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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: Ralph Waldo Emerson + Preservation of Your Website

Hi Ray,
I am about to go to church in a little less than two hours and I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep (in other words, I have much else to do), but ..... I want you to know that for months I have been printing out pages of your website for preservation purposes in case anything bad ever happens to it. I decided to do so at least partially because of the BU-related BS. I have so far printed 69 pages of the mailbag, all of Film and Other Arts pages, some of the other pages that are linked in the mailbag, and a lot of the Independent Film Pages. I am currently concentrating on printing the mailbag even though it's perpetually updated. I am currently reading Emerson's essay's, currently in the midst of "Spiritual Laws." I've more to say, but I must away. Keep being a voice for the voiceless, for the art and artists who are small giants.

- Matt

Subject: where art resides

Dear Prof Carney,

I read a quote recently by the pianist arthur rubinstein and was wondering what your thoughts might be about the place where art resides: "I handle notes no better than many others, but the pauses -- ah! That is where the art resides." Do you agree and also would you say this concept applies to the "other arts" as well? What exactly is the significance of the pause? And where would you say art resides if not in the pause?

Thanks for all that you do to enrich our understanding of art and the power it has to change our lives. Looking forward to your response if you have the time now that the fall term is in session..

A fan

RC replies: Where art begins is in the human contribution to life. The human. The rest is auto mechanics. The rest is just a job. The rest is technique and fingering. The notes are only dots on a white sheet, like the words on the page in a script. But the artist (Rubenstein on the piano, Tom Noonan in his acting, Robert Bresson or Su Friedrich or Andrew Bujalski during the edit) comes in and teases the notes, plays them by playing with them. He or she messes them up, tweaks them, jokes them, finds something in them that is not them, but is within them, between the lines, in the pauses, in the beats, under and around and behind the score and the script and the shot. That's the art. That's the genius. That's the real work. That's the goal. Not the mechanical stuff. The stuff students waste their time learning and teachers waste their time teaching. All that is just notes and words and shots in the dark. All of that is shorthand, transcription, scores, scripts, Labanotation, not song, not dance, not drama, not life, not joy, not the swerves and jumps of lived experience. Fare onward, voyager, tacking always, luffing, jibing, coming about, heeling, leaning, twirling, turning. Put in the pauses. Lay in the bravura brush strokes. Wiggle the vibrato. Buzz your lips and blink your eyes. Insert grace notes and trills and slurs and pedal work into all you do -- in your art, your life, your hugging, kissing, lovemaking -- and into your work above all. Stamp out the generic and impersonal. Don't let someone else live your life for you. Only you can live life your way. Don't have their experiences. Have your own. Put a personal spin on your electrons. What else is life for? What else are people for? That's what Rubenstein is talking about.-- R.C. P.S. And thanks dear "fan" (short for fantastic?) for your submission and your too kind words. I appreciate them.

A message from Ray Carney: My email in-box continues to be flooded with inquiries from readers asking for information about my situation at Boston University. I have answered many of these inquiries personally, but I am posting the following information to avoid having to answer each one individually.

Anyone interested in obtaining an overview of the current situation should read the bottom three or four screens of the boxed material on Mailbag page 101, starting with the statement following the three centered asterisks that begins: "Mailbag postings and site updates will be suspended...," continuing with the "P.S. An update" that discusses the motion passed by the Department of Film and Television faculty to censure me and censor my work, and the personal attacks on me organized by and presided over by my Chairman at department meetings, and concluding with the final section on the page headed "Summer 2008 Update," which lists three more recent events and summarizes my reaction to the current situation. (I have recently updated all of the preceding material to include accounts of new events.)

Anyone interested in responses from students and artists to my department's actions, should read Mailbag page 102, which has also recently been updated with new information.

A note from RC: I'm always amazed at the reach of the site. Though it pains me to say it, I guess the internet may have some value, after all. The following email comes from a student in Florida who has never written to me before, in response to the postings about the El Greco paintings on Mailbag pages 111 and 113. I thank him for his email and continue to invite reader responses to his comments or to the postings on those two pages.

Subject: El Greco, and a "thank you"

Prof. Carney

First of all I'd like to say thank you for your writings. I was introduced to them about a year ago, and cannot state how grateful I am. They opened up to me new worlds and experiences that I needed, and that I'll hold close to me as I go on living.

I'm a 20-year-old film student living in Florida (by the way, not the most art-oriented place, but we do the little we can).

When I read your post about El Greco and the effect of his paintings on those ladies, I remembered a journal entry I wrote recently after reading Bresson's Notes on the Cinematographer:

"An artist is not someone who takes us away from life. Nor does he or she simply shows us everyday life. An artist is someone who shows us the capabilities and opportunities of life. Not by telling us how or why, but by presenting us with situations and emotions where transformation is the only choice. Not necessarily the transformation of the subjects of a work of art, but of those who come into contact with the work of art. The beauty of it all, is in the amount of transformations, the amount of lives. The kinds that we had no idea of."

I think the reaction of the old ladies was such experience of transformation. The paintings took them to a place were the appropriateness or inappropriateness of their response didn't matter. They were beyond that. Such response, I guess, is frowned upon in most societies, not only ours at this point in time, simply because we have to give up what we think, what we are accustomed to, and our relations in order to get there. Also, I guess postmodernism with its "there's no place for anything anyways so we don't even try, woo-hoo!" attitude has done nothing to amend things.

But the ability to lose oneself in art takes time to develop. In fact, it may take a lifetime. Perhaps those ladies were having that experience for the first time after so many years living. Perhaps it'll take me that long to finally see the same painting that they saw.

Thank you for your thoughts, and keep on teaching... and learning.

Edgar Jorge

"Know your enemy" department: I just discovered this piece from Mitch Hampton in my in-box. It was sent to me several months ago. Sorry to be slow slow to post it. I am still at least 2000 emails behind; please bear with me....

Hampton is an original and iconoclastic thinker. He interviewed me several years ago for a magazine he wrote for called Organica. The piece below is about the sad state of media studies and critical inquiry. It is a work-in-progress -- a semi-comic (semi-tragic?) account of his experiences "crashing" a major academic, Popular Culture media studies conference that took place in Boston a few months ago.

I'm especially glad to post it on this page since it connects (by contrast!) with the story of the old women with the El Greco show that Edgar talks about in the previous posting. My question for site readers (and Pop Culture, media-study students and teachers): What does this conference tell us about ourselves, our culture, and our understanding of art (dirty word, that--forgive me). -- R.C.

Hey Ray:

It has been far too long since we have been in contact.... I illegally crashed a pop cult studies conference, took copious notes, and started a piece with my persona. As an experiment I am going to run an excerpt of a work in progress called "Crashing The Conference" which promises to be a gonzo style sort of an attack on cult studies in particular and academe in general. Here is an intro:

Crashing the Conference:

Notes towards a supreme fiction

-- Mitchel Hampton

I love being the ultimate outsider, wedded and indebted to no particular institution, but here I was an outsider with inside information. As I proceeded to crash an academic conference: the 2008 Joint Conference of the National Popular Culture and American Culture Associations in April I had read most of what fell under the purview of the field. I had read the early "classics" and John Fiske on television and all those pop feminists and race studies people and so .. all, I was following the time honored injunction to know thine enemy and I was entering enemy territory. The entire precondition, assumption, prima facie constitution of this bloated academic field was that all the stuff us folk create: call it culture, mass culture, product, even art, if you will, was equally important and valuable for consideration. Not necessarily for its quality, (since not even the fiercest partisan of, say, Malcolm in The Middle, Saved By The BEll or The X Files will argue that they are equivalent to Dazed and Confused or Raisin in The Sun or Ray Bradbury. On second thought, some will. But mass produced t.v., video games, pop divas, anime and internet porn is seen by these scholars as at least as an invaluable insight into the souls or at least brains of the human in any or our time. And moreover, that there were to be no grounds for exclusions of any kind or any hierarchies since such ranking is thought to be arbitrary at best, tyrannical at worst.

I have written before (publicly: see Organica) the opposite view. I think human products are quite unequal, that the vast majority of popular culture is inherently uninteresting and even lacking any insight into the times or the human character in which it is constituted and that works of high art really are better than their lower forms. (Whenever anyone tries to give me a relativistic "that's my opinion" type of argument, I always use food: is Wendy's food really equal to, say, a pan roasted filet of sole, with organic ingredients at Ma Maison? It kind of works, sometimes)

I realized this immediately when, clad in suit and tie (which will let you in ANYWHERE even the beach, just ask Richard Nixon) I had the insolence, the foolishness to stand up, raise my hand and ask at a t.v. panel, a panel devoted to the history of television design and technology as much as talk shows, soaps, miniseries and sitcoms and suggest that "maybe much on t.v. is not that good."

Well the woman who chaired the panel was aghast. (And I noticed they were ALWAYS women since the cult studies people make sure to win the approval of feminists everywhere and since, well, a lot of women share a love for certain kinds of popular culture (well with The View and Sex and The City and Mama Mia! and heaven only knows what else) and cult studies, as we shall see is all about a kind of fandom creeping into scholarly disinterest. And, speaking more personally, I was there in part to see if I could get lucky, which I did in a way, but only after hours of debating the fine points of the deep meanings of Martha Stewart's imprisonment and sexism in America and Clint Eastwood's brilliance at portraying "male" anxiety and contradiction).

"I love t.v. I just love t.v." she exclaimed.

Isn't that a knock down, drag-out argument? You love The Sopranos and Sex And The City, everyone else loves it too --- so it must be doing something right! When did truth become majoritarian? Well what did I expect? They were in television studies. These profs make a study of EVERYTHING: there is fat studies and porn studies and comics (stand-up and graphic) studies and anime studies and study studies or meta studies and hollywood history studies Western studies southern studies, masculinity studies and so on.

Continuing to crash the conference part two:

Now strictly speaking, t.v. is neither good or bad really but a vast electronic warehouse of all sorts of stuff humans have created that is visual and moves over a half of a century. It is not something to really love in that sense, nor condemn in the manner of a stuffy critic from 1959.

But to this woman in television studies is something to love. One common denominator bound the attendants at the conference; the belief that a work of art, or culture (as they would insist) was to be evaluated only in how it represented some interest group or identity. All other considerations seemed moot. These folks seemed to be frustrated political activists, and the whole affair seemed a variation on sociology. Rather, they studied their objects the way sociologists study actual modes of life and lived experience.

There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed what t.v. shows people watch can probably tell us something about their creators and consumers.

It's just that I think you can find out more about people by doing what sociologists do and this was not a sociology conference. These academics were utterly devoid of an aesthetic sense. They seemed to have no love for an aesthetic object, they seemed to have no passion other than for their pet fan base. (Indeed it seemed like a fanbase and at times the attendants seemed like not academics but people at a anime or science fiction or Trekkie convention). In dress this was apparent. With few exceptions they were garbed in the kind of raiment normally seen at such conventions. One man who said he taught Stephen King studies was dressed in a sort of black shirt and a cheap sport jacket and the obligatory buzz cut. He also had a real police officer's moustache. Another woman wore a turtleneck under some sort of black blazer and really thick glasses. She taught Harry Potter studies. Once I got her going I couldn't get a word in. "It was all about child development. "Let's see at age 14 or 15 girls are ready to burst out, they have great potential and through Harry Potter the can negotiate their sense of performing their gender. They can, you know, play without having to be threatened or humiliated by male peers and learn how they want to construct their sense of gendered selves. Harry Potter is way to be with a male that isn't inappropriately sexualized. They can adopt the courage and self esteem of the life of the mind." Translation: "I'm scared that my daughters are too into boys and aren't an academic bookworm and nature enthusiast like myself and that they are buying into madison avenue. But Harry Potter can save these girls and give them a sense of worth and encouragement to develop their inner selves". One would think I was getting a primer in the virtues of single sex education rather than, well, something about wizards and fairy magic, and all that Tolkein shit. The women were usually free of makeup and swathed in layers in shades of purple, harvest green, really long skirts, that sort of thing My eyes started to droop after a while.

Why not get to the good parts, shall we? What about some of the more unusual studies? What about Fat Studies? There were multiple fat studies seminars and I could only go to one so I went to one in the nosebleed section of the Marriott hotel, you know the location: way up on the fortieth floor in an arid, stuffy little room and what did I find? Well all obese women for the most part. The would sit very comfortably on the floor, in chairs and recline, sipping diet cokes and knitting. Many of them knitted while they discussed really jargon ridden readings of t.v. shows and movies. That is another trend I have noticed in culture now and that is women and increasingly men knitting, during practically all activities except when at the wheel of a car. (And of course they would much rather be riding a bike, since that is more correct). The yarn looked like that old yarn you would see in the 70s like macrame, a lot of dark brown and tan and bright orange. There were only two men present in an extremely crowded room: one flamboyantly gay man who seemed anorexically thin with a bald head and all black ensemble and yours truly clad in my same suit. The women all had various tattoos and piecings, on face and parts of the body and while many of them were VERY large they did have spirit and seemed like fun gals. Many wore tight mini skirts and were not detained by the edict which would have plus sized women wear only oversized clothes.

But they did drone on and on. Did the t.v. show depict an unhappy woman eating at the refrigerator? Was she the brunt of jokes? Again and again, were the representations positive? Did it show that fat people had sex lives? One woman had a chart graph analyzing Oprah's weight fluctuations and their meanings. When Oprah lost this many pounds this is how men and women responded. But then a year later she gained weight. What were her ratings? What did it mean for blacks? What did it mean for women? The very thin man began to go on and on in a kind of jargon:

"The faghag, usually dowdy and insecure is marked by extra weight. It is a consolation prize her friendship with the man with whom she can share intimate secrets. But how is she gendered. More importantly what function does HE serve? Is he a gay man who is buff and fit? Or is he more like her?"

It dawned on me that they were discussion COMEDY. Classical comedy! That these were types going back hundreds of years. The best female friend of the heroine who is by nature a supposed to be a little heavier. But it didn't seem as if they were discussing it as comedy. As if comedy was too dangerous. Leave it to these folks to talk about comedy in such a way that you didn't know what was funny anymore. Would I ever laugh the same way again? In the end, at this particular session it seemed the only piece of popular culture that got approval was Roseanne, because, of course, Roseanne was big and she was a protagonist portrayed with complexity and realism.

Indeed these folks at times with all of their charts, graphs, and jargon talked like they were the creators of popular culture. It was almost as if they were executive producers at Viacaom and Warner Brothers and CBS. They thought in those terms: in terms of demographic, and blocks, and percentages and ratings.

Then there was a discussion of fatporn. A woman gave a long paper on the reasons that fat porn was consumed. In other words were the reasons okay reasons? Was it okay for someone to have such a fetish. There was an analysis of the phrase chubby chaser starting from the 80s. How is the chubby chaser seen by his fellow men? By women? It seemed that straight males came in for the heaviest criticism here, but given the amount of jargon (And I know ALL the jargon) and my level of tiredness I wasn't entirely sure. It seemed as if lesbian fat porn was okay because it was something that lesbians could hare who were fat. Now here I was starting to feel really uncomfortable. Would I be found out. See, I have this copy of Big Butt magazine hidden in my room (actually its not soo hidden. Sometimes it finds its way onto my coffee table if I have company) and I do enjoy some of the girls in there from time to time and they would be considered, well they are not thin. What would the people in that room think of me shoul I be found out?

Now I am extremely sympathetic to their cause. Undoubtedly there are problems with narrowness concerning the range of acceptable bodies. I felt like yelling right on with a raised fist in the air. But, but they would lapse into that jargon and I got the sense that they did not have a comedic sense. (Unless it was comedy they themselves or their friends wrote). That is, did they have the sense that there is this object called comedy and it was in three forms: New (or message) comedy, pastoral, and popular (or low) and that comedy was an extraordinarily complex thing that does traffic in aggression and human vulnerability. And yes the outsized among us have played a certain role in getting laughs. But what would they have us do? Is Don Deluise okay beacause he tells the joke? I mean the possibilities for finding offence are really endless.

"What about trying to get large-sized actors work? Has anyone studied the lives of actors who are fat?" I asked.

The one man in the room replied.

"We are not talking about that. That is not the problem."

But if you are doing sociology why not really do it? Why not get out of the text? You don't care about the text right? I would have thought that the conditions of actors' lives mattered.

Their mentality, for all of is isolated and exclusive jargon is not too far off from the semi educated person in the street. I remember a friend telling me they were offended by "Waiting to Exhale." Offended because it showed black men and women having taking lovers and commiting adultery and this was akin to showing street gang life and glamorized it.

Now wait, should we have locked away Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina too simply because they depicted adultery? What a thing to be offended about! So only whites can commit adultery in a movie? When is adultry glamorous and when is it deidealized?

It is really that old Platonic theory of mimesis: that the work of art is identical to life and serves a message function. (To be continued.....)

This came in from Matthew Weiss, who has worked with one of the greatest living American filmmakers, Tom Noonan, and made several films of his own. Click on the link below to listen to the sound file. Matthew is right to suggest that film criticism and commentary is in a bad way because of the inordinate fondness for abstraction and intellectualization. What a dead end. What a distraction from what art is really attempting to do to us. It's sure not about giving us big, fat, juicy, abstract ideas!

This is a problem that pervades almost all artistic commentary and much of what passes for thinking in general in the academy. Mitch Hampton makes the same point comically in his observations just above this posting about the Popular Culture Studies conference he attended. William James makes the point philosophically in A Pluralistic Universe, The Meaning of Truth, Some Problems in Philosophy, and his posthumous Essays in Radical Empiricism. And I make the point over and over again in my essays and books of criticism, which present more temporal and perceptual (and less conceptual and summarizing) modes of artistic understanding.

I also work on this issue in my classes, sometimes explicitly and at other times implicitly, but I'm sorry to say that it's almost always an uphill battle against human nature. The mind LOVES abstractions. It adores ideas. Most film studies students (like most people in general) are like Leigh's interviewer. They crave the clear, easy, static, abstract significances of symbolic, metaphoric, and philosophical forms of truth and run the other way screaming from performatively embodied and temporally adjusted -- more concrete, complex, and slippery -- forms of awareness and engagement. Such is life. -- R.C.


If you haven't heard this recent interview with Mike Leigh ... let me know, because you have got to hear Leigh respond to the repeated attempts of the interviewer to shoe-horn his films into intellectual and abstract meanings and symbols, and Leigh very gracefully but very directly tells him all of his symbolic interpretations are a "load of old rope"! You will crack up.

I am still listening to it and I'm being reminded of your caveats about the nature of most film reviewing and just cultural and personal thinking in general (categorization, abstraction, not feeling, not intuiting, just in the head not the body, taking it apart as if the atomizing of it into pieces would be the same as appreciating something whole), and I am so grateful for Mike Leigh's clear-headed and good-natured denials of this kind of reading of his films. Plus he's hilarious while the guy tries to talk about "semiotics" and even takes a some what huffy tone is his exception to Leigh's own interpretations of his own film. The guy just won't give up in spite of his clearly being rebuffed left and right in his silly "intellectual" exercise. 

Here, I'll try to attach it in a way that perhaps your old computer can handle. Let me know if it works. (Click here to access the audio file.)


Matthew L. Weiss

Langdon-Boom Productions

A note from Ray Carney: One of my favorite former Boston University grad students, Lucas Sabean, wrote in with a response to the preceding interview, and some other observations about events in the NYC area that I have recommended on the site.

Subject: Mike Leigh Interview

Hey Ray. Just wanted to let you know that that Mike Leigh interview that Matt sent you is one of the greatest interviews I have ever heard. You should get an undergrad to transcribe it for your class! You won't regret it. The interviewer mercilessly, with every question, tries to abstract the film into ridiculous ideas and misses the whole experience of the movie. It wonderfully elucidates the whole problem of how people miss life by being in their heads and fail to sink into the wonders of the heart.

I went to the Mark Rappaport opening and briefly spoke with him. The exhibit was nice enough, but I was sad that this wonderful artist is not able to make more films and have a grander stage for expression.

The Bruce Connor screening was sold out and some of the prints where incredible. I hadn't seen "A movie" in a while. What an amazing piece of work. It hits so many tones, and uses film in such an original and profoundly expressive way. So freeing and I saw how much he had influenced me as an artist. Oh, pioneer!! What a Maverick!! Other films I didn't care for at all. Really couldn't connect with "looking for mushrooms." and his most recent work.

Here is a link to a Photo Roman I made to my favorite Leonard Cohen song (which, incidentally he wrote after 5 years at the Zen monastery on top of Mount Baldy in California)

He also has some of my favorite quotes of late "Free will is overrated" and "Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash."

Hope you are well,


A note from Ray Carney: I wanted to recommend a book I've been reading: Susan Neiman, Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists (Harcourt). In this age of cultural relativism, political correctness, and realpolitik, Neiman argues that fundamental moral values and moral actions matter more than ever. She looks at contemporary business, bureaucracy, and government and decries the loss of basic moral principles and stands. She points out that even most of the philosophers in our universities have abandoned the study of moral issues and left the politicians to pursue their cowardly compromises. And she proposes an alternative.

Anyway, how can you not want to read a book that has chapter headings like the following: "Happiness," "Hope," "Reason," "Heaven and Earth," and "Reverence" (one of Neiman's key intellectual concepts, and one of the things she decries contemporary civilization's loss of)? This book should be in the "new books" section of most public libraries. Check it out.

For site readers in the New York City area: An all-day, work-in-progress screening and discussion of an unfinished documentary. The filmmaker, Paul Cronin, is a good friend and is looking for intelligent responses and suggestions on ways to improve his work. If you attend the screening, say the secret words to Paul: "Ray Carney sent me," and share your editing ideas with him. (And if you are a member of the "older generation" who was involved in the Columbia University events of 1968, note that Paul is still conducting and compiling interviews for the film and will be glad to film you and add your account to the material he has already obtained.) -- R.C.

Subject: Screening of Columbia 1968 film - Columbia campus, 13 November 2008

Work-in-progress screening of A Time to Stir

A film about the student protests at Columbia University, Spring 1968

9.30am - 5pm, Thursday, 13 November 2008
Lecture Hall, 3rd floor, School of Journalism, Columbia University

(enter campus at Broadway and 116th Street, and the School of Journalism is the building directly on your right)


This is an informal screening of sections from the film

Discussion/questions/debate all encouraged


Canada dry

The least-hyped films at the Toronto International Film Festival were the most exciting

By Ben Kenigsberg

Time Out, September 19, 2008

"I'm not even sure it's a film. I'm calling it a visual history," Paul Cronin said, shortly before admitting that even he hadn't yet watched A Time to Stir, his mammoth work-in-progress documentary on the protests at Columbia in 1968. With a preface like that, you usually get a movie that's pretty rough-but A Time to Stir, unfinished or not, was one of the more compelling documentaries shown in Toronto.... [T]he work-in-progress Columbia '68 documentary A Time to Stir was inexplicably relegated to the festival's last day, slated to end near boarding time for the last flight back to Chicago. In his introduction, director Paul Cronin explained that he'd just shot two interviews the day before and that we'd actually be watching only "the last four hours." Solely on the basis of what will become hours three and four, then, it's clear that A Time to Stir takes an amazingly comprehensive approach, tracing the occupation of various buildings, the divergence of student ideologies and the snowballing media sensation with an apparent fear of leaving anything out. (It's a film that, full disclosure, this former editorial-page editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator can only watch with something like glee.) Sometimes, you not only catch the most ambitious films on Toronto's margins. Sometimes, you catch them on the way to the airport.

Raymund Cruz of the Philippines sent in the following quote. He says he saw it attributed to Krzysztof Kieslowski, and he may indeed be the source, although I've seen it attributed to at least ten other artists other than Kieslowski. Fortunately, who said it first doesn't really matter. Kiselowski may merely be borrowing the ideas from another genius, as his statement itself encourages doing! -- R.C.

"We all steal but if we're smart, we steal from great directors. Then we call it influence."

The point is if you are going to imitate someone, don't imitate Hitchcock or Welles or Kubrick or Coppola or Speilberg; in other words, don't just copy or borrow from an above-average artist; imitate a genius. Imitate Mozart or Stravinsky, Bresson or Renoir, James or Proust, Picasso or Frans Hals. And then -- most important of all -- make whatever you borrow your own, your own, your own!!!! Make it speak your truth, seen from your point of view. Don't just echo or repeat what has already been said and done by anyone else. That's a waste of time. A waste of your life and your art. -- R.C.

Dear Ray,

Your new mail pages are astonishing. I'm thinking about the quote in Edgar Jorge's letter to you (above on this page) about transformation, and Bresson's "...Not by telling us how or why, but by presenting us with situations and emotions where transformation is the only choice. Not necessarily the transformation of the subjects of a work of art, but of those who come into contact with the work of art. The beauty of it all, is in the amount of transformations, the amount of lives. The kinds that we had no idea of..."

Also connects to your response so well about spinning our electrons and living our own lives at the top of the page. It occurs to me that Buddha and Jesus, and Moses too, were living works of art, whose living transformed countless lives. As you do! As we all can! The question is what do our lives inspire transformation of others TO?


RC replies: In one of my Cassavetes books, I talk about the difference between "representational art" and "functional art." The former kind of art ("representational art") shows us something, holds it up to view, makes a point about it, tells us what it means. That's what we think of art usually doing, and that's how filmmaking is usually taught to students; but it's wrong, it's limited, it's narrow. That's such a limited view, such a minor, trivial function for art. Art is so much greater than representation. The latter kind of art ("functional art") is not about showing something or saying something or meaning something, but about doing something -- about changing us in some way. To watch Faces is to be assaulted, bewildered, confused, shocked, dismayed, astonished -- propelled into totally new psychological and emotional states and new ways of knowing. Functional art is about the viewer's ways of understanding being changed, changed, changed. It is not about meaning but transforming.

As with art, life. Life, life lived at its best and most exciting, is functional in the same way. It is not representational. It is not about meaning. A field of wild flowers, the smile of a friend, the death of a relative or lover doesn't affect us because it "means" something or "shows us" something; it affects us because it "does" something to us, changes our emotional realms, our ways of experiencing and engaging with the world. And how does Bresson say it does this: "NOT, NOT, NOT by telling us how or why!" Translation: By NOT explaining! By NOT meaning! By NOT "showing" and "point-making"!

Bresson and Cassavetes and Tarkovsky create experiences that we LIVE the way we live the same kinds of experiences (events, conversations, interactions) in life. The greatest art doesn't give us experiences that "mean" something (only stupid movies have these, Hollywood movies), but experiences that "do" something -- In other words, that are transformative. That's what real art is -- and more importantly what real art does. (And, as I've told a few faculty members in my department, but they don't, don't, don't want to hear it, that process has nothing to do with stupid Hollywood story-telling and the generating of emotions in the story-telling way.)

Thanks for your good words. You got me thinking --and feeling -- in new ways. Your note was transformative too. (As all of life can be, if we only allow it.) -- R.C.

P.S. For another take on this: See my overly brief comments about the Mike Leigh audio interview several screens above this on this same page (Mailbag 114), and, in particular, my thoughts about the hazards of intellectualism, the dangers of abstraction, the importance of raw experience (raw, NOT finished and polished and cleaned up) ..... Or read William James!

Subject: Bo Harwood's music

Dear Mr. Carney,

Greeting. My name is Nini Ten, and I'm a recent film graduate. Before I ask you my main question, I just want to say that Cassavetes on Cassavetes is my favorite book and that Cassavetes is my favorite filmmaker EVER. I was actually formally introduced to Cassavetes movies in my film class at SUNY Purchase. Our magnificent professor Greg Taylor spent 3 weeks on JC, it was incredible! The class is called "American Independent Cinema". I wonder if you're aquainted with Greg Taylor by any chance? It'd be awesome if you were. By the way, I own almost all of Cassavete's movies, not just the box set but also Minnie and Moskowitz and Gloria on DVD, plus the VHS of Love Streams. But the reason why I'm writing to you is because I am crazy about Bo Harwood's music in all of JC's films, and I've read a reply to an email on your website referring to 3 discoveries of his music. I was wondering if there was any way I can obtain any sort of copy of his music. I would defintely pay you or somebody if I can have a burned CD or even cassette tape. It would mean a lot to me if I had some of his music. It's a tremendous favor I know, but I'm determined to track down something. Hope you could sympathize. Thanks so much for reading this long email, I would really appreciate your help in any way! Thanks so much!!!
Great regards,
Nini Ten

RC replies: Dear Nini, Thanks for the good words, but it would be unethical (not to say illegal) for me to distribute anyone else's work. I'm very scrupulous about things like that. Artists should not have that done to their works, even by people with good motives and with the best of intentions. (Nor should their work be posted on the internet without their knowledge or permission.) I'm pretty sure I have a note about Bo Harwood's music on Mailbag page 113, in response to another inquiry about it. I have already put that individual directly in touch with Bo and he has told me that they may possibly be working together to release something. So you may be in luck, but you'll have to be patient. (Since you mention it, I'm glad to confirm that you are right. I have discovered unreleased music Cassavetes created, but it does not involve Harwood's work.)

I don't know Greg Taylor, but I'm delighted to hear you had such a wonderful experience. Many students feel the same way when I show Cassavetes' work in class. It's an eye-opener, especially if it is presented in the right way. Please say hi to Prof. Taylor from me and tell him I am delighted to hear what he is doing. -- R.C.


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© Text Copyright 2008 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.