush on pushing them to do it. Wrong. False. Uninformed. Why would film be the one area in all of life where everything goes? Where there are no wrong reactions?
But I have much more on this in my writing. You can't go by the site. It's just excerpts. Read my three books of interviews. Read Cass on Cass. Audiences were wrong about him. Critics were wrong. And many still are!
And the following is wrong too. Movie stars should not have the power to censor what I say or write. Gena Rowlands should not have the power to make Criterion remove my work. And Criterion should not give in to her "movie star" tantrums. People should have principles of action that rise above these things. In other arts they do, but in film, celebrities—the rich and famous and powerful—still call the shots. This is immoral, unethical, and wrong.
Click here for information about Gena Rowlands's legal attempt to confiscate the first version of Shadows and her successful pressure on Criterion to deny Prof. Carney credit as "scholarly advisor" for which he devoted hundreds of hours of work on the Cassavetes box set and eventually to have him removed from the project when he didn't write and say what she wanted him to.
Click here for information about Rowands's suppression of Prof. Carney's discovery of the long version of Faces for three years. Why the Library of Congress did not screen it for the public.
Click here for information about Prof. Carney's work on Charles Kiselyak's Constant Forge and Prof. Carney's having his voice-over script material used without payment or permission. Read also about how the film itself was designed to please Rowlands and to sanitize the details of Cassavetes' life and turn it into a string of funny anecdotes.
Sorry it took so long to respond. I've been offline the last couple weeks--pesky bills!
I never meant to imply that I perfer a "I'm okay, you're okay" world, or a teacher that just nods and says, that's very interesting. Milquetoast academics, while amusing as caricatures, are seldom even serviceable in actuality. But I also have had my fair share of teachers who simply rely on lecture.
To illustrate: I had a history teacher who was teaching us about the assassination of Garfield. We covered it in about two minutes, something along the lines of, Charles Guiteau shot him, said, I am a stalwart, Garfield dies a month later, everyone's sad, it's a political killing. I had a different opinion: Guiteau was a nut! He was delusional madman and religious cultist with several wives. He thought Garfield had promised him an office when the two men had hardly even met. The gun he bought to do the deed was purchased with the most ornate handle possible-- because he wanted it to look good in a museum! While on death row, he composed songs, among which was the following toe-tapping ditty:
My name is Charles Guiteau
And that fact I'll not deny
For the death of James A. Garfield
I am condemned to die.
But the teacher dismissed this. It was a political killing. End of story.
I'm not suggesting that your classroom is like that, because I've never sat in it. From what I've read, you're a much more intelligent man than that teacher was. He was the same sort who, if he taught a film class, would lecture us on the meaning of camera angles in Citizen Kane and the gold standard allegory at work in The Wizard of Oz, instead of discussing the work.
I had another teacher with whom I had a difference of opinion, about Salinger. I presented my argument, he presented his, and everybody got into the discussion. In the end, he convinced me of things I had missed-- and I came away with a deeper understanding of the work.
But it wasn't simply kowtowing. I am a liberal and a democrat. I work with Republicans. Occassionally, there are sparks. I don't say, well, you're entitled to your opinion. I express mine, try to point out what I feel is the error of their ways. But I don't just dismiss them, either. I don't say, well, you're an idiot and a crusty old white man, I don't have time for you. It's like Jehovah's Witnesses. It's no good to shut the door in their face. You have to reason with them, discuss, argue.
That was the kind of classroom I always enjoyed being in; one in which students and teachers discussed, argued, debated the various points and merits. A final decision was never reached, but who wants a final word on art? If there was such a thing as a final word on an experience, what would be the point in experiencing it again? That's why I have a problem, just like you do, with people who intellectualize art, take it away from the arena of experience, of emotion, or even thought. Because thought and intellect are two different things.
When I said that any experience or reaction is a valid one, it's not saying that all should be equally respected. There are people who think "American Pie" is an elegy for Buddy Holly and a time long past; and then there's that nut who thinks it's a post-Apocalyptic prophecy. I have no respect for that opinion. I think it's sublime in its complete and utter lack of understanding, as well as its obsessive pretension. But rather than just dismiss it, saying it's not a valid response, I would ask the guy why he feels that way, what his evidence is, and then present my case. It's discussion, and that's something you can do with art that you can't do with most other things, and that's simply beause it's a subjective experience.
In the letter you wrote me back, you brought up the example of a plumber or mechanic, and asked why we get so "squishy-soft" (a marvelously evocative word combination, by the way) when it comes to art. Plumbing or car repair are objective, like math: two plus two equals four and cannot equal five. It only requires skill and training. Art requires both of those for a full appreciation, but it also requires thought (otherwise you get children with responses learned by rote, like in Taliban schools). It is a subjective experience, like eating, or riding a rollercoaster, or sex. Some people who ride rollercoasters think it's fun, some think it's scary, some get naseous from it, some think it's insane. I might not be able to comprehend the other opinions, always been fun for me, but they are valid responses to a subjective experience. Or, my other example, sex: when it comes to head, I think it's better to give than recieve; my wife feels the opposite. Neither one of us is right; it's subjective. Some feel vanilla ice cream is better, others perfer chocolate. It's the same with art.
Take your own first experience(s) with Cassavetes and FACES. There are people who, first time around, probably fell in love with it. And then there are others who fought it tooth and nail, as you've said you did. And there are others who dismiss it out of hand. I think all these responses are valid. I don't agree with the last one, and you're right, they are films that need a second and third and fourth look to really grasp it, and then can you really grasp something that's experienced and immediate? But I would discuss it with those dismissers, try to get them to take that second look. I might not have any respect for their opinions, but I don't dismiss them out of hand as it takes me down to their level.
And I'm not saying that that's what you do. If anyone fights for Cassavetes's work in particular and challenging films in general, it's you. This e-mail is not meant to be inflammatory, snide, or an attack. I'm just clarifying something I said earlier, and offering further thoughts on the matter.
Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read it.
A wonderful, thoughtful, deep letter in reply to mine. Thanks!
We basically agree, with a quibble or two. First nothing is objective in the way you think. A car mechanic, a plumber is just as creative as a filmmaker or critic. MORE creative than most critics I know!
|In all of this vastness, we are one of only 27,000 (according to the Verdants). Oh, miracle of miracles. One bright pearl. Rejoice at the good fortune. And work for change.|
So it all comes down to the intelligence/creativity/truth value of the creative response. Some mechanics are geniuses, some dolts. (Read John Dewey on the deprecation of the manual in our culture to get a perspective on this.) Some professors similarly. The situation you describe in class is that some professors/critics have one narrow "solution" to a work: a particular brand of ideological, psychological, moral, sociological reading. They are like a plumber or mechanic with only one tool and one method: tighten that joint, that pipe! They are the dolts. Other professors/critics are Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. They can handle any candlestick in a thousand fresh, creative ways. They are the ones we both like. But what they are doing is not "subjective" in the sense of being arbitrary, personal, private, non-communicable, unreliable for others. They are finding the true, correct, interesting, valuable ways of dealing with the art work at hand. Just like the plumber or mechanic are in their fields. The fact that there are zillions of possilble "right" responses doesn't make them any more "subjective." Just as the fact that there are zillions of possible "wrong" responses doesn't make them more objective.
But perhaps the terms are throwing us. I'd just boil it down by saying that there are better and worse "readings" and "interpretations." Every response is not equal, no matter how many people "feel it" or "think it." The whole audience can be wrong about Carl Dreyer's Gertrud. Just like most of America can be wrong about American foreign policy. The whole world can be wrong about a work of art. And often has been. Artistic appreciation is affected by fads, fashions, and style systems just like everything else. Why would it be different? The work of Mozart or J.S. Bach or Rembrandt can be in fashion one day and out of fashion the next. Geniuses (like Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville) can be neglected in their own time and discovered by later generations. Artists (like Robert Frost or John Singer Sargent) can be misunderstood even by people who appreciate their work. Robert Bresson's Lancelot of the Lake can seem comical to viewers who have been trained by watching Monty Python and Quentin Tarantino and silly-ass comedy. Audiences are often wrong, and almost always superficial. Go to the ballet any night of the week and look around you. Go to the museum and listen to the stupid things people say about the paintings they are looking at.
On the other hand, one really perceptive person at the head of a class or sitting in the back of the theater can see the true things that no one else sees, that no one in an entire generation can see. That what it is to be intelligent and aware and open. Some people are like that, just as many other people are the opposite of it. But it's rare. That's what a teacher is supposed to be, of course, but isn't always -- someone who has broken out of the shackles that limit the vision of most other people.Someone not trapped in the present and the way things are. Someone who sees a little further than the average Joe. Someone who has gone up to the mountain top to meditate and come back down to make a report to the rest of us. The teacher and his or her teaching can take different forms. They don't have to be in a university or a classroom. They can teach like Buddha or Jesus, teach like Harry Wu, Paul Berg, Robert Hawke, Jimmy Carter, Bono, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, or Phillip Krapf, teach like Charlotte Beck, Steve Hagen, or John Daido Loori, or teach like Whitley Strieber, John Cassavetes, or Andrei Tarkovsky.
A great visionary teacher, a teacher of this sort, is hard to find. You may have to travel the world (imaginatively I mean) to find the teacher you need and can benefit from. And once you do, you have to put your life (intellectually and emotionally) into his or her hands. You have to throw yourself in the dirt in front of him or her. Humble yourself. Abase yourself. Let go of your old ways of knowing. He or she is the master of the key. He or she has been to other planets, talked with extraterrestrials, and come back from the other side of the moon to give you a new perspective on the earth's ways of being, to offer new visions of possibility, new forms of knowing and feeling that can change everything. But we must learn how to recognize these teachers and these truths. The world is full of scoffers and mockers and know-it-alls. The world is full of fakes and imitations and cheap knock-offs. The good teachers are never on the cover of Time. Even Jesus found only twelve rather ordinary--and quite skeptical--students interested in listening to the new ways of thinking and feeling he offered. We don't want to miss the next--or the current--Jesus. So we must search and when we find something promising, must humble ourselves and put our old ways of knowing aside.The truth--beyond our culture's and our planet's limiting forms of understanding (oh, how foolish, how limited, how petty so much of the earth's ways of knowing are)--is out there to be discovered, studied, and made our own. And in many cases we can find it on our own without needing a personal teacher. Those truths, the ones we come to on our own, are of course the highest ones and should be honored above all others. But be prepared to be in a tiny minority. Be prepared to be criticized for being different. That's the situation of all deep insight, all real morality, on our petty planet.
P.S. The true things are always disputed, doubted, and puzzled over when expressed. The most radical truths must always be expressed secretly, cryptically, obliquely. They must be sneaked past our conscious minds. To paraphrase Emily Dickinson, the truth must be told "slant." That's what the above reply attempts to do. If you want to read more on this subject see Matthew 13: 34: "Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing." And read all of Matthew 13 while you're at it. Heck, while you've got your Bible out, read Mark 4 too! Some good stuff in both places. Not a bad book to ponder. Matthew was the first critic. "Yea, though we see through a glass darkly......" And Plato's cave the first art film theater.
Subject: Shadows Screenings and All Around Congratulations and Thanks
Dear Professor Carney,
Just got the Criterion box set only to learn via your website what it Could have been. What a terrible shame.
I and some of my Cassavetes-loving friends live in New York City, but would be on the first train, plane or automobile up to Boston if we thought we might get to sit in on a screening of the original 'Shadows' cut. Is this even a remote possibility?
Anyway, I can't thank you enough, one JC fan to another, for all of your tireless dedication to properly preserving and documenting the man's legacy. It was shocking to read your account of how much trouble GR has caused you; i suppose an old woman is entitled to remembering things her way, but trying to destroy a man's work just because it doesn't jibe with her rendition of the Way things Were, well that's just unsettling. Please keep fighting the good fight, and if you're ever in New York for a JC event, I hope that you'll add my email address to any event update lists so that I might attend.
thank you and keep the faith!
Ray Carney replies:
Thanks, Tim for the good words and kind thoughts.
It would be bad enough if this were merely a "difference of opinion," but "the widow" is costing me tens of thousands of dollars defending myself from her lawyer (and the print of Sh. from destruction). As a millionaire, she can afford it. Probably doesn't even notice it. It's different at this end. I'm a low-paid academic, unfortunately. But I will NEVER turn over the print for her to suppress or destroy it! Never. I don't care what the cost or effort. This is about art, not cost-benefit analysis.
So it's more than a matter of "hurt feelings." It's more than "upsetting." It's more than "an old woman remembering things her way." She is playing Gloria. Norma Desmond. Hardball. Shoot to kill. Not a metaphor either!
But to quote Zelmo: I go on. I go on. Trying to tell the truth in our culture of unreality.
Try to make some trouble. It's the only way to go!
Subject: Cassavetes box set woes (Charles Kiselyak's Puffed-Up Puffery)
Hey there. I just wanted to say hello and let you know that I really appreciate the candor on your Cassavetes web site. I have been a big fan of his films since seeing Shadows in college and a fan of your work since it was introduced to me by my colleague Ted Baron a few years ago (he took me down into the basement of the Coolidge Corner Theatre where I devoured the press kits and stills for the touring retrospective, which came to the theatre just a couple of years before I moved to Boston).
I was really pleased to see that Criterion was releasing the new box set - finally replacing some of my well-worn Anchor Bay videos - and rushed to order one. The first thing I did was put in A Constant Forge, excitedly looking forward to seeing a three-plus hour documentary on such an extraordinary talent and interesting man. I have never spent a more excruciating three hours in my life.
How could a film about a man who pursued artistic truth be such a false piece of fluff? Not a single thing in that film rang true to me, perhaps because I had read your book and knew the true stories - but I think it was more than that, and hope that others can see the flaw in this over-sentimental piece of crap (pardon my crudeness).
While is was nice to see some interviews with Cassavetes collaborators and companions, those that were interviewed just didn't seem to ring true (well, Peter Falk was good, but he has that delivery style you just can't resist) - especially Gena Rowlands who I felt didn't really say anything, and in fact came off a little cold and disinterested in his work. I know there is amazing footage of Cassavetes out there - old interviews, the infamous Dick Cavett show, etc. But this film contained nothing but obvious clips, with considerable lapses at that. Where was Minnie and Moskowitz, Husbands (my personal favorite), Mikey and Nicky (or an interview with Elaine May for that matter), Gloria, or any scenes from his acting roles in other films? And what in the heck did those lousy poems have to do with anything? By hour three they pulled out a few little gems (like the lyrics to "Almost" - which I didn't know he did), but they felt so heavy-handed and obvious that my loathing for the film only grew.
Anyway, I liked the interview segments with you (unlike Annette Insdorf, whom my roommate and I hissed for being completely pretentious) and went to your website afterwards since I hadn't visited it in a while. Boy, did your description of the film (especially the horrifying description of the filmmaker who knew nothing about his subject), the box set, and the suppression of your work by Rowlands explain a lot. I wish I'd read that before I popped that DVD in my machine and ruined my evening (though, I still would have jumped on the box set because...you know). I haven't watched the rest of the box set yet, but I think I'm going to stick mostly to the movies themselves and avoid any more disappointing supplements.
Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for all your hard work spreading the word of Cassavetes to young pups like me - and here's hoping that someday you get to be the person in charge of making a REAL documentary about the most original, honest, and fascinating son-of-a-bitch that ever picked up a camera. Well, my favorite one, at least.
Program Director, Coolidge Corner Theatre
PS - A few years ago we did a special BFVF screening of Shadows with Lelia Goldoni and yourself. I was unfortunately out of town that day (I think I was at the Sundance Film Festival). Needless to say, I was deeply disappointed to miss that event.
Ray Carney replies:
for the kind words. May we meet some day. Boston is a big town, but
not that big. Too bad
you missed the event I held at
Harvard three or four years ago. (I guess you hadn't arrived at that
point.) I showed a ton of unknown, unavailable, amazing stuff:
Cassavetes working with actors, Cassavetes talking about his work,
the Dick Cavett wildness, the unavailable Flip Side (one
greatest dramatic performances--which I think I am the only person
in the world to have a copy of), and other things he himself
personally gave me. What larks! But I have to admit my event ran as
long as the Kiselyak film. It was almost four hours. But I think you
would have enjoyed it.
Anyway, keep kicking. Keep acting up. Keep the faith. The world needs it!
P.S. Ever shown Andrew Bujalski's or David Barker's work at the Coolidge? You should. The young Cassaveteses are out there still making films, still being overlooked, while the media chase after the next stupid silly buzz.
Dear Pr. Carney,
I'm a mathematics and film-obsessed student at Brown who is dying to come to Boston and see your newly discovered print of Shadows! The syllabi on your website had no future showings listed, but I will come to Boston in a heartbeat to see any other showing in the next 6 months (hopefully sooner.) Please let me know when I can see it. Thank you so much for your time.
Hello Ray Carney,
My name is Jane Spencer, I wanted to thank you for bringing notice to my film, LITTLE NOISES, and let you know I have been working in Europe, am about to do a film this spring called BOB'S NOT GAY, and another called THE RED WEATHER is in development. Hollywood was a very difficult place for me, and Europe is actually quite good to independent filmmakers, I find.
At any rate, I just wanted to say I also read your thoughts and theories on film and was most impressed and moved that someone was writing these things, and calling attention to John Cassavetes, whom I have deep admiration for, and Tarkovsky and all of the films that have been so moving and should be seen - it is great that you are calling attention to them (I am not including mine in such a group, but thank you for mentioning it as well! I was very moved that you did).
Also, ironically, I wrote and directed a really low budget film while in L.A. called FACES ON MARS, that I am now preparing for distribution screenings, but in it was an actor who had worked as a child, with Cassavetes on a play and is close friends with Gena Rowlands, named Riley Novak, but I believe his real name is Lindsay Bishop. He is the lead in my film FACES ON MARS. At any rate, having always loved Cassavetes' work I surprised to be working with this young actor who had known him.
He's a very good actor, by the way, but is now serving in the Army in Iraq...strange world.
Anyway, I found your email on imdb regarding Cassavetes and wanted to contact you and say thanks.
My best to you and keep doing what you do,
Ray Carney replies:
Thanks Jane, for the kind words. When the words come from an artist, they count double. Thank you.
I'd love to see anything you could show me or at least have notices about local screenings.
"Hollywood is a difficult place" is the understatement of the century. A little like saying it's a bit warm in Hell.
I wish you all the best of luck and happiness. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it's not about money or fame, but about enjoying what we do, learning something and—if we're really lucky—giving a little more love and kindness and intelligence to the planet before we shuffle off.
Keep going. It matters!
Hello Professor Carney,
About two years ago I emailed you to thank you for the work you have done on the behalf of moviemakers seeking an alternative mode of expression, a cinema that aspires to do more than make money at the box office. I was happy to receive an email back from you. Thank you, again. The temptation of making "quality" cinema, and conforming to a mode of expression, is always tempting for us moviemakers. We want our cinema to be seen and we enjoy sharing our work with others. Creating something "alternative" makes it more difficult, but we have the satisfaction of having created something that rejects paradigm. Having recently finished a documentary regarding homelessness, freedom, and America, called Out of the Cage, I'm in the process of sending it to festivals and markets. However, the documentary does not feel, smell, taste like "quality" cinema - therefore it has been rejected - so far - by AFI. It is a documentary that attempts to remove "effect" from the narrative. I did not want to create a "fantastic" narrative from my perspective but from theirs, the subjects of the project. I wanted to feature their stories not my "moviemaking." As much as it is possible, my objective was to let things be, to let the glorious people tell their stories from their perspective, allowing and giving them their right to tell their stories (or at least the stories they wanted to tell), and be represented (as much as possible) from their viewpoint.
Reading your work continues to give me power to make cinema that reflects my predilection as a cinema-maker.
With every work of cinema I make, I return to Andre Bazin's wonderful question, "Que-est-ce que le cinema?"
... and I can happily reply, "Je ne sais pas - mais je suis en train de chercher."
Merci, M. Carney, pour les mots.
Thank you again for your words and my warmest regards,
Matthew Marchisano, Artistic Director
The MD Marchisano Cinema Ensemble
Ray Carney replies:
We're all on that same path. We're all searchers. We're all explorers.
Thanks for your beautiful letter. These AFI types need to go into a museum and look at some modern art. They are still living back in the Renaissance imaginatively—judging work by the number of "glazes" applied, the polish and flair of the technique. Duchamp, Dubuffet, Pollock, and a thousand other painters and sculptors showed the possibility of "rough beauty" more than fifty years ago. Degas showed the complexity of "partial perspectives" more than a century ago. But the AFI types are still looking for picture postcard prettiness! Such is the sway of Hollywood. And it's everywhere. The production teachers in my own department still "grade" films on the basis of which is the "best" lighted or focused or framed. As if such things mattered. The Famous Artists School of Drawing. They're all slow learners with grade school conceptions of art and philistine values. Well, what else is new?
But fare forward, fare onward, voyager.
To: Professor Ray Carney
From: J. Hayes
Subject: MFA Film Studies
I have been following your writings for several years now and I have become very interested in the graduate Film Studies program at Boston University as a result.
I am a graduate of San Diego State University; with a BA in Communication and a Single Subject Teaching Credential in English. I have been teaching at the high school level for several years now, but have decided to leave secondary teaching in order to pursue the teaching of film history/aesthetics/criticism at the university level.
I had the good fortune of studying under Greg Kahn, professor of film studies at SDSU, as well as becoming a veracious student of Duncan Shepherd’s criticism (San Diego Reader).
It is not realistic for me to apply to BU because of financial reasons unless I could work as a Graduate Assistant while attending the MFA Film Studies; is this a possibility? Would being a Graduate Assistant significantly lower my tuition fees?
Again, I have greatly appreciated your insights into film (as-an-art-form) and even if I do not attend BU, it has been a real pleasure to discover your film/literature insights and recommendations.
Ray Carney replies:
Thanks for the good words. But unfortunately Boston U. doesn't provide a way to do it for free or even close. It's one of my struggles with the school, since a few other schools make this possible, but it's a private university and a pretty expensive place to attend.
On the other hand, I'm not sure you really need it. Why not teach yourself what you need to know? That's what most of the great critics and artists have done anyway. Mark Rappaport didn't go to film school. Robert Kramer didn't go to film school. Cassavetes didn't go to film school. Many of the best critics of the past (like Henry James and D.H. Lawrence and Emerson) never took degrees at a university in criticism. All you need to do to join their ranks is study the masters of art and criticism. Most universities are a waste of time anyway. You're studying with people who aren't smart enough and don't see far enough. The artists are the true teachers. And a very few critics out there. That means that the way to do it is to look again and again at great films and to read great criticism (darn little of that in film, but some good stuff in many other arts that can show you how to do it in film).
And, most important of all: Write! It's not enough to think. You have to do something with your ideas. Consciousness cannot precede expression. Take notes about films and other art you encounter. And struggle to put your thoughts into sentences and paragraphs. That is key. The struggle for verbal consciousness. Read the letter I write to entering grad students. I have it posted on the About RC: Boston U. pages. I say more or less the same thing to them, you'll see. It's the only way really to learn. And you don't get it in classes.
But please don't confine yourself to my site. The site only has the least little bit of my work. Read the books and collections of interviews, essays, and lectures. You can become a critic on your own. And God knows we need more good ones!
All best wishes.
Dear Professor Carney,
I was an avid filmgoer when I was younger, and was an avid fan of the work of John Cassavetes. I can remember seeing his film FACES and being just thrilled by it. I would be thrilled to see an alternate version of this work, but what I cannot understand is : if this is in your opinion the version of the movie that John Cassavetes felt was the final version of his work, why did he not release it rather than the version that was released? Mr Cassavetes was after all still alive and would remain so long after the release of this film.
It is unfortunate that Ms. Rowlands does not see how significant the
study of alternate versions of filmmakers works are to the understanding
of the filmmakers' intentions.
Ray Carney replies:
Nice to meet you! Your first paragraph is based on a mistaken conclusion. I am not saying that Cassavetes did not change Faces (or Shadows for that matter). I am not saying that one version of either film is better or worse than the other. That is not the central issue. What I am fighting for is preserving ALL of Cassavetes' versions of his various films. It is important that they are not destroyed or suppressed by others in a misguided attempt to present only one "right" version. We don't throw out the Quartos of Shakespeare (or suppress them) just because we have the Folio edition. We don't throw out Leonardo's notebooks just because we have his paintings. We don't suppress Henry James's earlier editions just because we have the New York edition of his work. We cherish, we preserve, we make available all of those variants, because of what they can tell us about the artist's mind and heart, his or her changing goals and intentions, his or her revisionary impulses. To change the metaphor, we may be adults but we can still learn from things we did and made in our childhood. Life changes. We have to honor the changes, not deny them or suppress them. Cassavetes himself knew this. In his lifetime he released multiple versions of his work. He knew his feelings and understandings changed. He understood what I am talking about.
But your letter prompts me to focus on a common misunderstanding that has grown up about Shadows in particular, which I fear you with your talk about "suppression" have fallen victim to. Cassavetes did not suppress the first version of Shadows. At some point, he just lost it and it dropped out of circulation! He was not opposed to it being screened and seen. (In fact, he screened the first version even after the second version was complete. Yes. He continued to screen the first version! I have lots of information about that too.) To get the correct information, please see the following answer to several queries I have received. It is immediately below this on this page.
But there's a larger point here: You are depending too much on gossip or conjecture for your information. You really should try to track down the facts before you jump to conclusions. (Just like Al and Gena should!) I suspect you read something on a web site that made you feel Cassavetes had "suppressed" the first version. It's just not true. Be careful about that! I'd recommend that you read my Cassavetes on Cassavetes and Shadows books. They have the facts. The truth. Read books! Not web sites. Most of the internet is junk—stupid, misinformed, superficial, wrong. Go to libraries and bookstores. Anything good makes its way into a book! Read my books, not my web site!!!!! : )
As far as the second paragraph goes, I couldn't agree more! But Gena is completely clueless in this respect. Completely. I got nowhere when I made that argument. And believe me, I made it and made it and made it and made it and made it .....
Ray Carney, Prof. of Film and American Studies
WHAT WAS CASSAVETES' FEELING ABOUT SCREENINGS OF THE FIRST VERSION OF SHADOWS?
Since Gena Rowlands's and Al Ruban's basic position about the first version of Shadows is that Cassavetes never wanted it to be shown, several people have written me to ask the source for the statement that I quote at the head of the following page on the site.
The text they are asking about reads:
"Now, a lot of film buffs heard about the two versions of Shadows so they said, 'We want to see the first version, which was the great version of Shadows!' .... So we showed that first version of Shadows and they championed it. They thought it was great.... That other version exists and ... is allowed to be shown at any time...." —John Cassavetes in an interview with Andre Labarthe, when he was asked whether he didn't want people to see the earlier version of Shadows or had suppressed the print of it.
Gena Rowlands's whole position is that she is honoring JC's wishes by not showing the first version, and that I "have failed to respect John Cassavetes' wishes." Peter Becker's email firing me uses these exact words and says that that is why Rowlands insisted I be fired. Well, the Labarthe interview quote is one refutation of that, but I want to emphasize that Cassavetes' statement to Labarthe is not mere verbiage or empty talk. It's a little known fact, but a fact nonetheless that Cassavetes actually did conduct screenings of the first version of Shadows even after he had finished and screened the second version. I have in my possession detailed information about regular theatrical screenings (in other words, real, public, commercial screenings, not private events for friends and relatives) of the first version of Shadows that Cassavetes approved and conducted before the first version was lost on the subway car. (Of course he couldn't conduct any more after the film was lost.) There is no doubt whatsoever that these screenings took place. I have tracked down every detail about them: the advertising, the box office ticket sales records, the attendance figures, and the rental payments made to Cassavetes. I have in my possession the documentation approving the screenings and naming the payment terms with signatures on it. And Gena Rowlands has knowledge that these screenings took place, because I myself sent the information to her months ago, along with dozens of other pieces of information about the early history of the first version. But don't confuse her with the facts! She still denies there was a "first version"—let alone that Cassavetes ever allowed it to be screened for the public!
In summary: Ruban and Rowlands are wrong, wrong, wrong. As the above statement by Cassavetes establishes, he was not opposed to screenings of the first version of Shadows. And as the screening records in my possession establish, he actually did hold public screenings of the first version. For what it's worth, he also told me, near the end of his life, that he would love to have the film found and screened again. He wished he knew where it was. He wished it weren't lost. In short, ALL of the evidence says the same thing. The filmmaker himself did NOT want the first version destroyed, suppressed, or hidden away for no one ever to see. (As Gena Rowlands and Al Ruban claim and as they are having their lawyer attempt to do by seizing the print from me and taking it out of circulation.)
If we are going to play the rhetorical game that Rowlands has begun, it would be more accurate to say that SHE is ironically enough the one who is "not honoring Cassavetes' wishes" and that I am the one who is struggling against the lawyers to defend his wishes. Cassavetes himself said the first version could be shown. He rented the first version out for regular, public screenings. And now she wants to fry me for doing what he himself endorsed and did, while herself contravening his wishes.
But, to get back to where I began, the question at hand is where does the quote that I have on the site, the quote that I have transcribed above—the quote from Cassavetes saying that he has no objection to the first version of Shadows being screened—come from? Well, my answer follows. I've sent it to several different people who have asked about it, but to avoid having to write the same reply over and over again, I am posting the text of my reply to one of the inquirers below. Where can you find the statement by Cassavetes saying that he has no problem with the first version of Shadows being shown? It's in an unexpected place. Read the reply that follows to find out. I hope it gives you a chuckle.
You're right. That statement by Cassavetes completely refutes Criterion's and Rowlands's positions. I'm delighted to give you the source. And you know the joke? You'll laugh when I explain it. The quote is included in the Criterion box set! It was my "Trojan horse." A little "Easter Egg" hidden away on the disks, waiting to be found.
Here's the back story: the box set's producer knew very little about Cassavetes and I more or less worked out the contents of the box set for her, which means all of the material eventually included, plus a lot more that wasn't included. (Unfortunately, some of the best stuff didn't make the cut thanks to good old Al and Gena and Peter Becker.) Over a period of months I did hundreds of hours of research and made dozens of recommendations for supplementary material to be included with the disks. Among many other things, I suggested the Cineastes de notre temps documentary (which I had one of the only copies of in America—and which a few years before I had already suggested to Kiselyak to use in his documentary) where Andre Labarthe interviews Cassavetes about Faces. It's an interesting piece in itself, but one of the reasons I thought it would be especially amusing to include it was because around 42 minutes into it (just after the point it switches from Faces' 1965 pre-release to its 1968 post-release period, where John is sitting in a chair with a tie on) John starts talking about why he was unfairly charged with "suppressing" the first version of Shadows. Labarthe asks John something to the effect of: "Why did you suppress the first version of Shadows? Why did you refuse to make it available to all the people who wanted to see it? Why don't you want it to be seen?" And you can hear John's answer with your own ears. It's the one I quote on the site. He says he didn't suppress it, and that it can be shown any time. He says he prefers the second version of the film, but has nothing against screenings of the first.
Well, as Criterion's scholarly advisor, I thought it would be a great joke to have this on the release, since they were giving me such a hard time about including the first version of Shadows. And Criterion took my advice and included it, probably without ever listening to the piece carefully enough to realize that they were including something that refuted their own and Rowlands's and Ruban's position on Shadows! I thought it would be good for a laugh.
Even though Rowlands had my name removed from the box set, I really truly was the scholarly advisor for everything that went into it and that's what scholarly advisors are for: to know the material inside and out, to make recommendations on what to include and what not to include, and to make sure that important information gets onto the disks. And that's what I did. This is important information. I got it into the set. : )
Side issue: Does Peter Becker actually pay attention to what his company is issuing? Don't answer that.....!
All best etceteras,
To read more about Gena Rowlands's response to Prof. Carney's discovery of the first version of Shadows, click here.
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.