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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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Dr. Carney,

I've been reading about your efforts to make the alternate versions of Shadows and Faces available to the public. I am amazed at the problems you've had with Rowlands, and wonder if you've considered releasing the movies as downloadable files that are free to anyone who wants them. I know that this would preclude any profits you might make, but it seems like it might be a way around any and all licensing questions. As well, it gives you the opportunity to thumb your nose at her animosity toward you. It may be somewhat immature, but it also gets these works out to the people who want to see them. There might be indirect ways to make money from this ploy such as selling advertising on the page that is hosting the movies, and linking to Amazon pages selling to movies. I would imagine that you would get a ton of free advertising from news outlets that would be fascinated by the whole story. It might even allow your story to reach a greater public.

Travis Brown

Ray Carney replies:


Thanks for the good thoughts. You're not the first person to suggest this or something similar, but what everyone seems to forget is that Rowlands has lawyers and legal papers, threats, deadlines, etc. out against me. In other words, I face the prospect of going to jail, getting massively fined, getting tied up in law suits for the rest of my life, or spending tens of thousands of additional dollars on lawyers' fees. People who write to me don't seem to take in the full consequences of what she is doing (and has done). They act like it's a game of hide-and-seek or catch-me-if-you-can. Forgive the comparison. I don't mean to put your good ideas down. But do you see what I am saying? This woman is not just "talking tough." Or "expressing her opinion." It's not just a matter of getting around Rowlands in a clever way. Making the film available on the internet has life-changing consequences for me. Rowands is playing financial hardball and it's not a game. She is doing nothing less than ruining me, destroying me. It's already happening. It's not just a war of words or opinions. It costs thousands of dollars for me to defend myself. That's the way the law works in this country. And there will be even more serious and extremely expensive repercussions if I post this film as a download. Legal, financial, economic ones. And if you think she's bluffing or merely posturing, remember that SHE GOT ME FIRED from the Criterion job. Fired. Money not paid. A contract abrogated. That's not just posturing. That had major financial and institutional repercussions for me. (Do you have a job? I assume so. Well, imagine she had you fired from it. That's what I'm talking about.) This is not just a war of words or opinions. She's a millionaire and she has her lawyer after me. She can afford to legally sue me and/or keep me in court forever. It's not just a war of words. And, in case you don't know the going rate, it costs a thousand dollars an hour to defend myself. So it's not really just about "sneaking the film out."

And though it's a side issue to your letter, I might as well mention that not one of the Michael Moore/Martin Scorsese/Sean Penn "indie idealists" has raised his little finger to rally around this cause. They all talk big in TV or magazine interviews about indie film and distribution, but not one has offered to pay my legal fees or even speak out against this. And not one journalist as far as I can tell. Not even to say a single word on my behalf in public. It's all about my "bad attitude" towards her. Or my "snarky" comments on the site. As if all that this was about was words. That part of it has sure been an education for me......

Ray Carney

Subject: "There's no rivers there, Eddie. " - Cosmo Vitelli

Hello Mr. Carney.

My name is Michael H. Smith and I am 21 years old. I live in Syracuse, New York and work at the Library of Science and Technology at Syracuse University. I have spent the last nine years of my life dabbling in filmmaking from, at this point, VHS throughout high school and digital video from after high school and on. My first movie, made in my Sophomore year in high school, was called "Jamesville" which was a very affectionate parody of Robert Altman's "Nashville" and was shot in Jamesville, NY, where I used to live. It employed the acting and improvisational abilities of twenty-four of my friends and fellow students in high school. From then on I gathered together a smaller group of people with whom I made projects from high school until now. I've been doing a great amount of writing over the years and have finished three screenplays, " Routine", " Zoo", and "Conversations", all of which I have also started shooting to certain degrees of completion. Less than twenty minutes of "Zoo" has been shot. More than an hour and a half of footage exists for "Routine".

A few months ago I took a gamble and shelled out one hundred dollars to purchase the Criterion set of "Cassavetes: Five Films". It was a gamble because I had seen not one of the films inside and yet felt possessed to buy it and add it to my collection, which was already considerable. The possession has not stopped. I came down with the flu shortly after the purchase and was bed-ridden with Cassavetes for four days. Throughout those four days I was frustrated, confused, elated, overjoyed, saddened, enlivened, and bewildered. I was swamped in the world of Cassavetes' work and I came out feeling all tingly and strange. I was surprised by the humanity of his work and that it had, indeed, challenged and frustrated me, an already long standing student and fan of Stanley Kubrick (who had died on my birthday, the year of my freshman year of high school) and Robert Altman, two filmmakers whose works I find to be tantalizingly polar opposites.

Ever since then my project, "Routine" fell apart and all of my friends whom I had gathered around me to shoot it had left me in the cold and I felt, for the first time, the true pain of what it is like to see a dream crumble in your hands. I had experienced troubles and complications before, but with "Routine", we were more than half-way through filming it, halfway through editing it, and on the way to set up a premiere at a local theater (the Palace, which had just re-opened after remodeling and was now showing independent works from Syracuse and beyond), when everything just fell apart. With the knowledge I had gained from the extraordinary wealth of documentary material on Cassavetes in the Criterion set, I felt like I had truly identified with a filmmaker for the first time. Really identified. At that point, "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" was my favorite in the set (it has since shifted to "Opening Night" and I'm sure it will shift again and again... "Faces" hasn't left my DVD player for a week...) and I really felt Cassavetes in that film. I felt his affection for Cosmo's 'art', which to others seems like sleazy trash, boring, and not worth paying attention to. I identified with what he had told Gazzara about the 'interferers in the dream' and how I realized that all of my friends had become those interferers. It was terrifying to realize it and then truly empowering to know that John Cassavetes had put it into words for me many decades ago, before I was born. He had felt so alone and despairing.

After the collapse of "Routine", and many relationships with it, I wallowed in self-pity and a miserable frame of mind for about a month and then, by beginning to read your book, "Cassavetes on Cassavetes", with his words at my side and his incredible point of view inspiring me to stop feeling so damn down on my self, I started writing again and planning my next independent project. This has been written to you in hopes that it is not a waste of your time but a heartfelt thank you for all the work you have done to bring an appreciation and understanding of such a kaleidoscopic man and his complex work to those who desperately want to delve deeper and deeper into the 'what' and 'why' and 'how' of it all. It has certainly inspired and aided me to no end. I am ready for the new challenges that lay before me.

- Michael Hawthorne Smith

Hi Mr. Carney,

I have enjoyed your books on film and your website. You impress me as a no-bullshit kind of guy. Have you read Chris Hedges new book, "Losing Moses On the Freeway?" A forceful let's-cut-through-the-obfuscation kind of viewpoint that reminds me both of your writing and that of John Cassavetes.

Jack Florek, NJ

Ray Carney replies:

No. I've heard that parts appeared in the New York Times. That's about the worst recommendation possible, since the Times (like the New Yorker or Charlie Rose's TV show) is the very definition of enbourgeoisement--the middle-brow sensibility at work--something I cross the street to avoid. But maybe it's better than that. Thanks for the recommendation.

Ray Carney

hi prof. carney,

this is david chien. i contacted you in february (?) this year. i was the usc film student who was trying to get an article written about the museum of tv/radio retrospective on john cassavetes. of course, you were right - the retrospective was something of a sham in its starstruck programming, and the usc newsletter wasn't interested in my article anyway. so...that didn't go far. but i did manage to catch "the killers" - which i thought was a slight but entertaining movie. it is just amusing to see cassavetes and lee marvin share the screen (i admit to being a fan of "the dirty dozen" so the glee goes without saying).

but anyway, i wanted to contact you again with an article i wrote - something i wrote just because i needed isn't for a paper or any publication. last night i attended a screening in l.a. of caveh zahedi's new movie, "I AM A SEX ADDICT." it's really amazing and i just had to write something immediately to gather my initial thoughts on the film. i just sent the article to - hoping that they would post it. they usually only post what people thought about the new michael bay movie or "war of the worlds," but i'm hoping that they will take the article seriously. they did, after all, support movies like "ghost world" and "dogville" - so there's a smidge of hope.

anyway, i attached what i wrote and wanted to share my thoughts with you. LA is far from boston, so it's moments like this that i thank the miracle of e-mail. the key thing is that i discovered "A LITTLE STIFF" through your writing, so it's only fair that i send you thoughts on a new zahedi movie - something that doesn't occur as often, sadly, as a jerry bruckheimer hackfest.

much appreciation and admiration,

PS: i finally got around to finishing the mike leigh book you wrote. i have to revisit "abigail's party" - that's the one that really challenges me. i can't figure it out. it's so strange. would you believe i got a copy of your book in the usc library? at least their books are well-stocked. but then again, there's like 10 copies of "Saving Private Ryan" on the shelves. seems like a give-and-take.

Ray Carney replies:

Dear David,

I love your review. And you're right that indie fans have to support indie artists. We all ultimately get the films we deserve! If we go to a mainstream movie and don't boo at the end of it, we're financing and supporting junk. Just like if we buy junk food at the supermarket. We're subsidizing the junk food industry. We vote with our feet--and our "taste" (in both senses of the word) in both things.

Can I post your review on my site? I haven't seen Caveh's film, but I'm sure it is worth seeing. And I think your review says a lot of good things. Thanks for sharing it with me.


David's reply:

hi professor,

thanks for replying so quickly! it would be so great if you could post the review. after a fairly thorough search, i could only muster up four other reviews of Caveh's movie, and while they are all positive - the sheer lack of word thus far is just disheartening. you know, last night at the screening, something really appalling occured. in the Q & A session, caveh mentioned that because he had such a hard time deciding on how to film certain scenes - this ended up in delays...delays which cost a lot of money - so much, that it ended up being nearly half-a-million dollars in budgetary expenses. for me, this made sense because any artist worth a dime has to keep his/her work open and vulnerable to interpretation and evolution. but some jokers in the audience laughed out loud and pointed mockingly at mr. zahedi for revealing this. now, certainly $500,000 is a lot of money to spend and i myself was a bit surprised at first that the movie cost that much. but the movie was great, and i trust that someone like caveh zahedi needed to let this happen for the benefit of the movie - too make it more original and unique. the fact that the buffoons in the audience laughed upset me because they fail to realize that hollywood spends $500,000 just to buy gifts to woo overhyped, a-list celebs. would the same jokers laugh if they knew that a tom cruise or a brad pitt gets half-a-mil just in ass-kissing door prizes? at least the money spend through caveh's film was FOR something, not just wasted on needless flirtations.

anyway, it's a long process as you've long predicted - but slowly and surely i hope that people begin to tire of the same retreads. it's somewhat hopeful that i've not spoken to a single person who actually liked "mr. and mrs. smith" or "war of the worlds." fewer and fewer people are buying into the hype, now if they only just kept their wallets closed - hollywood will begin to hear us more.

on a last note, i just got a copy of the new dvd edition of "signal 7." i only recently heard of rob nilsson because of that res column by donal foreman that you recently posted. "signal 7" is quite a movie. i still have to see it again. i rarely like to make an opinion only upon one viewing - but i suppose in the case of "i am a sex addict" i just wanted to share immediately - it was as though someone told me a secret and i had to share right away. something along those lines.

thanks again for the kind words. hopefully caveh's movie makes it in boston sometime soon. the programmer for last night's event, a woman named julianna (?), was very kind. she gave me hope that there are some programmers out there who aren't as concerned about drawing some being pseudo-indie name like todd solondz or don roos. they treated caveh with the respect he deserves. it takes guts to be honest, and even more guts to base one's entire career on it. especially in america.

have a great weekend!
- david.

Ray Carney replies:


The problem is that most people have a screwed-up notion of what a movie should be because they get their ideas from TV and the newspapers. If all you read is the newspaper and all you go to is mainstream movies, you forget how many different ways there are of making films, how many different kinds of films there are. Caveh makes a different kind of movie in a different way. That's not what's wrong with what he's doing, it's what's RIGHT about it! Art is never mass-produced. It is always different. Films are not supposed to look like each other or be made in the same way. Only Hollywood does that.

When Beethoven sounds like Haydn or Mozart (as he does in his first symphony and most of his second), he's not yet become Beethoven. He's not yet an artist. He becomes one only when he breaks the pre-existing forms in the third symphony and thereafter. He becomes original. He becomes himself (harder than it sounds--most of us are born clones and only with great difficulty can become ourselves). Art is always different from all other art. It's always individual and unique and personal. That's what the film reviewers at the Times and the New Yorker and on TV will never understand.

Rob Nilsson is another artist. His work is important. I agree about Signal Seven. It's a very interesting film. Just one more undiscovered gem in the American indie movement. How many there are. While the world of journalism chases after Tarantino for the ten thousandth interview.

Thanks for permission to post the review of Caveh Zahedi's I am a Sex Addict. (Note to readers: Click here to go to it.)


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