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

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Dear Professor Carney:

I am writing to you regarding my Senior Thesis. I am a student in Towson Universitys Theatre Studies program and each undergraduate is required to write a thesis paper during their senior year.

I am a great admirer of John Cassavetes and would like to write about his work and its relation to the theatre. He wrote several of his films as plays before reworking and adapting them into screenplays (for example A Woman Under the Influence). I am still in the process of developing my thesis, and would like to talk about the transformation of his stage versions into screenplays. I would also like to discuss the repertory company he formed toward the end of his life.

My thesis is not due until the end of the fall semester. I am aware that without reading the manuscripts and talking to people who where involved with the stage productions, the topic is mute. I was wondering if you have copies of his plays (East/West Game, Knives, A Woman of Mystery, Begin the Beguine and Ted Allans Love Streams) that I might read and whether you would have time to discuss this project with me.

Before returning to school two years ago, I worked in the film and theatre industry in New York both as an actor and behind the scenes in production. I first saw a copy of Shadows in 1994 and was instantly inspired. Over the years I have collected books about Cassavetes, and I have read your books, The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies; John Cassavetes: The Adventure of Insecurity; and Cassavetes on Cassavetes, as well as copies of his scripts and videos of his films.

I know that you are an expert on the life and work of Cassavetes and would very much like the opportunity to meet you.


Adrian Wattenmaker

Ray Carney replies:

I am glad to hear from you. I wish you great success on your project.

To your questions: I have everything. John gave everything to me. And Ted Allan gave me other things. But I cannot give you copies of JC's stage plays. Nor can anyone else, to my knowledge. Gena Rowlands absolutely forbids it. And forbids me to do it.

The Spanish Edition of <em>Cassavetes on Cassavetes</em>A deep point follows. Bear this in mind: There is a human tendency to think that the thing we can't get our hands on, the thing that we don't have access to, will suddenly reveal something critical, crucial, enlightening. It is a fallacy. A fallacy. A fallacy.

The fact is that you have the equivalent of hundreds of pages of Cassavetes' work already. You have his films and the scripts he worked from (based on what is in the films). Use this material. Study it. Master it. It is gold. Don't get hung up on a quest for what you don't have. You are deluding yourself if you do that. The films have an immense amount to teach you about JCs conception of dialogue, drama, scene construction, character, etc. No one has yet written adequately on those subjects. You can do it! You dont need anything else! Nothing but what you already have access tothe films!!!

But, to be complete in my answer: There is one script that is possibly worth procuring: the shooting script of Faces published by NAL/Signet years ago. You can find it on EBay or Abebooks or somewhere else on the internet if you are willing to pay a little to get it. But even here, you would do just as well to study, study, study the film that exists. This script will not reveal anything that is not already in the film.

In summary: Don't delude yourself by thinking there is something else out there that will reveal things to you. Everything you need to know is in the films themselves. If you don't understand what I mean, then I think you should pick another subject.

As to meeting, that may happen or may not, depending...

All best wishes.

Prof. Carney,

My name is Tom Russell. I sent you a series of letters between September and December of last year, offering thoughts about art, filmmakers, etc., and thanking you for your kind words. I feel kind of bad about the volume of letters I sent, as I know you're a busy man I'm sorry if I took up too much of your time.

I just want to write again to thank you for the kind words on your pages and in your books. We've been trying the festival circuit with our film this year, my wife and I, and just received our first rejection, from Cannes. We know, we know: it's a big festival and it's all rigged, but we figure it was worth a shot.

I would have gotten upset, devastated, but then I remembered some of the words you've written, about what's important in life. And it really helped to center me, so when I called my wife to let her know the bad news, I was able to keep her calm. We'll just try the next festival, and the next one, and we'll keep trying. If we have to sell videos through a website, then we'll do that. We'll do whatever it takes to get our film seen. Maybe we'll make a mint and maybe we won't, maybe I'll always be stuck looking for work, but what's important is my wife, our life together, our family, and to make the work of art, not the work of commerce. It seems like common sense stuff, but reading it on your pages just makes it *click*, you know?

Thanks again,

Tom Russell

Ray Carney replies:


Sorry to hear how hard it is, but your attitude is the right one. I do my writing for the same reasons. It doesnt get printed in Premiere or Entertainment Weekly (the equivalent of Cannes I guess) but so what?

Thanks for the kind words. Keep going. And make another!


PS If you don't do it already, try reading every day or going through their news archives. They have the most complete and up-to-date listing of film festivals that are looking for submissions. Including ones not as choosy as Cannes. Might be of use. Good luck!

Hello Ray Carney,

Heard about you from a friend a couple years ago. Got a copy of "What's Wrong with Film Books..." and found it very enlightening. I've basically modeled my views of art from yours.

Anyway, the only thing that disturbs me about your site is that LA Times David Weddle article. Yes, I've graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in film studies, so I have to feel somewhat irked and defensive when someone talks poorly about my school.

My problem is that Weddle's article seems to contradict some of the things you uphold are bad about film schools, in general. The overall feeling I get from his article is that he's mad 'cause he doesn't "get" the concepts being taught in the film theory classes - hell if he even bothered really reading them. What's worse is that he seems to be pro the sort of teaching that creates more Spielbergs and Tarantinos.

I took classes with Branigan, a UCSB professor Weddle caricatures, and although he's intense in theory, he's also intense in viewing films as a piece of art, not just mere social entertainment. Branigan has made me see films in a completely different light (sort of when like when I started reading your essays) Weddle wants to be entertained when he's taught about film, 'cause film to him isn't about art or one's life, it's about a job where you manipulate people's "fake" emotions.

Now don't get me wrong, there are still many problems in film studies. Heck, many of the professors at UCSB are regurgitators of facts and theories, and really do ask the "tough" questions like how "Night of the Living Dead" is a work that criticizes racism or something (my god, leave it alone, it's just a cool zombie movie!!!)

But Branigan is a diamond in the rough among film professors. I mean, he's one of the only professors is willing to screen Bresson's "Lancelot du Lac," even if most of the students (who are basically in the major because "I hear it's easy, and I get to watch movies for free, and I can make a lot of money and be the next Tarantino") will probably leave 1/4th through - Just as long as those few who stay get to see and experience a Bresson film, experience film as art.

Weddle does point out many problems with the current state of University film studies, but I doubt what he wants taught instead is any better.

Yes, I've graduated from UCSB, and maybe there is more bad than good, but the good I learned is something I would never trade away.

Nicholas Ignacio

Ray Carney replies:

Dear N,

Thanks for the good words. Ill post your letter on my site as a corrective or at least to represent your point of view. Remember that I didnt write that article. I dont necessarily agree with everything in it. But I do think it makes important and valuable points.

But now to Edward Branigan. The fundamental difference between you and me is that in my view it is not enough merely to like the same films I like, not enough to say you like art. I know nothing first hand about Branigan as a teacher of course, but I do know his writing. And it is embarrassing. Might say the same thing about David Bordwell. I adore Ozu (am teaching him this semester in fact). Bordwell wrote a book on Ozu. But why should that make me like Bordwells work or respect his point of view? Just because he wrote about a filmmaker I like? His book is so awful, so stupid, so block-headed, it's almost beyond belief and certainly beyond parody. One of the things I had my students do in class was read short sections of his work and give it a grade. We compared his writing with the writing of one of my best students (I must acknowledge her name: the wonderful Cheryl Panlilio) and it was clear how much smarter about Ozu she was than Bordwell. How much better she was as a writer. How much deeper she was as a thinker. And that's an undergraduate student! So why should I have to love Bordwell because he likes and teaches the same filmmakers I like and teach?

To reverse it, it's no different from the hate mail I get from students who tell me that I dont appreciate X, Y, or Z their favorite filmmaker and that therefore they dont like my writing or point of view. I write back and say, who cares? It's not the Top 40 AM play list. Its not about me liking your friends and you liking mine on the playground. It's ultimately about how art works and what it can do to us. And what film study can and should be. That's what they should be asking about. Whether I have anything valuable to tell them about how to study and appreciate film. Not if we have the same ten people on our top ten lists. And, when I ask that question, it is clear to me that Bordwell and Branigan and I do not see eye to eye on what art is and does, on how its values can be communicated, on the function of criticism and study and appreciation. That's what matters.

Long live the difference! And thanks sincerely for the thoughts.

Hi. My name is Terry Comino and I was looking to buy a DVD or video version of the 1958 film Virgin Island starring John Cassavetes. Could you please help in any way by either supplying this film or pointing me in the right direction? I have been watching eBay and Amazon but with no success.

Also what are the chances of us film lovers down under being given the chance to see the earlier longer version of Shadows or the TV works of JC that you are screening in the US. There are many here who are supportive of your efforts and also have a great desire to see all the works of this great man.

I look forward to any assistance you may provide.

With many thanks,

Terry Comino

Sydney, Australia

Ray Carney replies:


Sorry all I can recommend is to try the internet for bootleg copies of anything you want to see.

However I can tell you that you are setting yourself up for a disappointment. Virgin Island is pretty dreadful. Or routine at best. Cassavetes' acting work is really not that hot.

Jim Hoberman was wrong about Cassavetes TV acting in a recent piece in Film Comment. Cassavetes' acting is NOT interesting even in Staccato where he directed himself and could do anything he wanted to. (Except for a few exceptional moments, none of which Hoberman happens to mention.)

There is this illusion that the works we haven't seen hold the key to everything, that they are better and more interesting than what we have seen. It's not true. It's no different than my feeling when I was a kid that I wanted to practice the piano any time there was no piano in the room. Just a trick of the human brain. Every time there was a piano, the impulse mysteriously went away. Thus with the "unknown" works of Cassavetes. The "known" works are still "unknown" enough to merit massive time and effort. Look at them again. They will reward your time much better than a worldwide search of the unknown masterpieces, of which there are precious few. Virgin Island not being one of them.

But having said that, I am doing a US tour of some of JC's unknown TV works. But works far more obscure and wonderful than Virgin Island. Works really, truly unknown and undiscussed. Look for it next fall at major film festivals. Im putting it together now.

And to answer the Shadows first version question: I have it. It is safe. It is wonderful. I am willing to show it anywhere that Gena can't physically stop me or grab the print away from me. But it must be done "right"--with a proper, respectful, scholarly treatment; a panel and discussion; a comparison with the other version in a parallel screening; and the other supporting events a premiere of such importance deserves. However, no one has invited me to do that. I would put on that event anywhere any time, as long as it is done right, by the right people, for a smart, informed audience. Moral: Get someone over there to invite me, if they are interested in doing it right, and I will come.



Hi Professor,

My name is Ken Knight and I am a fan of your work. I graduated from Univ. North Carolina Wilmington where a professor teaches a Cassavetes/Scorsese class. I took the class because I was interested in Martin S, by the end I was fairly infatuated with Cassavetes. We used your book Cassavetes on Cassavetes as the main text in that class. I have a question for you: If I were up in New England (I'm looking to teach up there after I finish my Masters degree) is there any way I could sit in on a screening of the first version of Shadows? If you were going to show it in your class, would it be alright to sit in on your class so I could see it? Once again thanks.


Ken Knight

Ray Carney replies:

Let me guess, is it Todd Berliner? I know him. We differ in our taste in film, but hes a good guy I think.

I teach tons of films and many different classes. You are welcome to come to any or all. (Dont tell the university though or they would want money.) I actually have visitors from all over the world and all over Boston every semester. As well as some regular auditors who have sat in on dozens of my classes in the past and still do at present. (Did I post the story of the boy who drove crosscountry and lived in his pickup truck on the site? He was one of them.)

The Japanese Edition of <em>Cassavetes on Cassavetes</em>So you see, I am VERY open to visitors. But, alack and alas for you, I am not showing or planning on showing the first version of Shadows any time soon in class. I did it last year and that years class wasnt really and truly deeply interested in it and this years grad students have shown no interest at all in the subject either. That's the luck of the draw with grad students. They have their own agendas: gay film, multicultural film, feminist film, etc. Cassavetes doesnt happen to be on their hit list! Not one has even asked me about any of his films or any possible future screenings of the first version. Such is life. I am used to it. No man is a prophet in his own country! They are just not interested.

As another illustration of the difference between film fantasy and student reality: I have the worlds largest collection of Mark Rappaports work, including films virtually no one has seen or knows about. Gifts from the filmmaker. I could hold an entire semester of Mark Rappaport screenings and never repeat a title. But none of my students is interested in his work either. It was like pulling teeth to hold discussions of Local Color and Scenic Route a few weeks ago. So there is another even more wonderful treasure trove that will go unscreened and unseen, at least for the present. But that will change, I promise! I will convert the world, and even if my students dont get it, I will bring these films to the rest of the world! I vow to do it.

That's where you come in. How about doing the following? Get me invited to show the first version of Shadows somewhere near you. See another letter above this one for my conditions. I want it done up right. Not a hole and corner affair but a handsome coming out. But I would take it anywhere that invited me if they did things up royally. Or the Rappaport films.

Now back to your auditing inquiry: Come if you want, but Shadows wont be on the screening list, unfortunately. (But don't forget: You and I would be the only people in the room who would care about seeing the first version of Shadows--at least as far as the Boston U. student body and faculty goes. No other film teacher, student, or administrator in the entire university, as far as I can tell, gives a hang that I found it. All of the requests to screen it come from other people.)

All best,


Mr. Carney,

Ive been having many thoughts about your screening of Human Remains on Thursday and I wanted to share some of them since they kind of excite me (dont worry; it's only a page-worth).

I guess what interests me the most about the film at this point is the fact that these dictators have a chance to justify their evil ways to a contemporary audience, but they never do; in fact, they never even acknowledge that anything evil even happened. Instead, they say a bunch of banal humdrum that only serves to distract the viewer from thinking about the important issues that need to be addressed. They try to keep us passive, just as they did with the people they lead, because they know a proactive mind only gets in the way of what they want to accomplish and, in turn, makes life much more uncomfortable.

But a preference for a passive culture is not dictator-specific. Everyday human interaction, as you have observed on the commuter rail, is all about engaging in banal conversation so as to avoid issues/problems that ought to be discussed. And people engage in this conversation so much that they begin to think this is the only way to communicate with each other. Once that happens, passive complacency becomes the norm, which allows a cultures problems to grow to a point where something horrible happens (e.g. six million Jews get exterminated).

My attention was drawn to the front page of The Boston Globe Thursday after seeing the film. It had a photo of George Bush with the New England Patriots. Bush was telling Teddy Bruschi how courageous he was both on and off the field and everyone was clapping. I couldn't help but draw the parallel between this and Hitlers meeting with and praise of the Kid from Chaplins movie. Fun events such as these help distract the public and take their attention away from issues that need to be focused on (in Bushs case, the trouble in Iraqi). Sadly, the media only serves to assist with this distraction, since these events make for great Human Interest stories and thus sell more newspapers, get better ratings and such.

So, I think one possible lesson to be extracted from the film is that evil is the banal conversation we engage in with each other; it is our means of distracting others and ourselves from important issues that need to be addressed; it is our divorcement from reality (reality being, as you have said, what we personally feel and the actions we take to express these feelings outwardly) all of which make us a race of passively complacent people. The mass exterminations and other atrocities those are merely the byproducts of this evil; they are what can happen when people become so distracted and detached from reality that the problems in their culture swell beyond control. Surely it's much easier to interact with each other when we dont have to think or take much action or question things or stir the soup or be a squeaky wheel, so to speak; nevertheless, causing trouble is the healthiest way to live.

Anyway, I enjoyed the film. Watching a short film like this ought to be included as part of a persons daily exercise. Physical activity is good for the heart, but mental activity is good for the brain, and a good debate can be had over which organ is more important to keep healthy. Part of the problem (with Americans especially) is that we only think of health in physical terms. If we go to the gym five days a week and get a good workout in, were in good shape. We have forgotten that the brain can atrophy as well, and having an inactive brain is probably even worse than having an inactive heart.

Ill be in class on Tuesday.




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© Text Copyright 2006 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.