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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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Subject: FACES screening...

Might be a good opportunity to send someone to press these folks re: SHADOWS... I'd go myself if only I were in LA!

RC replies:

Thanks so much for the info, but fyi: there's no chance in heck that they'd ever show the first version of Shadows, if that's what you mean. The whole event is clearly being "stage-managed" by Al Ruban and Faces Films, the releasing company he administers and Gena runs. His fingerprints are all over the posting and every aspect of the presentation (including the use of Peter Bogdanovich as a “safe” moderator who will never ask any embarrassing questions about anything--Bogdanovich is the Tim Russert of film interviews--all smiles and jokes and charm, with absolutely no bite or insight or controversy.) But I do appreciate the link. I'll post it for the benefit of readers who live in LA and might be interested in attending. (Click here to read suggestions from Ray Carney about questions that audience members should consider asking at Cassavetes events.)


.... Saw the Louvre when I was in Paris... What a travesty! There's not a spot in that whole wretched place that wasn't filled with hundreds or tourists talking loudly and taking flash photography. It was like the Disneyland of art museums...

In London now... Hoping to catch the new Mike Leigh film in theaters while I'm out here -- I'll let you know how it is!


RC replies:

Subject: sacred spaces

Rembrandt Self Portrait (1660)


Thanks. Places like the Louvre in the summer are no worse than the Met (NY). It's just the way of the world. So little deep serious commitment/interest in art, but so much lip service, so much apparent need on people's parts to feel that they are doing the right things and seeing the right sights. Weird. They prefer "lite" experiences to "demanding" ones. They prefer surfing to digging, digging, digging. They prefer glances and looks to commitment and involvement. That's life in the YouTube and FaceBook era. These same people could learn a thousand times more if they just bought a big art book with lots of illustrations and stayed at home and turned the pages and really communed with Rembrandt or Frans Hals or Thomas Eakins.

The secret is avoiding the noise and crowds is to go to the little, out-of-the-way museums in the winter and in odd hours (mealtimes). Locally, I can go to the Addison Gallery or the Clark Institute on a weekday in November and have the paintings all to myself. I had one of the deepest spiritual experiences of my life spending an entire day all by myself in the Frans Hals Museum in Amsterdam in February a few years ago. I also spent almost an entire day in front of four or five Rembrandt paintings in Rotterdam another year, talking with Rembrandt. But the talk was silent, of course. Maybe we shouldn't allow the other kind of talking in museums--talking out loud, I mean. (And we sure shouldn't allow those tape players everyone has!) I haven't been to church for so long that I wouldn't know what it's like nowadays, but in my youth, dinosaur eons ago, you weren't allowed to talk. Why not make that the policy in museums? They are spaces at least as sacred as those in any church I've ever been in. They don't have tape players in church nowadays, do they? Churches don't have videos playing on the walls do they? Or do they? -- I'm so out of it. (Thank God.)

Thanks for staying in touch. Keep me informed about the new Leigh movie. I was trying to set up an advance screening of it for the students who took my Leigh course, but I have had no luck so far and don't know when it will make these shores.


Alex replied:

.... Speaking of Church, the same phenomenon happened in Notre Dame -- though this time the annoying tourists yapping to each other and taking flash photos were actually interrupting people's pRayers. Pretty unbelievable stuff... Given their general disposition, I'm actually kind of shocked the French wouldn't crack down harder on this kind of behavior in their most sacred spaces.

Did you see the new article Jonathan Rosenbaum just published about Cassavetes? Pretty dumb stuff, and he managed to get a few digs into you in there as well... C'est la vie, I suppose.


RC replies:

Subject: the individual brain is the real sacred space that is being trampled to death


Aagh! So they've invaded the churches, too. The fall of Western Civilization is near. I guess I'll have to become a Muslim. I'm sure they have a more reverential view of their shrines and holy places.

Re: Jonathan. No, I didn't know what you told me. I just don't read his stuff, and don't read film magazines for sure. I'm not interested in keeping up with the fashions. But I'm not surprised at the digs from him, if there are some. He's been doing it for years. Just pettiness and mean-spiritedness. It's everywhere, unfortunately. I find the same thing goes on at BU. Academics/scholars/critics can be pretty petty, small-minded, intolerant people. Very insecure and very easily threatened by anyone who holds a different view from their own. Particularly if the critics or academics haven't done important work of their own. In that case, the only thing they know is to put down the work of others. I see it all the time, and too many academics and would-be academics, including many film students (unfortunately) are sheep and easily herded by anyone who tells them what to think. It's a sign of our times: The lack of genuine, original thought, the desire to follow the leader and jump on the latest cultural bandwagon, using all of the fashionable (and false) social, sexual, and political terms and categories, thinking in all of the customary, accepted ways, never breaking out of the patterns of cliché and sameness. It doesn't really matter what side you're on in the cultural discourse on race, class, ideology, and gender. It's all clichés. It's all received notions. It's all conventional wisdom, and shallow, follow-the-leader non-thinking, as far as I am concerned. So little independent thought, so much conformity, so much fear and distrust of different views (look at the reactions to my web site from the Film Dept. faculty -- and shockingly many film students -- at BU). So much fear and desire to shut down, shut up, criticize, and censor anyone who thinks differently. So much intolerance from the generation that is supposedly devoted to tolerance. So much narrowness and desire to limit what can be said from the diversity crowd. So much fear and hatred and distrust of other views, other ideas, other ways of knowing. It's too bad. Well, I'm reading Shakespeare right now, so I can tell you the twentieth and twenty-first century didn't invent any of this, but it does seem that mass movements (including things like tourists "doing" the art galleries with the degree of stupidity and sheep-like passivity you describe) are more prevalent than ever before. We live in an era of "group-thinking," of being told what to think and going along with it, of thinking with someone else's brain, as Cassavetes put it. Shows what a farce most college education is. It's just part of the programming system, when it's supposed to be a way out of it, a way of freeing yourself from ALL programming. But people prefer the safety of crowds, I guess. In museums and in universities.

Ray Carney

A note from Ray Carney: I haven't seen the following (and the mailing, of course, may merely be a PR stunt, sent out by the filmmaker or his producer), but wanted to pass it along to my readers on the off-chance it proves to be of value:


Hello, friends -

I saw a film last week that I need to tell you about.

It's called The Visitor, it's the second feature by director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent), and it stars Richard Jenkins in what is certainly the performance of the year so far.

I don't even want to tell you anything, plot-wise, about the film, as the less you know, the better.

Just know that it's completely original, subtle, and smart. It's personal and political and it respects its audience a great deal.

At a time when Hollywood seems incapable of making a film that is not a book adaptation, blockbuster sequel, or low-brow comedy about a nerdy young white guy finding sex and enlightenment via a smart buxom blonde woman, here is a completely original work that will move you and make you believe in American cinema again. Well, at least that's what it did for me.

Try to see it. I think you will be glad you did.



Subject: Cassavetes on Cassavetes

Dear Ray,

I purchased your book (Cass on Cass) and made it up to page 257 where I stopped, put it down and never have any intention of continuing it again, now, or in the future.

I loved how you put external thoughts, views/observations of others, and your own insights into boldface which filled in a lot of background material.

Your organization of the materials was like eating candy (reading wise) and flowed effortlessly so much so that I found it hard to put down.

I was hoping not to determine, in my opinion, that John Cassavetes was full of himself, but, alas, that was the ONLY conclusion I could possibly reach.

I reached the same conclusion about 3/4 of the way through reading Tarkovskys Sculpting In Time yet, Tarkovsky is more purely a passive cinematic critic (and a great artist).

After reading how Cassavetes blow-torched his own film Husbands (which I have never seen and probably don't care to) from the promising edit first shown to Columbia (where it was mentioned that Ben Gazzara's performance might have been Oscar caliber) to the horrific mess he made it into, after reading time after time about how he personally abused everyone (including Gena) for no reason at all, after determining he was a hypocrite in every respect, a mean, nasty 'artist', I decided to stop reading.

Let me say, that I have the Criterion Collection of his works and thoroughly enjoy Shadows, Faces (less so, because it is meaner), Killing of a Chinese Bookie (the edited version), A Woman Under the Influence (his masterpiece - mainly because he allowed some hope in this film) and Opening Night yet, all that aside I will only say that I would never, EVER have let him treat me the way he treated others (ESPECIALLY his friends). I would have smashed his face in (at LEAST).

He was a 'good artist' but he, surely, had mental problems and could barely function in the world. All of his pseudo-hypocritical-philosophy could not hide this fact.

He fought hard for all the negative things that happened to him and he deserved them all. He was a 'prick' with a capital 'P' and he saw to it that he treated everyone accordingly.

He was opposed to success yet, despite this, he succeeded and he could not come to terms with it.

Being a musical artist myself, I cannot and will not EVER excuse another artist for being an asshole - being artistic is creative and positive, being mean and nasty well... that's John Cassavetes (minus the 'artist').

Thank you for such wonderful, artistic writings!


RC replies:

Subject: Where does art come from? -- Real art I mean, not sentimental bosh


You are free to do whatever you want with my book. Shred it, burn it, hate it. That's fine with me.

But you have to open your mind about art and artists. They are not all gentle, sweet souls. They are not necessarily kind, generous friends. They can be sons of bitches. They can be monomaniacal. They can be egotistical. They can be demon-driven. And they generally are.

In other words, when you come to the same conclusion about Tarkovsky and Cassavetes, it should give you pause to think that maybe YOUR HOMESPUN, MIDDLE-AMERICA CATEGORIES, YOUR BOURGEOIS MORALITY, YOUR NEED TO FIND SOMEONE TO LOVE is the problem. Not their art. Tarkovsky and Cassavetes are two of the greatest artists of the post-war era. That's a fact, Jack. And neither had a fuzzy-wuzzy, Teddy-Bear-snuggly personality. So deal with it. Don't reject it. Don't deny it. Don't run the other way from the truth. Cope, man, cope. Or you're going to have to burn a lot of books. Shred a lot of interviews. Hate a lot of great great artists.

And while you're learning to come to grips with those two filmmakers, better start working on Beethoven and Picasso and Blake and Lawrence and Faulkner and Cheever too. You just won't find many "nice guys" as artists. In fact, I tell my students that if they are too happy, too well-adjusted, too satisfied with their lives and loves and families and friends, they can almost certainly never become great artists. Oh, there are a few exceptions, but they are the exceptions. Art comes out of pain. It comes out of dissatisfaction. It comes out of failure. It comes out of not fitting in. It comes out of seeing how much greater the world and everything in it could be, if only the systems and many of the people weren't so messed up. It comes out of being demon-ridden and angel-possessed. Cassavetes felt that way. Tarkovsky felt that way. Beethoven felt that way. And the less accommodating they became (as each of them aged), the greater their work became.

Sincere best wishes. Think about some of this. I offer it in all humility.

Ray Carney, Prof. of Film and American Studies

The Japanese Edition of <em>Cassavetes on Cassavetes</em>P.S. And since you mention it, I might as well add that this is what is wrong, wrong, wrong with the commentary on the Criterion Collection discs. And with Charles Kiselyak's awful movie. They try to make Cassavetes "normal," "sweet," "nice." If he had been these things, he would not have been the artist he was. He would have been Ron Howard or some other schlock-meister. Cassavetes was unappeasable and maddening -- like his works. That is what his greatness is and was. And it's about time Gena Rowlands and his other friends and admirers admitted it, rather than trying to deny, deny, deny.

P.P.S. And, take my word for it, they do know what I am saying about Cassavetes; but everybody who knew him is devoted to getting good PR for him and themselves, which is why they deny it. That's the culture we live in; where getting positive PR replaces telling the truth. If you have any doubts about that, look at the ridiculous coverage of Tim Russert's death recently. He was a bobble-head as a newsman; a water-carrier for the Bush administration and anyone else in a position of authority above him; a servant to the interests of the rich and powerful. And he wasn't really even a journalist; he was just a TV personality like a thousand others. But did anyone, and I mean anyone, dare to say any of that? Of course not. The Russert hagiography is testimony to how morally and intellectually bankrupt American journalism is -- and American journalists are. Being a happy face is all that anyone wants out of a journalist apparently. I think of something Cassavetes once said about how all those rich Hollywood directors and producers and agents are always doing things for charities and hospitals and cancer patients, but lose their courage and convictions and principles when they show up for work, and fund another immoral, exploitative, fear-mongering movie. They saved their morality for their free-time, when they weren't working. Well, Russert (and most of American culture) has the same conveniently divided set of allegiances: Private morality and public sycophancy and love of money and power and status. It's true in academia, too. We want our professors to do good things in their private lives, in their free time, but if they seriously critique and try to change something in the university, that's a no-no. That's too controversial. That gets you a low evaluation for being "non-collegial."

Subject: Microcinema releases "From the Ground Up" by Su Friedrich

Microcinema New DVD Release

FROM THE GROUND UP: The Definitive Scoop on the Coffee Trade
A new film by SU FRIEDRICH

With few words and no polemics, "From the Ground Up" shows how an ordinary cup of coffee occupies center stage in the world economy.

Traveling with the filmmaker from Guatemala to South Carolina to New York City and seeing each phase of coffee production unfold---the growing, picking, processing, distribution, brewing and selling---one comes to understand that most products we use have passed through the hands, and lives, of countless people in numerous countries.

As the world's second most traded commodity after oil, it's all about the coffee, and about everything else we consume, consume, consume....

"With deep intelligence and a very light touch, Friedrich invites you to wake up and smell the global economy."---Stuart Klawans, author of LEFT IN THE DARK

WORLD PREMIERE: Viennale Film Festival, Austria, November 2007
NEW YORK PREMIERE: Walter Reade Theater, February, 2008

$US 24.95 SRP
$US 50.00 Edu

European List Prices:

UPC: 880198078391

Hi Su,

Great to hear from you! Congrats on the new film! I'm so out of it, I hadn't heard about it yet, but I'll be sure to have my booker (good Gloria Thompson) buy a copy or two or three for the Boston U. film collection.

And glad to see you have a higher "Ed" price. (Though I wish it were even higher!) I added a statement on my site -- an open letter to young indie filmmakers -- a few months back on page 101 of my Mailbag, telling them that they were letting universities rip them off by selling a disk to a fat cat rich school that would then be showing it in classes dozens of times and suck tens of thousands of dollars in tuition money from film students year after year and end up paying the creator, the filmmaker, a grand total of $19.95. What a scam. What a rip off. (Indie filmmakers are the "coffee growers and pickers" -- the plantation slaves -- in this story!!! If you'll forgive me for appropriating your metaphor!)

As far as I'm concerned, these disks should be sold with explicit, limited one-time use "licenses" so that these frigging rich schools (and you know how much money schools like Princeton and Boston U. throw around just for a tea party for a visiting physicist) would be forced to pay indie filmmakers a living wage to use their work. But I guess that will happen when the Palestinians are given a homeland.

Chalk it up to me being a crank. But I'm glad to be one! We need more cranks.

Stay well, dear Su. I'm a bit behind on viewing your last ten years of work, but I send you all warmest wishes anyway. Keep going. It matters. Now more than ever in these dark depressing days.



Subject: Film Schools

Hi Ray,

I think you are correct somewhat, but many schools do offer out of the box thinking and creativity that has not been downplayed by the Hollywood system. Schools such as CalArts, SFSFU's film program, and possibly Columbia U to name just a few.

Do I think film schools for the most part are lacking in preparing students to realize their creative outlets? Most definitely. And it is a shame.

Kayvan Gabbay


RC replies:

Subject: it's as easy for the artist to be an artist as it is for the mechanic to be a mechanic


I agree! It all comes down to particulars. Like the rest of life. Creative people do creative things. It's the law of life. You can't keep them down, and the reverse is true as well -- you can't make uncreative people creative even if you hold a gun to their heads. I had a teacher once, years ago -- Walter Nowick was his name, one of the greatest human beings I have ever known -- whom I would have studied farming with, if he had taught it, because he brought creativity to everything he touched. I would have learned more sitting behind him on the back of a tractor than I learned from another teacher the same semester who taught the writing of Henry James. (I'll not give his name, out of courtesy.) It's all in the energy we bring to it. The freshness. The excitement. The vision.

Can't tell where you "instruct," but FYI: someone out at CalArts has been trying (unsuccessfully) to get me out there for a couple years now. So maybe, just maybe, our paths will cross in the future.

Keep breaking the mold, keep crossing the center line, keep bringing out the cosmos in your students (even if they resist!),

Ray Carney, Prof. of Film and American Studies

For the information of my readers -- one of the great media theorists of our era:

From: Bob McChesney <>

Subject: The Political Economy of Media

Monthly Review Press has just published my new book: The Political Economy of Media: Enduring Issues, Emerging Dilemmas. This volume culminates the research in my career to date, and includes my latest thinking on journalism, the Internet, global political economy, and the burgeoning media reform movement and our broader changing political climate.

The editors at Monthly Review Press have done a brilliant job with this book. The Political Economy of Media includes the best writing I have done and provides a comprehensive overview of my work.

Please go to this link to learn more about the book, see the table of contents, and read the preface and introduction. You will also see how you can order the book by telephone or online .

Monthly Review Press is a nonprofit organization, and all my royalties are being donated to charity. Monthly Review Press has little or no money for promotion, so we are depending upon word-of-mouth for publicity. If you know of any e-lists or have friends who might be interested, please pass this email along to them. The Political Economy of Media is nearly 600 pages long, has 23 essays, and costs $19.95.

Thank you very much.

Robert W. McChesney
Gutgsell Endowed Professor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Stop Big Media
2008 National Conference for Media Reform
Communication Revolution

Subject: Student asking about first version of shadows

Dear Mr. Carney,

Hopefully you still check this email account...

I am a student in Oregon. I got "into" John Cassavetes's work some time back, but it was only recently that I discovered how you found a first version of "Shadows", all your scholarship on Cassavetes's films, etc.

"Shadows" is one of my very favorite films. I have only seen the second version. I was not a Cassavetes fan when you first made this discovery of the first version (in 2004) so...I have not seen a screening of this movie. And seeing as how Gena Rowlands doesn't want this version of "Shadows" shown (???), there is a pretty strong possibility I never will see this film screened.

I saw on your website that you have three video clips from the first version. I know you probably have gotten at least TWO THOUSAND emails asking the question I'm about to ask you, but please hear me out and please get back to me when you can, if only to say "no". (A note to readers of the site: the video clips Matthew refers to are at: )

"Shadows" is one of my favorite movies ever. I'm not interested in "studying" various versions of many many movies, for the most part. Since you posted three video clips from the movie on your website, I assume this means that you can upload the entire movie on the internet. In merit of how this is a favorite film of mine I'd love to see an alternate edit of, would you be open to the idea of privately emailing me the movie as a file that I could open with realplayer or windows media? I would be very grateful to you and probably willing to pay too, heh.

Thanks for your scholarship. im sorry that you are being prevented from sharing your discovery to the whole world. best of luck to you in all your future endeavors.


matthew sweeney

RC replies:


Yes, I still check this account. Yes, I still get just as many emails as I did before my department forced me to suspend it. (A note from RC to readers: Go to Mailbag page 101 for more information about that event, or click on the "Most Popular Topics" blue ticket icon in the left margin of this page and scroll down to the "Sources of Fascism in an American University" section of the index for additional background information about the response of one institution of higher education to freedom of thought.) And yes, I still answer many of them!

You have to see the big picture. Gena Rowlands has gone to great lengths to make my life difficult because of this discovery. She has involved lawyers. She had me fired from the Criterion project and my name removed (after I did hours and hours of work on it and even recorded voice-over commentary). She has spoken out in public about me. She has demanded that anti-Carney internet postings be made (e.g. on the Rotterdam Film Festival site).

In response, I have to say I think I have taken the honorable road. I have honored her wishes. I have not screened the print for other than personal friends or students in my classes since she asked me not to. I have not posted the print on the internet (other than the few minutes of clips on the site, which were posted merely to show people that there really is an alternative version of the film and that I am not exaggerating its differences when I described it--some people were writing in and saying that I had not really found anything and was more or less making the whole thing up). In short, I have had no desire to alienate her further, and no desire to involve myself in additional legal struggles, which would be the inevitable result if I started distributing copies or posting them on the internet. I can't afford it!

If the preceding is not sufficient: Search the site using the terms "first version" and "Rowlands" and you will find more than you ever want to know about this subject.... Much more than you ever want to know!!!!!!

I'm sorry I can't be of more help. What I find weird is that I get letters like yours every week of the year, but I very much doubt that Rowlands ever gets a single one or knows how her actions have affected people. In short, your plea would be better addressed to HER (or to Al Ruban, who runs the business side of the estate) than to me. Or write Film Comment or some other magazine. Perhaps public pressure will make a difference. Ask a film magazine to do a story on this subject. Ask the New York Times to write about it. (Click here to read a list of questions that I think it would be worth asking her.)

In summary: I am more than willing to show the film anywhere, anytime, to anyone if she would allow it. I'd love to show it to the world. In fact, I'd love to show it to her and have her attend a screening of it. I've told her that many times. But she just won't hear any of it. I'm sorry that things are this way.

Yours in eternity (after all, it's not today and tomorrow that matter, but what happens a hundred years from now; though today and tomorrow are the only way we have to affect what happens then),



Imagine that you are teaching at a public university that not only supports but encourages your participation in institutional governance. You speak up on several matters that you think undermine the faculty role or your students’ experience—and for your trouble, you are denied a raise, saddled with additional work, or even fired. Do the university’s actions violate the First Amendment?

The AAUP and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression recently filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief (.pdf) in such a case. The brief, which was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, supports the appeal of Dr. Juan Hong in his First Amendment lawsuit against the administration of the University of California, Irvine. The case could have significant implications for faculty members at all public colleges and universities—and, ironically, could have the strongest negative impact on faculty that are encouraged to participate in university governance.

Dr. Hong, a full professor at UCI, allegedly angered university administrators by opposing certain faculty hiring and promotion decisions and the university’s use of lecturers in place of professors. After Dr. Hong was denied a merit salary increase and given an increased workload, he filed suit, claiming that the university violated his First Amendment right to free speech.

A federal trial judge in California rejected Dr. Hong’s claim. The judge reviewed Garcetti v. Ceballos (.pdf) in which the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment did not protect public employees from discharge for statements made “pursuant to their official duties” but declined to decide whether its ruling extended to “speech related to scholarship or teaching.” The judge in Dr. Hong’s case concluded that Dr. Hong’s participation in faculty governance was “pursuant to his official duties,” and that the university’s retaliation therefore did not violate the First Amendment. The court failed to acknowledge, however, that the Garcetti decision explicitly set aside the question of protection for academic speech, and held that “UCI is entitled to unfettered discretion when it restricts statements an employee makes on the job and according to his professional responsibilities.”

The AAUP’s amicus brief focuses on the unique status granted to academic speech, and its relation to shared governance. The brief notes that faculty speech has been accorded special First Amendment protection by the Supreme Court since Sweezy v. State of New Hampshire , 354 U.S. 234 (1957). The hallmark of such cases, the brief notes, is the recognition that academic freedom merits distinctive First Amendment protection against repressive action from within or outside the campus community. The AAUP brief argues that participation in faculty governance is part and parcel of professors’ First Amendment-protected right of academic freedom to speak without fear of retaliation. The brief also observes that the court failed to distinguish between faculty rights and responsibilities, and argues that the court’s decision will empower universities with strong policies in favor of shared governance to discipline faculty members who annoy administrators through their involvement in university governance.

I wanted to share this great news just in from a former BU Film Studies student, who has won many many awards in the past ten years:

Dear friends,

I am writing to share with you this wonderful news. I do hope it is not getting boring to you. Today I was awarded the 2008 McKnight Filmmaking Fellowship from the Independent Feature Project (IFP).

And yes, "Caesar beware the ides of March."


Hisham M. Bizri

Congratulations, Hisham! If you say "Beware the Ides of March," I say: "Rejoice in the dog days of summer!" Couldn't happen to a nicer guy or deeper artist. Way to go!


Subject: Thought a great deal about the last response you gave me (page 94 of the mailbag--click here to read it).

It shook me a little when I read it, and I thought very long and very hard about what you said. I sent it to friends and people I knew and they said "That guy's crazy. He might be really smart, but he's crazy, the internet is the greatest innovation we've seen since the printing press." I wasn't as quick to discount you, since I think you echoed some of my more repressed insecurities about the internet. When I engaged people on why they need the internet, looking to see if someone could beat your logic, since I couldn't, and all I got was this kind of resigned air of fatalism. Lots of "Well, it's the future and you're just going to have to learn how to live with it." Everyone seems to always talk about "the potential" of the internet; without realizing the truth is what is, not what should be.

Your riff on Steve Balmer was hilarious and illuminating, and, eyes opened, I saw how much worthless nonsense gets passed off as charity. There was this big internet meme going around for a while for this game called "Free Rice", where you play a trivia game and for each question you get right, the webhost donates 10 grains of rice to the third world, and not a single person I knew stopped to think about the fact it was just a marketing ploy. I mean, how much is rice at the supermarket? 2 bucks maybe for a bag with a couple thousand grains! As a sign of protest I went to the supermarket, got some rice, cooked it and handed it in containers to some of the homeless people around my building.

Taking your point in mind, I now go pretty much daily to my local library or this giant Barnes and Noble near my apartment that lets you sit and read, and I make a point of trying for 100 pages a day(which I don't necessarily always reach, but my batting average is still pretty decent.) Three days after your response I found a copy of Kamien's music textbook in a used bookstore for a paltry 50 cents and took it as a sign; like some kind of cosmic music scholarship. I read it, and am currently struggling out the listening. I've been making a point of going to all the free classical concerts my college puts on; saw a really great interpretation of Beethoven's 9th string quartet the other night by the Alexander String Quartet. Also, thanks for the Paul Taylor Company suggestion; went to see them in March and dragged along a friend who was visiting who was skeptical at first but was thankful I talked him into it. Why did I ignore dance for so long?

I've gone back to drawing comics, something I've done for years as a hobby. I noticed comics are an artform you tend to neglect, though I can't say I blame you. Like film, it's been mired in crap since it's inception, though also like film, a lot of great work has been done. Cartoonists like George Herriman, Phoebe Gloeckner, or Daniel Clowes (whose "Ghost World" you loved in it's film incarnation), have done some absolutely great work. Herriman's Krazy Kat especially has a real beauty and grace to it. I tried to bring up the idea of actual artistic criticism (re: no star system, no thumbs) to the medium and you wouldn't believe how vehement a response I got back. Well, no, actually you most likely would. I suppose I was fighting the system instead of trying to making into something more positive at that moment.

Anyway, the actual point of this e-mail was to ask if you've discontinued the Mailbag part of your site. If so, you did kind of stop at a pretty logical closure point. Can't say I'm too disappointed. Oh, and also to ask if you knew about that new book that just came out on Cassavetes by Michael Ventura (his diary of the making of Love Streams). There's a mention of you towards the end (well, "Some academic guy kept bugging him." I assume you must be "academic guy".) Anyways, keep on trucking.

-Daniel Levine

Ray Carney at the Sydney Film Festival

Dear Daniel:

The problem is that popular culture gets all the newspaper column inches, all the radio and television time, all the psychic energy. I have nothing against pop culture, but I do have a problem with the level of "high culture" illiteracy and ignorance and indifference I see all around me. It's OK to listen to a lot of pop music. It's OK to read manga. It's OK to be able to quote The Simpsons or Desperate Housewives (well, maybe that's not really OK!!!), but it's a tragedy never to have listened to (I mean intensely devotedly humbly immersed yourself in) Bach's D-minor Chaconne, Mozart's Symphony number 40, Hadyn's middle string quartets, or Beethoven's late quartets, If we took one tenth of the time and energy that we spend surfing the Internet and simply spent it reading Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida or Antony and Cleopatra, or Joyce Carol Oates's Will You Always Love Me?, we would learn so much more. We would grow new brain cells and grow them in directions we never will in any other way. Three things stand in the way of this path of growth: First, our natural laziness and slacker attitudes towards life (what the church used to call "original sin"). Second, the thing I mentioned at the start: the propaganda machine of the mass media, which screens out and blocks the view of these more complex and more demanding forms of experience so that they can sell, sell, sell (never forget it's always about the money in our culture) you something: movie tickets to a junky Zohan movie, a product pitched by the advertising on the television shows, an ad link on an Internet site, or something else. Those two things are out of my control, but the third thing that keeps people away from Bach or Oates or Shakespeare is not: It is a wholesale failure of the educational system to educate and inspire a generation of students with a vision of the possibilities of art. When colleges and universities show movies "students want to see" or organize courses around popular TV shows or incorporate the trash of the Internet into the curriculum, they are denying students their legacy. It takes a lot of knowledge and effort and learning to be able to grapple with Shakespeare or Mozart -- or Cassavetes or Bresson! The students are being denied the opportunity to obtain that learning. The universities are conspiring with the culture of sales and hucksterdom rather than offering a way out of it. That is the story of American education in the arts and humanities. And it's a tragedy. If the students understood how they are being cheated, they would be picketing in the streets.

Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences.


This just in from Mike Gibisser, whose Finally, Lillian and Dan I programmed at the Harvard University Indie Festival last summer, and had my students view in an indie course last spring. (Click here to go to page 10 of the Syllabus pages to read the course screening list).

Subject: Must be doing something right...

Hi Ray! I'm just back from CineVegas and in a rush, but I thought you might really enjoy this mention of the film in an online journal by someone called Jeffrey Wells:


I hated, hated, hated Mike Gibisser's Finally, Lillian and Dan, a murky suburban love story about a couple of mousy twentysomething losers (Gretchen Akers, Jason Kean) who squeak and scamper their way into a relationship on tiny rodent feet. If I were either of these characters I would buy or steal a gun and shoot myself out of respect for the human spirit and the idea that grace and beauty are always attainable for those with reach and gumption.

I felt so sorry or these two, so sorry for the millions of people out there whose lives resemble theirs, and so sorry for myself for being stuck in a front-row seat at the Brenden Theatre plex, sitting next to Robert Koehler and feeling even worse for him, poor fellow, knowing he had no choice but to sit through the whole thing since he was reviewing for Variety. I quit after 45 minutes or so. The urge to leave began around the 20-minute mark, but I stuck it out, cock-eyed optimistic fool that I am.

Togetherness is always an improvement over being lonesome, but there are limits to being able to endure movies like this. The lethargy that comes out of this film and out of these characters has to be felt to be believed. I pRayed to God as I watched it last night -- an improvised pRayer that went "please, God...please don't lead to movies like this...movies that make me feel ill and gloomy and enervated by the grim lives of characters I don't care about and certainly don't want to know."

I was especially infuriated with Kean's appalling unattractiveness -- his mangy man-beard, doofus haircut, doughy body, godawful clothing sense. I loathed his constant cigarette smoking, and was rooting for cancer to strike. I was thinking of that Dylan line for Desolation Row that said "her sin is her lifelessness." Kean doesn't sin in this context -- he commits a felony. If I were a judge and asked to decide on a punishment, I'd throw the book at him. I'd send his fat lard ass to Devil's Island so his lethargy would at least be isolated and prevented from spreading.


I hope you are doing great. I'll write more soon.

All my best,


RC replies:

Subject: Run, run, as fast as you can .... running away from life


Your subject line says it all. Congratulations! Way to go! Never forget that even Jesus only had twelve friends who "got it." And one of them was a fink. And all the rest of the 'hood were apparently asking "whassup with the dude?"

Who are these guys who set themselves up as "film critics?" And why are they so afraid of life? Clearly they prefer Mike Meyers and Adam Sandler and Zohan and the Hulk to something as "undramatic" and "appallingly unattractive" as reality. Clearly their definitions of experience don't allow emotions or experiences that make them feel feel "ill and gloomy and enervated." Experience doesn't have sadness, aimlessness, or lostness in it. It's fun. It's a joke. It's delightful. Out, out, damn spot. Run, Spot, run. Jump, Spot, jump. Life is thrilling like The Hulk. Life is as dramatic and dark and moody-broody as No Country for Old Men. Life is as hilarious as nutty and zany as Something About Mary.

Disneyland used to be a place, now it's a mental state. People like this live in a Disneyland of the imagination: "I don't want to grow up. I'm American. I'm emotionally stupid and pampered and I want to remain that way. I want to stay a child forever. Wah, wah, wah. Don't make me look at things that ask for adult responses. Don't ask me to work or think or wrestle with an experience. I'd rather just send in the troops and blow it up if I can't understand it at first glance. That's the American way."

Keep upsetting the Jeffrey Wellses of the world. Yes, Mike, you must be doing something right! And you sure are. What a truly great movie Finally, Lillian and Dan is.


A note to site readers: Anyone interested in thinking more about this subject and the critical response to other challenging American independent films should consult two other closely related Mailbag entries after they have read the preceding one. The first is the letter on the middle of Mailbag page 104 (the page after this one on the site) with the subject heading: Teaching openness to the "whatever" generation. The second is the "postscript and afterthought" at the bottom of Mailbag page 105 discussing the response to Andrew Nenninger's Team Picture. All three Mailbag entries (this one on page 103, and the ones on 104 and 105) deal with the same issue from different perspectives.

Several dozen readers of the site sent me the following link that mentions me. I reproduce only filmmaker Paul Cronin's email:

Subject: Onion


I'm surely the hundredth person to email this...

Paul Cronin

When I checked out the url, I found the following. Is it a compliment or an insult to be quoted by the internet's leading magazine of humor? Want to know a secret? I don't know and I don't care! I'll defend Jonas Mekas anytime, anywhere. Even humorously. Or as the butt of a joke. He is my definition of a great American and a great-souled artist. To the Onion: I'm not crying -- or crying foul. May we all wake up some day in the world the Onion is evoking! - R.C.

MTV Movie Awards Snubs Director Jonas Mekas Yet Again

June 2, 2008 | Issue 44*23

LOS ANGELES-Eighty-five-year-old Lithuanian avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas, director of more than 50 movies including Zefiro Torna and the five-hour diary film As I Was Moving Ahead, Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses Of Beauty, was again overlooked by the MTV Movie Awards Sunday.

This marks the 17th straight year in which Mekas, known for his signature single-frame style and a penchant for interrupting scenes with several seconds of black space, has failed to join the pantheon of such past winners as Lindsay Lohan, Jon Heder, and Chewbacca. "It is a travesty that Mekas' stark vision of elegiac melancholia has not been rewarded with the coveted Golden Popcorn statue," Boston University film studies professor Ray Carney said. "His [1997] film Letter From Nowhere-Laiskas Is Niekur No. 1 should have easily walked away with Best On-Screen Duo, or Best Kiss, or at least Best Ass." While Mekas expressed regret at the selection committee's refusal to recognize his work, he said he was moved after winning the Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Lifetime Achievement Award in March.

And this from another friend and site visitor, with a drawing which I think is worth sharing:

I hope you enjoy my latest drawing, this time of Buddha. I don't have to worry about whether you "recognize" him, since no one really knows what he looked like! But I like how it turned out, this is such a peaceful pose. After experimenting with many different types of drawing, I've found that I enjoy doing faces the best. My friends have great enthusiasm for my faces and really seem to like them. I love doing the blending to get the values just right. I use the end of my middle finger for blending, not my thumb. Don't know why, it just feels right. I also drew a nude which turned out amazingly well, so I'll attempt drawing whole figures and see how that goes. I bought one of those little jointed wooden human figures to pose for me, so plan to experiment on my own to see where my imagination leads me. What larks!



A series of Cassavetes-related links from a site reader who lives in the Philippines. -- R.C.

Subject: Cassavetes videos.

Short videos with John Cassavetes.


-- Raymund Cruz



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