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.
A note about the material that follows:
I receive more than 1000 personal packages, letters, or e-mails a month. The majority come from people I have never met or heard of before, but who have read my work on this site, in a magazine, or a book. Many are from young filmmakers, students, or aspiring artists in other fields seeking advice, information, or assistance. Many of the letters I receive in the mail are accompanied by videotapes that young filmmakers want me to view and comment on. Some send scripts. Many other writers request detailed information about particular films and directors, about the availability of certain works on videotape, or advice about their studies or careers. If a videotape is included, the sender invariably wants me to look at his or her work and write a blurb to be used in a press release or on the video box. Others ask to meet with me in person and discuss their work with me, frequently offering to fly to Boston from another city to do that.
To be completely honest, the number of requests is overwhelming. No one person could possibly keep up with them. Though I answer most of the emails and letters, I never have enough time to reply in as much depth or detail as I would like. (And I usually think of the best thing to say after I have sent off my reply!) Although I would greatly like to (and attempt to) look at the videos I receive, it is simply impossible to keep up with the influx. My coffee table is heaped with videotapes I have not yet been able to find the time to view.
The preceding is an explanation to anyone who has written me and felt that my reply was rushed or inadequate. It is also an apology to anyone who has sent me a videotape and waited patiently for a response that came very belatedly (or has not yet come).
But the paradoxical point I want to make is how lucky I feel to receive these e-mails and letters. Reading them, I have often thought how wonderful it would be to be able to share them with others. Almost without exception, they are so deep, so thoughtful, so profound, and so heartfelt, that it is a shame that only I had the opportunity to read them. So I have decided to post a small number of them here.
What follows is the briefest sample of a few of the thousands of notes, queries, and observations I have received in the past few years. The letters are posted in approximately the same order they were received, beginning on the first few pages with letters from two or three years ago, and running up to the most recently received ones on the final pages.
When I began posting this material approximately three years ago, I made it a policy not to include any of my replies, because I felt that what I wrote was never as wise, passionate, or powerful as what people wrote me. So the letters on the first few pages don't include replies. But after posting them, I realized that I was answering many of the same questions from readers over and over again, often dozens of times. I thought I could cut back on the amount of my mail by posting the answers so that frequently asked questions would already be answered on the site. That is the reason that the letters from page 5 on often include replies to frequently asked questions.
Fond dream. The strategy did not work. I have not been successful at cutting back on the number of questions I am asked. My mail has, in fact, almost doubled in the past year -- probably in part due to the publicity surrounding my discovery of the long-lost first version of Shadows and Gena Rowlands's attempt to confiscate and suppress the print. But I would still recommend that anyone who has a run-of-the-mill question about independent film or the work of John Cassavetes scan the letters and replies to see if your question has already been answered here. It will be one less email I have to answer!
My larger goal in publishing these letters is to help everyone who reads them realize that you are not alone. Being an artist -- or caring about art -- in America is a lonely proposition. Our culture is so geared to "selling, selling, selling," and so devoted to making money, that it is easy to feel that you are the only one who cares about art -- who cares about self-expression, truth-telling, and things of the spirit. The function of this section of the site is to show you that there are thousands like you out there, working for other reasons than financial ones.
We are all struggling together to express our personal truths - all of us - and it always is a struggle, with inevitable frustrations and setbacks. Don't let your disappointments embitter you or stop you from going on. Above all, don't be hard on yourself if you haven't succeeded or found a way to "make it" financially with your art. It's not your fault. America does not support its artists. The United States is a commercial culture with virtually no serious artistic jobs that pay a living wage. The only jobs are commercial ones, devoted to buying and selling things. If you are feeling discouraged about how hard it is to make a living with your art, if you feel that you have to sell your soul to the devil by holding a day job to stay alive, if you feel that no one knows or cares about your work, remember that you are not alone and that that doesn't make you a failure, unless you define yourself by the (screwed up) values of our commercial culture. That's just the way our culture and the mass media that support it are structured. They don't understand or care about art, and they probably never will. It's not your fault things are that way, and it's not in your control. So don't beat yourself up about it, and don't feel discouraged.
Seek out kindred spirits. Go to museums with them. Go to concerts. Go to plays. Attend artistic events together. Help them and encourage them with their art and ask them to help you. Having a few friends who care about art that you can go to films and museums and plays with, to keep you inspired, can make all the difference in the world. If you don't have the money or equipment to make a movie, do something else artistic: write a story or a poem, write an essay, read a book, or put on a play in your living room. Or do some volunteer work at a local soup kitchen or a hospital or an old folks' home. It really doesn't matter what you do. As long as it's not about making money, it can be a way of keeping your soul alive and spreading love in the world. There are many other ways to express spiritual truths and to keep alive the things of the spirit than to make a film.
To one and all, I thank you for your inspiring and kind comments, and wish you luck. My advice to one and all is to keep pursuing the truth, the personal truth that only you have to give.
A postscript: Visitors interested in newly posted material or breaking news are recommended to read through the final eight or ten pages of the Mailbag by clicking on the appropriate page numbers in the page menu at the top or bottom of this page. These final Mailbag pages provide links that go to the most recent material posted on the site and discuss Prof. Carney's current projects and interest.
Note that in a few instances, I have silently corrected obvious typos or unintentional mistakes in the letters from readers, or have lightly rewritten or augmented the text of the replies to remove references or discussions that were strictly personal to the individual and not appropriate for publication or to clarify something that was misleading, confusing, or in error in my initial response. However, I did this only where necessary and as little as possible: The basic meaning and argumentative thrust of the actual letters and replies has been preserved in every case; and the exact wording of the letters and replies has been preserved in the vast majority of cases. The sole rationale for the few changes or additions that have been made has been to make the web text more intelligible or useful to the general reader.
Ha, I just read that LA Times article by David Weddle that you reprinted on your website. The reason I find it funny is that I went to UC Santa Barbara too, I even had some of those teachers. In fact, Professor Penley was one of the first teachers I had for an experimental film class. She would brag in class about all the great "artistic" things that her and her Museum of Contemporary Art friends were doing on the set of Melrose Place. It seems that MOCA had a hand in creating a lot of the set design for that show and she showed us clips from some of what they were doing. For example, the inside of a guy's jacket was orange and yellow "symbolizing the fires of Desert Storm" and how one of the lamps was shaped like Newt Gingrich. Anyway, that was years ago. She's probably on to bigger and better things like slipping in subliminal messages in Dawson's Creek or something. Anyway, I ramble. I just thought Weddle's article was funny cuz that really IS how film school is being taught, at least at that campus.
Thank God I got out of there, although San Francisco State isn't much better. I failed my Film Theory class there because I refused to write papers about the correlation of Jaws to the Watergate scandal, or the anti-feminist impulses of Fatal Attraction. We had to learn Metz and all that in that class too. What a joke it was. (To read Ray Carney's semi-comic reflections about the lamentable influence of film theory on Film Studies and the meaning of Christian Metz's work in particular, click here.) Hopefully I'll have a more open-minded teacher next time I take the class so I can at least get that passing grade and be done with Film Theory forever. I considered writing a "Film Theory Manifesto" in which I totally and completely attack every single chapter we were forced to read, but I just don't have the skill or the discipline. It would've been my opus and I would've put it in the mailboxes of all the film department staff and then I'd quit school and go out and make a bunch of low-budget films that no one will see. Maybe I should do that anyway, the making films part I mean.
I was also checking out the part of your website about graduate school admissions and all that. I was looking at your syllabi and your classes sound like what I want to be doing, although I know the graduate stuff would probably be a little different. Maybe when I complete my manifesto, I can use it as a writing sample. Nah, I don't think graduate school is for me. I'd like to teach, but maybe I can get by doing something else and still have time (and money) for my creative projects.
I've had a couple professors tell me that my creative writing is pretty strong (one of my professors wanted me to attempt to sell one of my screenplays to Hollywood. I've actually found that writing a Hollywood screenplay is so formulaic that you really can whip one up in just a couple weeks with no sweat. I've written four now.
Anyway, I'll let you get back to work. Just thought I'd write in about that article you reprinted. I enjoyed it a great deal and nodded sagely while reading it, saying "yep, yep, that's how it really is in film school nowadays". Looking forward to that independent filmmakers book.
P.S. I'd love to hear one of your lectures at some point. Ever thought of selling some tapes?
So get this:
I'm teaching Directing III at Columbia School of the Arts. 9 2nd year grad students. Showed Shadows and Killer of Sheep the second week (last week). General pushback and consternation - whats the point of seeing this obscure crap, how will this help us make films...one kid raised his hand and started talking about "beats" and I said cinema isn't about beats and he got upset and replied, then what is it about!? (Two of my students (screenwriting majors) dropped the class after that discussion.) Today another student wanted to bring in a DVD of "Out of Sight" (Soderburg, starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez) and analyze the sex scene shot by shot, "the most perfect sex scene ever!"
These kids are, oh, 26, 27, 28, paying 32K a year, apparently to get trained as commercial directors...the Dean called me and said people were complaining that I was too gloomy in my discussion of the state of the film industry. And the irony is, I'm trying to be positive and entertaining! I guess if they heard me truly gloomy, they would kill themselves....
LOL - what a crazy business this film academia thing is! How can you stand it?
XXXXX (identity concealed: a major American idie filmmaker freelancing as a film teacher in this year of our Lord, 2003)
HI Ray! i discovered your
writing on film a few years ago in Moviemaker magazine and i wanted to
say that i have just never read anything like it. it is like having a
whole new vision of life open up, having your mind totally altered in
its relationship to film/life; an entire new level of understanding that
was inside of me but you put the mirror of truth up so i could see it
a lot more clearly. so first i want to thank you for giving me something
to read that is truly revolutionary, it opens a whole new vista of understanding
not only about film but our relationship to life itself. it is rare to
be able to read something that truly inspires and kicks one out of their
slumber, and in that sense it is very spiritual writing for me. all of
those uneasy feelings i had about so many films but couldnt articulate
were immediately brought to light and i understood what i had been feeling
all those years. and it made me aware of the awfull slumber of movie goers
and the crap that they tolerate and enjoy. it is like they are all asleep
and need some mindfulness training in 'buddhism film camp' of some kind.
the films that lot of people think are so brilliant many times are just
simply regurgitating our cultural preconceived notions about things, making
people feel comfortable with the decisions they have already made about
life. what the hell good is that?? should it be any surprise that they
become popular? most of them are merely instuments for political and cultural
consistency. not much out there to challenge us and make us uncomfortable,
which in my mind is one of the things that art should be doing. i cant
say enough about all of this. it makes me feel more alove just talking
and thank you very much again, i wish i was in boston so i could sit in on some of your courses/discussions, but alas i live in tucson, arizona.
I hope your vacation went well and that you are well rested for another semester.
Your words and thoughts are greatly necessary at the present time as I shake my head in disbelief and watch people I know make money hand over fist for the silliest of things. Internet cartoons and t-shirts can pave your roads with gold, but I hope I leave more behind than a forgotten fad and an arcane answer to a trivial pursuit question....I hope.
Dear Mr. Carney,
I'm writing to thank you for your work. I've been aware of you for a number of years now through your books on Cassavetes, and recently found your site when doing a search on love streams (perhaps my favorite film of all time). I've read a few of your interviews & plan to buy the bound versions. I am so grateful to you for your honesty and courage, and your unwillingness to accept the mainstream garbage we're fed on a daily basis. The world needs more like you. Your work on Cassavetes is brilliant and has deepened my understanding and appreciation of his films. I look forward to reading more of your writings, and investigating the other directors and films you speak about.
Thank you thank you thank you,
Dear Mr. Carney:
I am a student at San Francisco State University. I am writing to profess my admiration for your work. I do not need or expect a reply, this is simply a laudatory email.
I first became interested in film when I was at UC Santa Barbara and I took an experimental film class. In that class I was exposed to the non-narrative experimental works of great artists such as Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren, Hollis Frampton, and Bruce Conner, among others. It was my first taste of cinema as art and it completely blew me away. Since then I have watched and rewatched the great masters of the narrative form as well: Renoir, Dreyer, Fellini, Ozu, and others.
Reading your essays and criticisms is encouraging! I was relieved to see that someone else in America sees something intrinsically awful about the great majority of films in theaters today. Your writing has been extraordinarily educational for me as well, as I never would have heard of or seen the works of such great artists as John Cassavetes, Mark Rappaport, Jon Jost, Elaine May, Charles Burnett, Caveh Zahedi and others (so little are they written about in mainstream texts, if at all). I have your book Cassavetes on Cassavetes and I think it is one of the best film books ever written.
To the point: thank you for your work. Yours is the most encouraging I have ever read in all of the writing on film that exists.
This is just a quick note to let you know how much you've charmed, amused, delighted, perplexed and challenged me with the material on your site.
Although I've been writing professionally
for years (in a strictly boring and slightly journalistic capacity), I've
only recently turned my energy toward screenwriting. I only mention this
to tell you that, a few months ago, I floated your name and a link to
your writing out to a screenwriting board I'm a member of--probably one
of the largest on the net. (www.scriptsales.com)
I thought i was the only one who felt that Scorsese, Allen, Coens, Lynch etc were frauds... Although their movies are great and so "hollywood" even when they're supposed to be gritty, they never feel as real as "shadows" or "faces". I watched "opening night" last night. It totally affected me. I acted all through high school and my girlfriend is a professional in chicago. (soon to make it big, hopefully) So for me, the behind the scenes-ness of the professional theater lifestyle was SO real. It was incredible. This week has been amazing....just going to class and coming home to hang out with cassavetes. I feel like I know him after reading your book.
I'm definitely going to see those movies you mentioned. I haven't heard of any of them. The NYU professors are idiots. The first day of the freshman year they said to me "No one in this room is going to be the next martin scorsese, so you should all become editors and sound guys, that's where the money is anyway." That made me sick. Most of the profs. are all failed professionals who never made it to hollywood and worship scorsese as if he IS God.
Anyway, I used to think Kubrick was the best of them all because I'm a photographer. I love the photography of barry lyndon and stuff like Eyes Wide Shut, the shining etc.
But, you're right. Most filmmakers have no emotion. The nyu film kids all love lynch and these guys. You should come to NYU this week for the first run festival. I saw 97 advanced student films by undergrads and grads alike last year. All of them looked great, bleach bypass processing, cross processed, cool shots...but the acting/emotions/realism was terrible. There's a new style that's taking over NYU film school. It's what I call Fealism. It's the fake realism that mimics scorsese in an attempt to get the gritty nyc look and tone of taxi driver....but the characters are shit. You don't even give one shit they get laid or get hit by a car when they cross the street. The 3 winning films were horrific. Did you see Jessica Sharzer's "Wormholes" or Micha Hermann's "Empty". (That film was definitely empty.)
The problem with nyu film school is that they teach directing the actor and actors craft as if actors are stupid and essentially to be manipulated for "your cool shot". The drama program kids could make better films on mini dv than a $100K 35mm Film student-made film. It's so sad.
Having come from a theater background, I can't handle the sterility of NYU films.
Dear Mr Ray Carney,
how are you doing today? I was entertaining the thought of E-mailing you for a couple of weeks. Finally got the strength & ambition to do so.
I been wanting to be a filmmaker since I was a teenager. One day while going to the movies to go see a Hollywood Blockbuster,I had time to go to a large book store which carries MovieMaker magazine. The copy I brought had Stanley Tucci on the front. Later on when I was home I would read articles here & there. In due time I had stop reading the magazine in total. At the age of 23 I knew I wanted to make films yet didn't know how or where to go to learn about filmmaking. I knew I always wanted to do real movies that hit the emotions,that make people think,the hell with relating.
One day when I was bored and after reading articles about how to become the next big filmmaker, I picked up the old MovieMaker magazine. Flipping thru the pages which landed me on your fine construction of thoughts Part 3 The Part of the Artist.
Now when I started the process of reading I didn't stop til I was done. Realizing I had read the last of the series I was little upset,yet kept reading it over & over learning more knowledge. Some years later I finally got the Part 1 & Part 2 of the series. Recently just got the information from off the internet. I printed Part 1 & 2 and read and study it whenever I feel I am lost or confused. During the process I started my 1st documentary and I still apply what you wrote to my documentary. Before I read your article I thought filmschool was the birth of a film career. Not only do I study what you write for MovieMaker, I also became a John Cassavetes fan. It was hard to get A Woman under the Influence. Yet I finally did get it on DVD,only for the second part to be slightly fuzzy,later to have that fixed. I often watch it when family & friends come over to see his/her reaction. Wow,some of them leave only to come back,or if someone walks pass the screen while I am watching they will stop and look for a few. Sometimes someone will ask me what the movie is about and I will smile & say you have to watch it to understand because I can't tell you. I mean that. All I know is that its real moviemaking spilling out. I read your book The Films of John Cassavetes Pragmatism,Modernism and the Movies,only to deepen my personal understanding of a real filmmaker. I don't want to be the next John Cassavetes,I want to go beyond him. Yes I am so aware thats a bold and strong thought to own. Blame it on inspiration. To me John Cassavetes is 1970's heavyweight boxing while Hollywood movies are Prime Time Wrestling. Not to sure if you are a fan of the sweet science but in boxing when the fighter is in the corner,the trainer and other cornermen will be yelling "duck,hit him with the left uppercut,back away,use your jab,stop throwing the hook" only to have the boxer go right out there and throw a hook. Its all improvise, I can't predict who will win the fight,nor can the fighter. Hollywood filmmaking is Wrestling where you have the whole script layed out word for word,action for action.
Nothing like the art of boxing. John Cassavetes was his own trainer,cornerman and fighter. I admire that in him. Here I am so lost and confused. Don't even know if I will finish my 1st documentary. I am so insecure yet realizes thats the right mental state to be in. So easily I can become the next big Hollywood filmmaker but so hard for me to be a real filmmaker who want to tell what I see,don't care who understands it or not.
I give you credit for allowing me a glimpse of where art came from. Thank you Mr Ray Carney.
P.s When I get enough money I will buy The Adventures of Insecurities.
i'm a filmmaker living in san francisco and am blown away by the things you've written. i've been a student at san francisco state university for the past 5 years and have never before heard any voice so real in the discussion of film. i can't afford to take your classes at boston, but would love to arrange some kind of mentorship--i feel like your teachings would be invaluable to my art. i know, this is a sort of insane reach on my part, but if you have any ideas or anything, please just write me back. i've been touched by your work and would love to recieve any kind of response.
Dear Dr. Carney,
I just wanted to drop you a note that, as an interested moviegoer for many years, I appreciate the work you've done on Cassavetes, Dreyer and American art. I agree with many of the points you make in "A herd of independent minds" and other essays; thank you for your continuing devotion to and work towards these ideals.
I have been trying to employ what pressure I could as a lowly consumer to The Criterion Collection; any organization that would devote time and effort to products like their Dreyer DVDs may be persuaded that similar attention to Cassavetes is due. Your interview comments regarding the terrible state of Cassavetes films on home video were instructive; they went a long way to explaining my profound disappointment with the Pioneer DVD of Faces. If Criterion could wrest these rights from whoever owns them, I think we'd all be happier.
Dear Dr. Carney,
I think this suggests commercial possibilities for the Cassavetes films that would easily cover your twenty-grand layouts. Think of it: a "Woman Under the Influence" dollhouse, or "Killing of a Chinese Bookie" action figures. (By the way, if any of these enterprises pan out, I would insist on a ten-percent cut.)
I can't say I hold much against Jim Carrey: his is an honest enterprise, after all. I'm much more galled by philosophy professors who fill up the pages of the Sunday Times Arts & Leisure section with 5000 word screeds dissecting "The Matrix Reloaded". It's bad enough for the likes of Warner Bros. to produce what appear to be extraordinarily popular but, given the economics of the system, inherently unprofitable movies (why they shoot themselves in the corporate feet by this is beyond me); their embrace as meaningful ontological systems by academia makes all of us look bad.
I'm reading your Cambridge film studies book on Cassavetes once again and appreciate the relevance of James and Emerson, to Cassavetes also stands in the strong mid-twentieth-century American aesthetic tradition of composers like Morton Feldman and painters like Mark Rothko: the human individual caught in time, transcending time through duration and plain Emersonian seeing. Have you any familiarity with Richard Foreman's theatre works? In a strange way, I think Foreman explores much the same territory.
I hope your Memorial Day is sunnier and warmer than the one here in Brooklyn, New York, and my apology for taking up your time.
Hello! I just HAD to send you a fan letter; since discovering your site a few months ago I've had a renewed passion for film (not that it ever really went away). I've been a huge fan of Cassavetes ever since I saw "Love Streams" on it's first release (on the recommendation of the brilliant Dave Kehr, then writing for the "Chicago Reader." I was studying film with Gerry Mast at the U. of Chicago, but I think I learned as much, if not more, from Kehr's reviews in the Reader...
At any rate, I graduated and moved to L.A., where I found myself working on a bunch of depressingly low-middlebrow TV Movies. Although I ultimately worked as an Editor on a couple of relatively interesting small features ("Delusion," a convoluted road picture, and "Chain of Desire," Temi Lopes' remake of "La Ronde"), I left L.A. forever in '92 and ended up in Prague, where I found myself working as an Assistant Editor on a couple of French "Inspecteur Maigret" TV movies.
Fun times, and enough to cure me of my lust for success and wealth at the hands of the film industry. I still have a project of two on the back burner, but family responsibilities have moved me in more mainstream, non-filmic directions.
I had a blast reading through your site, and it's a relief to find another voice decrying the "Hollywoodization" of academia. I did about two-thirds of a Masters Degree at Georgetown about five years ago (in "Communication, Culture, and Technology"), and I found the level of film discussion to be almost identically stagnant and politicized as it was twenty years ago when I first encountered it at U. of Chicago. Tarantino a major figure? I don't THINK so!
I do think you're a bit reactionary when it comes to Hollywood, though. For instance, I thought the normally banal Spielberg delivered a masterwork with "A.I." -- in fact, I thought that and Linklatter's "Waking Life" were the two best films I saw last year. On the other hand, I have to acknowledge that I've never seen most of the truly indie works you cite, although I'd love to when and if I have the chance.
Also, I have to take issue with your attack on Elvis Mitchell. Before he was at the NYT, he was at the L.A. Weekly where, along with John Powers, he was one of the more refreshinly intelligent reviewers out there. True, he doesn't review a lot of Mark Rappaport films, but I think he's a pretty good nevertheless.
Of course, I disagree with you about the complete lack of serious film criticism out there. I think John Powers (mostly in his pre-"Vogue" days), Joel E. Siegel (of the Washington City Paper, NOT the Today Show), the aforementioned Dave Kehr, Charles Taylor and others at Salon.com (who've written extensively about film and film criticism) theonion.com, and a few more hardy souls are all serious critics who take film seriously as art. Whether or not they review REALLY independent films is as much a function of their positions at their respective papers (and the availability of screenings) as it is their personal tastes and proclivities.
Incidentally, are you familiar with Antero Alli? He's a Bay Area astrologer and filmmaker (which does not immediately seem a promising combination) who was voted "Best Cult Filmmaker" by the SF Weekly. I recently saw his superb Hi-Def feature, "Hysteria," and it re-inspired me yet again. It's a post Sept. 11 study, described on his Web site as, "The fates of two Persian sisters collide with the secret life of a Croatian boxer haunted by visions of the Virgin Mary...." It's really a beautiful film, restrained and visionary -- passionately recommended.
Alli's even more cantankerous than you are ;-) -- he doesn't even put his stuff out on video or DVD since he believes that a screening with an audience is the only way to experience a film.
He has a point, but I kind of wish he'd give in and put "Hysteria" out on DVD, if for no other reason than that the Ray Carneys (and Jonathan Steigmans) of the world, who might not have a chance to catch one of the two or three Bay Area screenings, could see this amazing film.
His web site, in case you're interested: http://www.verticalpool.com/filmography.html
So thanks again for the terrific and contrarian take on film, most of which I agree with 100%!
Your writings have helped explain to me "a great family of minds, the members of which, all intent on reality, breathe it in, probe it with eyes and hands. . . .Nature for them is not merely a pretext for expressing their dreams or for making works of art; their whole curiosity is turned towards the myriad facets of human existence. With Goethe they consider 'the world is more fraught with genius than themselves.'" (Brassai)
I'm a filmmaker - I've made a few documentaries - and I recently completed a half-hour fiction film, wrestling with those art values you champion and how to best express them. I know it is presumptious of me to ask, but would you look at the film and give me any of your truthful analysis/opinion/thoughts/comments ?
Why do you care? What makes you think, write, and speak so passionately about films as a critic and educator?
How often do you feel your passionate pleas are in vain? Just curious.
Dear Mr. Carney,
I just finished reading your Cassavetes on Cassavetes and I found it really inspiring. I'm just finishing up a digital indie feature(with cameos, coincidentally, from Jonas Mekas and Peter Bogdanovich), and your book and website were just what the doctor ordered to keep me on the "path."
Thank you and keep up the wonderful work.
Dear Prof. Carney -
I'll keep this brief, as many of my thoughts on your work would only echo those quoted on your "letters" page. Suffice to say I have read and re-read several of your books, and look forward to those I have not yet had the pleasure of reading. In particular, your writings on Cassavetes' films rank with J Peter Burkholder's on the music of Charles Ives; which is to say they are indispensable and definitive.
I'm a musician, and along with
Ives, Cassavetes has proven crucial in helping me define approaches to
my work and working life. After quoting a paragraph from your web site
on a "web log" I've begun keeping, it
The entry is today's, January 21, and can be read here: http://sportspiel.blogspot.com/
I expect no reply to this e mail, but if you do ask me to remove the quote from my "blog" I'll do so immediately with no hard feelings. I will be ordering several more of your books soon. Thank you for reliably producing work of such originality and insight.that it deserves to stand alongside the art it discusses.
Very best wishes -
Take your time with the packets Ray, your work should come first.
Are you familiar with L.E.J. Brouwer and his Intuitionism? I find it interesting that supposedly he preferred to be in company of artists as opposed to mathematicians.
Although not connected with
the University of Texas at Dallas I am a filmmaker residing in Plano,
Texas of all places. I am young (24 years) and happen to look about 18
so you can imagine how hard it is to not be treated
Anyways, I'm 90 percent through production of my first feature film and first film for that matter. First artistic venture of any sort since I was a child.
Yes, Dallas is not the best place to make a film, but I set out with no connections to find the best actors I could. I wrote the script and decided to direct. Outside of the acting I'm doing everything on the film (cinematography, editing, etc.).
Here are the actors that I cast in the film:
Laurel Whitsett: Laurel is the leading female in the film. She is absolutely amazing and I put her up in the Brando/Dean playing field. I'm saying watch for her! Below is a link to her "commercial" resume which is of little interest to me and I'm sure you also, but it does have some theatrical works that might be of interest. A simple Google search should yield reviews of her theatrical exploits. Don't let the fact that she's a former San Diego Chargers cheerleader fool you Ray! This woman means business! Joan of Arc quality to her. Powerful!
Jeff Swearingen: Jeff is also the second guy to watch out for, the lead male in my film. He's extremely talented. Full method like Laurel.
Tim Shane: Tim is a great guy
and you might know him since he's a professor at a few community colleges
around Dallas. He's very stagey, but has potential. He also co-wrote a
movie titled "Midsummer" that starred
Brad McEntire: Brad is very balls to the wall in the tradition of Orson Welles. Real big into independent theatre, taking his shows to NYC among other places. The man is extremely gifted although I do not agree with everything he does I have deep respect for he gives his all out effort in everything he does. He owns a production company Audacity Productions here in North Texas. (www.audacityproductions.org) His site has been down for a week now.
Rasa Hollender: Rasa is a wonderful actress and person. She is a founder of Punch Drunk Comedy here in Dallas which recently received (for what it's worth!) an award from the Dallas Observer for Best Comedy Troupe in Dallas. She's from Chicago and trains regularly with Second City. (www.punchdrunkcomedy.com) Her site has also been down for about a month.
Valerie Hauss-Smith: Don't know much about Val except that she's French and has a very thick accent and according to Tim Shane knows things about Shakespeare that he could never know. Apparently she has everything memorized! French!!!
O.k., your "Cassavetes
on Cassavetes" is the single most important book that I don't own!
Unfortunately my ILL copy is due in two days. It is hard to see in this
world of commercialism and advertisements. Even if you try!
Ray, I have to be honest in that I'm only interested in meaningful dialogue. Don't waste your ink and precious time writing me a simple thank you! I'm quite sure that we'll become good friends in the future!
I have been wanting to write you
for nearly a year now. You may have already received some articles on
Your interview in Rick Schmidt's "Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices" flipped my lid two and a half years ago when I first read it and slowly I began to read your written work.
"As an Act of Protest"
kicked off in Los Angeles in February 2002 where it premiered at the Pan
African Film Festival. Since then it has, miraculously garnered some press
here and there (The Miami Herald and Variety - strangely enough) and it
screened for several months every Monday at the Anthology Film Archives
in lower Manhattan. It is now playing at the Digital Soul Cinema in Harlem,
a wonderful new guerilla art-house. Reception has been mixed and I am
proud of that. Some hate it, some love it, some don't understand it. Hell,
a lot of folks didn't even see "what the point was." Those folks
I never listen to anyway - unfortunately they don't or may never understand
art. Thus, Ray, I am writing to you to simply say thank you for your book
(no distrubutors are interested - despite some generously positive reviews here and there; but the NY Times and the mainstream papers of course refuse to review the film on basis that it is "politically irresponsible" and is "too black" and "too angry." One person actuually told me to soften the film up with some jokes and study Spike Lee if I wanted to be a "successful" Black Filmmaker. Can you believe it? The circus never ends...)
Anyway, perhaps I will can send you a copy on video for your own personal collection and please keep writing and teaching and inspiring. I've often felt that the only true teachers were artists and if that is so you certainly are one yourself.
Peace to you,
Dennis Leroy Moore
Transformation and despondency, stagnation and euphoria all coexist, I believe,in this life - each embodied within the other.
Hope, even in triumph - especially in triumph, is dependent on chaos and despair for its validation.
Despair, even in dormancy - especially in dormancy is dependent on transcendence and hope for its very existence.
They are inseparable.
As a writer, building on this foundation puts me at odds with those who adhere to traditional concepts of three act structure and character arc as the cornerstone of screenwriting.
Harnessing a film with 'a' beginning, 'a' middle, and 'an' end frustrates and often overpowers visual language.
Film, fluid by nature, is at its best when it is always beginning, always converging, always ending.
However, the disagreement goes beyond the structural basis for effective storytelling. It is about the conveyance of truth.
Adherence to traditional dramatic concepts as the basis for screenplay structure tends to misrepresent the relationship between transcendence and chaos,hope and despair.
The vague and intricate dance is discarded.
The dancers are redefined.
They are now competitors within the confines of a dramatic environment that requires their isolation to facilitate story,climax,and resolution in accordance with its oversimplified structure.
Transcendence usually wins,coming on strong at the end of the Third Act from far back in the pack - virtually out of the race in Acts One and Two.
Chaos,on the other hand,is generally strong out of the gate and looks to be the clear winner.
But somehow Chaos stumbles.
Lost in the wake of the most favored contender, Chaos is nowhere in sight by the end of Act Three.
The truth is chaos is just as embedded in our awakening ('Act Three') as it is in our innocence ('Act One') and our corruption ('Act Two').
As is transcendence.
It is a complex dance, this dance of hope and despair.
Its fluid, abstract movements are difficult to understand.
But the mesmerizing beauty, the truthfulness, the unspeakable familiarity of this dance - left undefiled by oversimplificaion - can transport an audience beyond a cathartic revival meeting experience to true awakening.
By joining the dance,the writer and the written to can create true heroes - on screen and off - in those who choose to face the swirl.
Dear Professor Carney,
I realize you must get far too much e-mail, but I feel it a responsibility to praise those few people in the universities today who are nurturing the arts rather than destroying them.
I recently finished Cassavetes on Cassavetes and have since become an avid reader of your website. All your work, and your work on Cassavetes in particular, is invaluable.
As Harold Bloom has said, everyone carries with them a personal list of the American sublime. Mine doesn't much resemble Bloom's but at this particular moment it contains The Wings of the Dove and the Golden Bowl, Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom, The Recognitions by William Gaddis, nearly everything in Robert Lowell's Life Studies and For the Union Dead, the bulk of Jackson Pollock's work from 1947-50, Morris Louis's paintings from 1958-62, many of the sculptures in David Smith's Voltri series, the 4th symphony of Charles Ives, many of Morton Feldman's compositions from the 1980's, nearly all of Lester Young's Kansas City sessions from the late 30s, and A Woman Under the Influence by John Cassavetes.
I was introduced to Cassavetes by seeing Husbands in about 1988 in a rep theatre in Edmonton, Alberta. I was there, more or less by accident, and there were only two other people in the theatre. I'll confess that the film baffled me and I couldn't wait for it to end. Five years later I found myself thinking about it everyday, and was desperate to find any information I could on Cassavetes. At that time, as you well know, Cassavetes was a footnote at best in film textbooks. Subsequently I was able to rent A Woman Under the Influence and felt like I'd had 10,000 volts put through me. I simply had never watched a film that had such an emotional effect on me. I was watching it on video and turned it off twice simply to get my bearings. I had no idea if the film was a masterpiece or some monstrosity put on earth to communicate to me and me alone. Friends I showed it to vowed never to listen to my film recommendations again. No matter. I was happy with it. And anyway, the same people hated it when I played them the Schoenberg Quartets.
I'd been through film courses at University and realized how vacuous most so called "landmark" films like Birth of a Nation and Citizen Kane actually were. I regard Cassavetes as one of the few world filmmakers who can be compared to great 20th Century artists of other media: Ozu, Renoir, Ophuls, Tarkovsky, Bergman, spring to mind as peers. I can't think of another American filmmaker who does, but I'm not well connected to the independent film scene, so there may well be great people at work today.
Discovering that there were ANY books on Cassavetes was exciting. That your books were not simply dry analyses hiding behind the pretentious argot that plagues most film writing and actually shed light was nothing short of a miracle. Your work is refreshing and necessary. I support all critics with such penetrating perceptions and judgments. We are a small but powerful army against the hoards promoting mediocrity in the name of cultural relativism.
I look forward to anything you publish.
We read an interview in moviemaker magazine and were truly enlightened by what you said about how fake the structure and advertising of hollywood is. But, what we're really contacting you for is some personal advice. We want to make a movie that simply portrays reason behind action, focusing on the life of a high school boy who tries to understand and change the way that things are done in his life and school by talking to other kids, and ultimately fails, but does not give up. We are two unexperienced filmmakers, age 17 and 16, and we want to keep our movie as far away as possible from sugar-coated optimism, or bleak cynicism, but to keep it as close to reality and to why we do the things we do as possible. We were wondering if you had any suggestions, general or specific, or simply a put-down of our idea, or anything you can say about this.
Thank you very much,
Dear Ray Carney,
I used to believe in your words and, in fact, used it as a sort of refrence for my decisions as an artist. I've come to realize that i dissagree with you and your theories on cinema.
How can you denounce an entire
film with short frases such as, "It's a pack of lies..." While
you critisize Speilberg for being manipulative and one sided, you use
words like, "Speilberg bragged about..." to begin your essay.
Isn't that just the same technique you argue that Speilberg uses to manipulate
his audience? Aren't you just as one-sided and judgmental? You praise
Cassavetes and others for being so realistic regarding human nature and
all its obscurities. What about films that might seem one-sided on the
surface but are able to bring out emotional responces from the audience
using film techniques? In the end, that is just what we're
Perhaps you choose to see the
"falsities" of Schindler's List and Private Ryan while others
realize that they are merely watching a movie and therefore choose to
accept whatever belief is presented on the screen. I'm not insulted when
the Beatles sing about cartoon characters or fictional events in order
to create a song. It's all surface. In the end, it's the way the music
goes together that touches me. Just the same as how John
No one has to believe in his
films, they just do...He touches people just as Cassavetes touches you.
It isn't black and white...art is all relative. You are just as one-sided
as you claim Hollywood is. Your words are a
fills my soul up with hope just the same as Speilberg does in Empire Of
THE Sun...different techniques but after the same beauty and hope we all
love to believe in. I wish I could believe in
Thanks for the order info.
I just wanted to let you know that I was a student in your Understanding
Film course in 1991 at BU. Honestly, I hated Cassavetes, but after I graduated,
something drew me back to his films and
I also subscribe to MovieMaker magazine, and I'm a big fan of your articles. They help me to see films and art in a different way.
I completed a feature documentary
film in 1998 called "My Lazy White Friends," which was about
my friends from BU. It won several Best Documentary awards at various
film festivals. Might I send you a copy and
Just a quick note of thanks for your opinions and insights.
As a film editor / struggling writer (though I don't think that's a bad thing) from Boston, who is now living in the 'nowhere' that is Los Angeles, I can't tell you how 'inspired' I felt when I first read your MovieMaker interview about the Hollywood 'business.' (which in turn led me to more of your work - I recently purchased your 'Cassavetes on Cassavetes' - and ultimately to your wonderful website.)
have given me a new sense of energy and urgency to 'dare to fail' and
not to avoid telling the truth through my work in the attempts to say
something meaningful amid the ever-rising flood of
For that, I can't thank you enough.
(Though I must tell you that finding your work has made me regret my choice to attend U.Mass instead of B.U., and I don't think I'll be able to forgive you for that, but I'll try. ;)
I can't wait to read more.
Please let me know if you come to NYC for lectures, etc.
I now remember hearing your name, because my parents knew John Cassavetes and I went to Middlebury for summer school (French) in 1986, the summer before John's death. Now I remember---when I was accepted to the program, and my parents said that we were going to do a family trip in VT/NH then on to Canada, John was actually going to come up w/ my parents, mainly to see a professor---it was YOU!! It fell apart because he was very very ill at that point.
Thanks for the response. I'll keep an eye out in the used book arena for Faces. I'm glad the Ruban piece is nothing.
Yes, Adventure of Insecurity has been in my backpack for some time, and my copy of C on C is dog-eared from following me around. I just ordered the Shadows book today at Amazon, prior to thinking I should just check out your site again.
Write a hundred books on the man; I'll buy them all. I'm not a student, though I took some film studies in college (at Rutgers) in the mid eighties, and your comments about film academicians made me chuckle with recognition.
I encountered Bookie a few
years ago and it changed everything I thought about movies. Then I watched
Woman, simply because I spotted it as a Peter Falk fan, and it knocked
me out. When I realized they were by the same guy, I knew I was onto something
"new" and exciting about what a film experience could be, so
I sought out everything. I stumbled upon your work through your piece
in Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices, and it gave my growing fascination
with Cassavetes an instant validation and a new depth; I then
As for what I am, on the surface
you could say I feed the problem: I work for a special effects studio
to pay the bills, but I work in the facilities end: building desks and
dispatching runners...somewhat honest labor. I have
I've bought an old Eclair and
plan on running some b&w stock through it (thus my passing interest
in the Ruban piece) which I think I can find pretty cheap. Right now I'm
writing and rewriting a screenplay, and bouncing
I have read the book over and again 3 times, probably more actually, and as an independent feature filmmaker myself, ("Edge City" - being released in early 2003 by Palm Pictures and "Diary of a City Priest", starring David Morse, Sundance, 2001), I find myself deeply moved by your astounding book. It truly is one of the finest books about a filmmaker I have ever read, and quite inspiring. I work out of Philadelphia, briefly attending Boston University in the early 80's before switching to the film program at Temple University, where I received my MFA in Film Production.
Many of the stories that Cassavetes talks about with you, as well as those stories that you uncovered and boldly reveal, are remarkable for their honesty and clarity. As I continue to work outside the main system of film in this country, I found your book at the perfect time. Most people don't understand or even have a clue the risks involved, from writing to distribution, what it takes to make truly independent work. To stick by it, from years in an editing room, to trips abroad, to fighting for final cut, from shooting on short ends to digital video to save money.
I first saw the tour of his films that played here in Philly the summer of 1990, as I was making my first feature, which was my thesis project. We were shooting during the day, and at night me and the crew watched Shadows and Faces. What an incredible director he was, and what performances he got from his actors. Reading the book now is like reading parts of my own life, parts that I cannot explain to others. When I was at Sundance in 2001 with my film, "Diary of a City Priest", Charles Burnett and Allison Anders were on a panel about independent filmmaking now, and it was an amazing moment for me. Your book has given me a way to dive into a deep pool of inspiration and hope every day that I work on my films, live my life with my family, and challenge this arcane and ludicrous system of filmmaking in the US.
Yeah Ray it was actually one of Bills closest friends who said I should check out your book "The Films of John Cassavetes". He's heavily into Cassavetes - said that one of the first things he did when he met Bill for the first time was send him a documentary on Cassavetes because he knew how much Bill would love him.
Love Lenny and Pryor. Lenny for the ferocious intelligence and Pryor's honesty is incredible. I got the Pryor boxset a while ago. Don't know if you've seen the new biography on Bill (American Scream by Cynthia True) but in it Bill says "Chaplin and Pryor. You can never hear them or see them enough". I've never explored too much Chaplin before but I went and got "Modern Times", "City lights" and "Gold Rush" and I'm just working my way through those.
Just gonna watch a few Mike Leigh films again while I work my way through your Mike Leigh book. I'd always loved Naked and Meantime but I' d never checked out much of his other work. I've been watching a lot of Alan Clarke's films for the past few months, some of his stuff is out there without a net. Made In Britain is just ferocious.
Hi Professor Carney,
The main thing I wanted to ask you was what your thoughts are about majoring in film theory. Columbia has no film production, so my undergrad degree will consist of writing papers about movies. I know you're a film professor yourself, so you may be a little biased, but do you think I may benefit from majoring in another field?
I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with the teachers at Columbia, especially the head of the department, Annette Insdorf, but also the rest of her acolytes. Insdorf comes from a literary background, so her analysis of films always stems from literary tools such as symbolism and metaphor. I've actually sat in one of her classes where, for an hour, she attempted to walk us through "all eight of the internal rhymes found in Bertolucci's The Conformist." Also, I've found that I can get away with not listening in class as long as I raise my hand and say "I noticed there was a lot of red in the movie. I think Milos Forman likes using red." They seem to like that more than when I say "Milos Forman has no faith in his audience." (Insdorf pounded me for that.)
I've been supplementing the film courses here by making my own movies with Mini-DV and editing them on my computer. It seems like I learn more by the film reading I do on my own than the film reading I do for class, and I don't seem to learn anything from the lectures. I wanted to become a film major because I was hoping to meet interesting professors and fellow students, but so far, I've only been bored by lectures and the other students seem to be training for a cocktail education in film. Also, the fact that I'm pulling straight A's for no work makes me think that if I were to take on another major it would be more challenging. Right now I'm thinking of either double majoring or graduating a year early.
Well, thanks for listening to my rant about Columbia. I'm sorry if it's ended up sounding like it should be signed "Disenchanted in Des Moines." On the upside, I may be guest lecturing one or two film classes as NYU. My best friend's uncle is a film and media studies professor there, and by chance we all had dinner together once. I talked his ear off about Cassavetes and New Hong Kong film, but later on he said that maybe I could guest lecture his film class. I'll cross my fingers.
Hope everything is going well -
From: Michael Eckinger <email@example.com>
I'm not saying this to be mean, but you're a very worrisome man.
What gives you the right to go around telling "the masses" what they can and cannot like? You make allusions to Shakespeare being better than Stephen King...yet Shakespeare's plays often attracted less sophisticated audiences than a WWF event. Perhaps your studies in film would be a bit more effective if you would look at what exactly attracts "the masses" to these highly succesful films. It's the function that matters. Now why would you want to take the honorable pleasure of living life in the blindness of your societies bliss away from the people? Especially the people that create it.
I just get really upset when I hear people mock the "culture of the masses" and what not. It seems a bit condescending to me. Who honestly can say that "Enter the Dragon" isn't fun to watch? We've all got simple pleasures, and reality isn't always that fun to watch.
I enjoyed much of what you
had to say...and I agree with many of your points. However, it's only
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