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Ray Carney's Mailbag -- This section of the site contains letters written to Prof. Carney by students and artists, announcements of news, events, and screenings, and miscellaneous observations about life and art by Ray Carney. Letters and notices submitted by readers are in black. Prof. Carney's responses, observations, and recommendations are in blue. Note that Prof. Carney receives many more letters and announcements than he can possibly include on the site. The material on these pages has been selected as being that which will be the most interesting, inspiring, useful, or informative to site readers. Click on the first page (via the links at the top or bottom of the page) to read an explanation of this material, why it is being posted, and how this relatively small selection was made from among the tens of thousands of messages Prof. Carney has received.

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Dear Professor,

I was wondering if you knew a resource where I can obtain screenplays by John Cassavetes. I've searched on the Web and found scripts only by Nick, nothing from his father. I'm interested to know how the read is different from the films - regarding the improvisational spirit of the action in the films: how does it read on paper? Of course I've checked Amazon and Barnes and Nobles but apparently these two venues are too mainstream and nothing seems to be published. Other screenplays resources online proved to be useless also. Do you know? Can you help? Can you point me in the right direction?

Thanks again and my warmest regards,

Matthew Marchisano, Artistic Director
The MD Marchisano Cinema Ensemble, Inc.

Ray Carney replies:

None of the unpublished material has been made available in the fifteen years after JC's death. I know publishers who are interested, but Gena Rowlands refuses. Of course, I have all of them or most of them as gifts, but obviously can't go against Rowlands's wishes. She'd prob. try to throw me in jail anyway, if I did distribute them. (Not a joke or exaggeration. I assume you have seen her dirty tricks about the lost first version of Shadows I discovered. She didn't exactly write me a thank you note! If you don't know what I'm talking about, go to my web site under the John Cassavetes: Shadows: News section for a good laugh or cry.) Rowlands is not really interested in this material. Guess you could say she just doesn't get it..... in so many different ways...........


Prof. Carney,

Too bad ... and she's such a good performer ...


Photo by Mark Backus / Summer 2005Ray Carney replies:

That's the fallacy! Rowlands is NOT Mabel Longhetti or Myrtle Gordon or Sarah Lawson. She's not even close to being like them. Those were she played, all imagined and written by JC. They are NOT Rowlands! They are acting! But you'd be amazed at how hard it is for people, even so-called sophisticated people like critics and reviewers, to understand this. You'd just as likely find Rene Falconetti leading an army or having visions from God as find Gena cooking spaghetti for a bunch of construction workers or walking down the street in mismatched clothes or waiting for her kids to get off the school bus that way. But people can't seem to make the separation. Funny how naive people are. You might as well believe Henry Fonda was a farmer living in the dust bowl or Marilyn Monroe was a singer with a band. But movies make people stupid. Such is life. Such is art. Repeat after me ten times: It's a movie. It's not life. Gena is NOT Mabel! I say this in the C on C book five different ways, but no one seems to take it in, in all of its depth. And it's critical to the understanding of John's work!


Prof. Carney,

I am seeking a filmscript, DVD, or tape, in that order of preference, of the Cassavetes film Husbands. My search so far has been fruitless. Do you know how a filmscript and/or copy might be obtained? If not, have you any suggestions that might be helpful?

Joel Hirsch

Ray Carney replies:

In terms of the scripts, see my reply to a similar inquiry on page nine of my letters pages (just above this on this page). I have three or four versions of the film script, but am not allowed to distribute them, unfortunately.

In terms of videos, it's evidence of the state of appreciation of Cassavetes' work, even fifteen years after his death, that the film has never made it to DVD. A VHS tape was released about five years ago, but in such a small run that I have been told that it is now going for $200 on Ebay or similar collectors' sites. But save your money. What the Ebay bidders and the collectors don't realize is that the tape doesn't have the entire film. More than ten minutes of the version Cassavetes released is missing, just as it is from the so-called "restored" UCLA print. Welcome to America. Money, power, and celebrity talk and art goes begging.

Someday, in heaven (if we're both so lucky) ask me again and I'll show you everything I have, including deleted scenes and outtakes. I describe some of this material in my Cassavetes on Cassavetes book—though in a deliberately veiled way. Check it out. (Click here to find out how to buy it.) While we're still back here on earth, we have to live with what is, not what ought to be. Cassavetes knew that too. It's the genius of his work.



Prof. Carney:

A thought about the unfair, unfortunate situation you have been placed in: We live in a capitalistic democracy - the capitalist side is sooo out of whack... That's why "it's all about money and profits" is so strong these days. Americans have sold their souls and their values to the highest bidder. Makes me think of the "pendulum" theory I learned about in sociology class, about the only thing that gives me hope these days. Everything will swing in one direction until it goes too far to the right. Then there will be a counterreaction that will change the movement back toward the left. Then vice versa, etc., etc., etc. I hope election day marks the counterreaction to current "business as usual"!!!! We can only hope...

It is extremely hard to be the pioneer and break through rigid structures and concrete paradigms. People either tend to distort anything new to fit it into their existing paradigms or throw it away as having no value. Their thought patterns have to be retrained. Which is what you do! It just takes time. You are a pioneer in spirit, and I imagine that is one reason why you love John's work so much. Keep fighting and swinging away!


Ray Carney replies:

Thanks for the thought and the moral support. I pray for the future of my country. I despair I mean. Our culture and world are in a bad way. Very sick. Very screwed up. Very confused. And TV and the politicians are wrong about it as usual. The problems we face have nothing to do with Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, or the war in Iraq (as wrong as that is). Those things are just the symptoms of the real problem—the surface rash the deathly disease manifests as it kills. What's wrong is our values, our priorities, our failures of knowledge in a thousand deeper ways. The real problem is our neglect of—or ignorance aboutfundamental human values brought on by our selfishness, our greed, our fear, our spiritual emptiness, and our failures to love and care about the things that really matter.

A planet in trouble, and baby, it ain't the tsunamis and hurricanes we have to worry about.  It's not even the terrorists.  It's the leaders and opinion shapers.It's the job of the artist to break free from the lies and superficialities of the media, the politicians, and the businessmenand to show us what those real problems are, and to bring us back to the things that really matter. But it's hard. All of the forces of our culture are arrayed against the truths artists reveal, which is why we need artists all the moreto tell us things no one else is saying, no one else wants to hear.

I hope there is a pendulum effect. But I'm not convinced there is. I do know that there is no sanctuary from the forces of money, power, celebrity. Those we would customarily look to as alternatives to the business values of our culture—professors, university administrators, journalists, critics, cultural commentators, and many so-called artists—are as compromised and corrupted as our businessmen and politicians. Well, now that I think of it....there are alternatives: mothers and fathers who love their children, elementary school teachers, nurses, priests, nuns, social workers, ministers, care givers, and lovers of every sort. So maybe, just maybe, there is hope. I hope so.

PS. You might want to read C. Wright Mills on this subject...... he has some beautiful pieces.


Subject: Necessary Experiences/Life/Art/Cassavetes

Prof. Carney,

Thank you for sending me a special free copy of "Necessary Experiences." I was very surprised! My fiance Dennis had been in touch with you - I know it! Thank you. Your words are, as usual, inspirational, honest, pensive, and a joy to read as I tread the waters and strange terrain of living life as the artist that I know I am and balancing all of the unfortunate ills of our society: Pop culture, Capitalism, and everyone's sick need for fame and fortune at the expense of the spirit and the power of art.

You are an inspiration to independent filmmakers and Artists everywhere.

WE love you.

Thank you,

Corinna J. Fleck
Empty Space Productions

Ray Carney replies:

Dear Corrina,

I've never met your boyfriend Dennis but when he asked me if I could send you a copy as a present and suggested a possible inscription, I knew he was a special guy and you were a special kind of woman. So I wanted to make it my present too, which is why I insisted he not pay.

Thanks for your kind words and deep thoughts. We must all hold onto our souls and follow that star, not the ones the world delusively offers. To do anything for money or fame is the wrong reason. The only right reason is for love and giving. I just spoke this afternoon at a Boston U. open house for grad students visiting a number of different schools and told them if some teacher or dean stood up and told them that if they attended their school they could becomes rich or famous some day, they should run for the door. I told them the only reason to go to grad school was to have a chance to explore themselves and our crazy, messed up culture so that they might come to some understanding of themselves and it—and eventually be able to communicate their understanding to others. Needless to say, that's NOT what most of TV or the movies are about! In our brief time here we must try to understand who we are and what really matters, and try to bring our feelings of love and kindness and our understandings to others. I know from your letter that that is what you are doing in your own way.

So in conclusion I don't wish you worldly success. It's a curse! I don't wish you luck.You don't need it! I wish you growth and change and re-evaluation and understanding and a continuous series of ever new understandings different from your old understandings—and of course having a wild, scary, thrilling, spiritually rewarding adventure as you move through it all. Life is an adventure if we are brave enough to let it be one, to take chances, to risk everything to make it one.

To quote the immortal Lenny Bruce, keep "digging" ever deeper, and keep having those "necessary experiences!"


(To buy the "Necessary Experiences" packet or any of the three packets of thoughts on life and art by Prof. Carney, click here.)

Dear Mr. Carney,

I am a big fan of John Cassavetes and, by extension, you. I admire the sheer courage it took him, and now you, to get your work done and out before the public. I have read nearly everything you've written about John Cassavetes... along with chunks of your book on Dreyer and many of your articles in film magazines about the artistic process.

It is very disturbing to read about your difficulties with Gena Rowlands and Al Ruban. Of course I don't have to mention how ironic it is that both Cassavetes and now you have suffered from being blackballed by establishment-type figures.

But the desire to pinup a fairytale-style happy face on life is something that Cassavetes faced in his working life. He refused to yield to it, even when it could have done him some (financial) good. None of his characters were one-dimensional. None were all-heroic, nor all bad, but the general public seems to unable to accept this. The fact that Cassavetes could be abusive to his wife and cast, an alcoholic, and a huckster at times, doesn't mean he was a rat and unworthy of admiration. It simply means he was human, like anyone else. Yet he managed to produce great art. To me that is pretty inspiring.

Of course you know all this. Still, I just don't know why people need to see their heroes as glowing Jesuses or selfless knights in white armor. I think this tendency to for people to view life in a fairytale, unreal, light leads to a hell of lot of problems... look at the presidential race. What makes people so afraid? Is it fear or money, I don't know.

But thanks for fighting the good fight. If it were not for your continued persistence in championing his work and intelligently pointing out its virtues, I am afraid that Cassavetes' films may have been shunned aside and left in the proverbial dustbin of film history long ago.

Jack Florek,
New Jersey

Subject: A fan.


As I know you're a busy man, I will keep it quite brief. I am taking classes at the New School University and enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College.

I have just been introduced to John Cassavetes. I read your book on " Shadows", and some of your essays about how and why film is taught the way it is taught. In short, I find your message uplifting and as an aspiring filmmaker, absolutely necessary. Cassavetes was a genius, and his films have completely changed the way I look at American Cinema, and Cinema in general. I feel, very strongly, that my exposure to John Cassavetes has in some way changed my overall vision and outlook on my life in film, and having your writings supplementing my new discovery, I am climbing onward and upward. Thank you so much, for everything that you do. I greatly appreciate it, and feel in debt to you. Thank you for your time.

With respect,
Marcus M. Silverman

Ray Carney replies:


Thanx for the good words. But you must broaden your reading and viewing. Cassavetes is only one figure. Mike Leigh is the great contemporary Cassavetes. Look at his work. Read my book on him for starters. Then look at his work again. Then look at his work again. Then glance at the book again. But keep in mind the work is the real teacher, not the book. The book is just a traveller's guide to tell you what peak to look for, what colors it can show in the light. Mike Leigh is the real teacher. Artists are the deepest critics of their own work and of other work. Not critics. After you've mastered the book, throw it out and let the art and artist teach you the rest that you need to know.

Leigh is a good place to start, but you have to do a lot more of course. Conquer the rest of the world. Study at the feet of all of the great geniuses. Let them teach you what they knew. Master the other great artists. Skip the junk, the pop culture, the trendy stupid "hot news" in Time Out and Sight and Sound and Film Culture, and work through all of the major figures in film:Tarkovsky, Bresson, Ozu, Kiarostami, Dreyer, Chaplin, Rossellini, Jay Rosenblatt, Tom Noonan, Su Friedrich, Jean Renoir, and fifty more.... !!!

Then go beyond film and master Bach, Beethoven, Corelli, Albinoni, Vivaldi and a couple dozen others. Study inside-out the structure of the Goldberg Variations, of BWV 1042, of the double violin concerto in D-minor, of the B-minor Mass. Eat, sleep, breathe, master them.

Do the other arts: dance, opera, sculpture, painting, stand-up comedy.... See my "Recommendations for Entering Students" letter on the About Ray Carney: Boston University page of my site for more ideas. Read my "What's Wrong with.....", my "Necessary Experiences," my "Why Art Mattters." All are available for purchase via the site. (Click here to find them.)

These works and artists are essential, required, mandatory. They will bring you to life. Take you away from the death and negativism the rest of the culture is devoted to instilling.

Forgive the furious haste of this. I have miles to go before I sleep.........Go, man, go!


Click here to learn about Ray Carney's book on Mike Leigh.

Professor Carney,

I was never officially a student of yours, but I often blew off my required science class to sneak in and sit in the back row of your lectures at COM--in 1990, I saw my first Cassavetes film (A Woman Under the Influence)during one such lecture and (not to overstate it)it changed me.

In the intervening years, I've vigorously pursued the path of writing and just yesterday finished a draft of my first novel. For any writer this is momentous, and I feel moved to write a quick note to let you know how significant a role you unknowingly played. Whenever I felt inspiration lagging, struggled with the guts of a scene, and all those other pitfalls, I would log onto your website and read (the path of the artist essays in particular). It would always provide the jolt required to keep going; virtually any point you made in the text was applicable not only to film, but any other medium in which a person might labor.

So--essentially--I wanted to thank you for the inspiration, the web site, and the film suggestions, too (man, film is as much goldmine for the larcenous-hearted writer as any book). Pay day comes next week, and I'll be ordering the three packets of essays, which I very much look forward to reading. (Click here to learn about that material.)

I hope you realize that many more people aside from your students have benefitted enormously from your efforts.

Jonathan Dixon

Ray Carney replies:


Thanks for the kind words. And good luck with your novel. This culture can be hard on artists (the understatement of the week).

But keep going. It matters! Otherwise the businessmen win.


To: Ray_Carney
From: Lucas Sabean
Subject: Nice Quote

Here is a good one from Bill Hicks. It is such a shame he isn't here anymore...

"The world is like a ride at an amusement park. It goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it's very brightly coloured and it's very loud and it's fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time and they begin to question, is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, "hey - don't worry, don't be afraid, ever, because, this is just a ride..." And we... kill those people. Ha ha "Shut him up." "We have a lot invested in this ride. Shut him up. Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account and my family. This just has to be real." It's just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. Jesus murdered; Martin Luther King mudered; Malcolm X murdered; Gandhi murdered; John Lennon murdered; Reagan.... wounded. But it doesn't matter because: It's just a ride. And we can change it anytime we want. It's only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money. A choice, right now, between fear and love.

The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one. Here's what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money that we spend on weapons and defences each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace."

Hope you are well,


Ray Carney:

To anyone who doesn't know the work of the late and very great Bill Hicks: Go out and get a CD and give it a listen. He's one of the truth-telling miracles, doing one-night stands right next to Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor in stand-up comics' heaven. A pure sweet genius of insight who died much too young.

Hey Ray,

One more for your video library...

I was at Kim's Video yesterday and saw that there's a DVD of Bill Hicks performances just released, including his RELENTLESS material. Looks like a packed DVD, and only 16 bucks... I'm going to pick one up soon.

Also, Kiarostami's ten is in the racks.

When I see anything about Brown Bunny, I'll let you know (Haven't seen the film yet, myself). I've heard some funny stories about the shoot...

Best wishes,

Robert Quirk

Ray Carney replies:

Thanks Rob! I think I have most of Hicks already (thanks to the kindness of bootleg friends!). And thanks for the Brown Bunny info. I knew you'd know, if anyone did. Others I'm on the lookout for in good DVD copies are Lars Von Trier (Dancer in the Dark strikes me as a certifiable work of genius) and early Mike Leigh (I'll never get tired of Bleak Moments, Kiss of Death, Abigail's Party, Meantime, High Hopes, Life is Sweet, and a few others). Thanks for being my distant early warning system. Thank God for Kim's!


P.S. While I'm thinking of it: Have you seen Nicolas Cage's Sonny? It's an actor's work, with a weak script, but as pure acting has its moments. David Barker's Afraid of Everything is an even greater and more important work. Bressonian in its austerity, capturing the mystery of being as deeply as Bresson does. A three-person drama in one room—a love triangle with depths beyond depths of secrets, silences, and mysteries. I highly recommend it—though I doubt it's available anywhere. I got it from the filmmaker. Barker is this year's Caveh Zahedi or Andrew Bujalski. Why is real greatness always so hard for people to see? While all the critics go panting after the charlatans, the masters of flash and trash, of tricks and stunts and empty-souled jokes—the Lynches, Tarantinos, DePalmas, Coens, and everyone else Pauline Kael would have loved.

Professor Carney,

I just want to thank you for the depth of your thought and the words of encouragement to artists that can be found in your writings. At the moment, I'm not making any money or selling any of my films. I've applied for over forty "real" jobs-- and have yet to secure even a single interview. My wife and I are poor, tired of being poor, tired of being tired, tired of hanging on until the film sells. Each day, I feel more and more like a failure-- but when I came back to some of your writing today, it made the burden considerably easier to bear. I'm not a great or even important or even original artist-- I create people and stories and I do it more-or-less pretty well. That's my small gift and I'm content with it. But what I'm doing is not mindless or mediocre or dumbed-down (I hope). And your thoughts about art and artists make this struggle more worthwhile. This didn't come out quite right, but I'm basically saying thank you-- your words have given me comfort in these hard times.

Name withheld

Ray Carney replies:

I appreciate your kind words. Sorry to hear things are so discouraging. It's no different for most of the people who write me.

It's hard to do good work in this culture. The soul's creations are never valued. It's always an uphill battle. Even Jesus only had twelve followers. And one of them was a fink!

I don't know what to say. My life isn't so glamorous either, if that's any consolation. It's always a struggle to do good work. It's why I feel a bond with so many young or beginning filmmakers. We're all in the same boat.... and sometimes it feels like it is sinking! All I know is that we can't measure anything important in terms of money or worldly success. But of course we can't live on our good looks either! : )

I was talking to a friend last night who is so discouraged by the recent election stupidity (proof that de Tocqueville was right: democracy does not work, mediocrity triumphs) that she is seriously considering moving to Canada. All I could tell her was that going somewhere else solves nothing. It all comes down to whatever love and kindness we can give to the world within fifty feet around us—the people in our family, our friends, our students, our loved ones. And in Canada or the U.S., that fifty foot circle will be the same, and will be whatever we make it. But I know that doesn't help her—or you. Just believe that if we do things for the right reasons, there is some sort of divinity that will guide us to the right place.... and if we do them for the wrong (for money or power or popularity) we will never get anywhere that really matters......


Dear Professor Carney,

Hello. It's me from the Philippines.

I'd like to share with you a brief statement my friend Emerson told me after he caught the a retrospective by great Japanese filmmakers sponsored by the Japanese embassy here in Manila a few years back.

At that time, like most of us "pseudo" cinephiles (I use the work pseudo because filmmakers like Ozu and Cassavetes don't usually register on our viewing radars and director name dropping as much as Kurosawa and Tarantino), he was only familiar with Kurosawa as a Japanese filmmaker. I had mentioned the festival to him and he was very interested to go watch the films. It was almost by accident that he chanced upon (if I'm not mistaken with the titles) Autumn Afternoon or Late Autumn. He had never heard of Ozu at that time.

It wouldn't prepared him. He was totally wrecked by the film. As he described this scene to me between a man and a woman preparing tea, then the woman leaving the man alone in the room still preparing the tea, the emotions under the surface of the screen threatening to spill out and rise above his chin, he said, "I went to see Kurosawa, but I remembered Ozu."

Then some years later, I saw Tokyo Story (finally!). A friend who saw Tokyo Story even went as far as to equate Kurosawa with Tarantino as compared to Ozu but those things are other stories ...

Many thanks Professor. Your writing and feelings always helps remind me that our lives are what my work must be concerned with.

I'm in an internet cafe as I write you this. My boss is texting me to go back to the office. I'll send you another e-mail soon.

Stay true,
JP Carpio

Ray Carney replies:

That's a bit hard on Kurosawa, but I take your point. Ozu should be on anyone's "top ten list." So should Bresson. And Tarkovsky. And Jay Rosenblatt. And Mark Rappaport. And Kiarostami. And a few others. The trouble is that everyone wants to follow what's new and hot. But as Ezra Pound said, art gives us the news that stays news. All those new and hot filmmakers will be old and cold the day after tomorrow.

Keep exploring and discovering. That's what it's about. The joy of exploration. And finding out for yourself. Not taking anyone's word for it.


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