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Dear Prof. Carney,
For a number of years I've been wanting to write you a letter thanking you for your books and articles. I first cam across your writings about six years ago when I innocently bought Pragmatism, Modernism. and plowed through it in three days. About an hour after I finished the book I walked across the street to watch The Shawshank Redemption and had an absolute life crisis. I spent the next two hours squirming in my seat trying to suppress my rage. I couldn't figure out what was most upsetting: the crass manipulation that I was being subjected to (and had unknowingly been subjected to view years and years of other "good" "well acted" movies with "good dialogue" and "interesting plots"), or the fact that your book had robbed me of the ability to sit back and enjoy what in the past I would always have considered a "pretty good movie". Some months later your "Chilly View" interview was published and that clinched it. I spent the next several months digging up every other book and article of yours that I could find, burning my eyes out at the microfilm machine and severely irritating my local libraries, who eventually got so sick of me that she told me that I was selfishly abusing the interlibrary periodical loan system. This was very embarrassing, and she still gives me a "oh you pain in the ass" look every time I visit the library.
I can honestly say without any hyperbole that your writings have completely changed the way that I think about films, all art and ultimately even the way I think about my life. It felt strange and sort of silly to think that a book of film criticism had changed my life in such a profound and overarching way (and I apologize because I know it must really sound like I'm pouring it on here) but it's true.
Thank you for showing me things that I have never seen or thought of before, and for giving form to things that I had felt and thought but had never been able to articulate. Not all of the changes that I've made have been easy and I've had to surrender some mental and emotional comforts, but what I had to give up has been well worth what I feel I've gained. I'm sorry that this letter is a bit maudlin (I've managed to put off writing it for half a decade, so it's a bit ripe), but I really wanted to tell you what your writing has meant to me.
On a lighter note, there are a number of less grave things that I wanted to thank you for as well. There are a number of things that I never would have been exposed to were it not for your mentioning them in a positive light, thereby recommending them such as:
Stanley Elkin, of who I feverishly tore through all but three of his books in a little over a year. I had to force myself to stop and save some for later. Elkin has become my favorite modern novelist absolutely.
Paul Taylor, who I've now seen two times. Having had zero experience with live dance I was completely in the dark as to what to expect and was totally unprepared for such an overwhelming experience. When I saw Esplanade and it got to the part where they're crawling across the shaft of light crossing the stage I inexplicably and horrifyingly started bawling. I was so shocked and embarrassed and hadn't anticipated crying so I didn't have a handkerchief. So I sat there trying to hold myself rigid and discreetly wipe my nose on my sleeve. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.
Coming Apart, which was the craziest and best-by-a-mile move that I saw last year. I just bought it on DVD even though I don't have a DVD player yet.
Killer of Sheep, which is maybe the greatest film I've ever had the tremendous good fortune to see.
The list goes on and on: Ordet, Last Chants and Rembrandt Laughing, Little Stiff, One Inch Equals a Hundred Miles, Morgan's Cake and Emerald Cities, Wanda, Mikey & Nicky, Lovers and Lollipops, The Scenic Route, etc. etc.
What I would most like to thank you for is what I've gotten though the greater understanding of Cassavetes that you have provided. It's helped me to be less cynical, to be more accepting of people, and it's given me hope (sorry again).
I continue to look forward to the inspiration and enlightenment that you've so consistently provided, and thank you again for all your efforts. And I can't wait for that History of American Independent Film book that hasn't come out yet. Where is it!?
P.S. I have one suggestion for your website, and that is to provide an up-to-minute list of films and things that you recommend. I realize that such a list would not be all that large but it would be immensely helpful to have such information sooner rather than later. For example, you've mentioned Tom Noonan in your most recent articles. When I first saw that I was a bit confused because I vividly remembered seeing the trailer for What Happened Was back when the film was originally released. The reason that I can still remember seeing a trailer seven or eight years after the fact is that it was so awful I could hardly stand it. it made the film seem like an oh-so-ironic, gratingly (???) black comedy, and the absolute lost thing in the world that I would want to see. Which of course is not the case. There are a few other things that I missed the first time around but later saw per your recommendation. Being kept informed of what's interesting while there's still time to give my money to those who most deserve it (would be a god-send). I realize that providing such a service would invite countless millions of bad filmmakers to beat down your door harder and more often than they already do, and I certainly don't wish that upon you.
Also could you please write your next books about Ozu and Kiarostami. And Emily Dickinson. And BFI monotypes about Mikey and Nicky and Killer of Sheep. And maybe a Mark Rappaport book while you're at it. Thanks!
Dear Prof. Carney,
You may or may not remember me, but a little more than a year ago I met with you because I was in the middle of trying to decide whether to come to BU or go to NYU. Well, it was not easy, but I chose NYU for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, I do regret not being able to have had you as a teacher.
I have learned a great deal from you though. Last semester, there was a Carl Dreyer retrospective at the Film Forum here in New York, and I went to everything they showed. They were almost all first-time viewings for me, and as I saw the films, I worked my way through your book on Dreyer. It is absolutely essential to the way I appreciate Dreyer's achievement today..
I guess it's obvious that your work means a lot to me. I've read a lot on film in the past two semesters, from many many writers, but (for me at least) your work as far and away been the work I value most. I've had to seek it out for myself though; it hasn't been assigned reading in any courses I've taken. I have thus encouraged Professor Sklar at NYU to assign some of your writings in his History of American Film courses, along with screenings of Cassavetes' and Burnett's work. (He thought it was a good idea, by the way.)
So, Professor Carney, all I really wanted to say was "thanks" for doing what you do. Even though I missed the chance to have you as a teacher at BU, you have taught me a lot, opened my eyes in many ways, and changed the way I think about movies. (I look forward especially to the Leigh book!) Thank you.
Dear Prof. Carney,
We have never met, and you have no idea who I am, but I want to thank you nonetheless. Your writing has enlightened me, challenged me, and, above all, inspired me, both as a filmmaker and as a film lover.
I am sure you get plenty of letters from people saying that you have articulated their passions and frustrations about the potential of film and how that potential is frittered away by contemporary film culture (critics, actors, and directors). Add this letter to that pile. I was inspired to make films after seeing Faces. When I read The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies, I felt like there was a community for me, that I wasn't alone in my desire to make something good (as opposed to something easy). So thank you. It's already hard enough to try to make non-robotic films. It's made even tougher because so few people think that it's a legitimate endeavor.
I'm enclosing something I wrote before beginning pre-production on my first film, Honey. It's called the Honey Manifesto. I gave a copy of it to every member of the cast and crew before I gave them the script. Although I wrote it before I had read any of your work, I think you will find that the Manifesto follows similar lines. Having a common mission made the shoot a joy, at any rate, because everyone was motivated by and working for the right thing - trying to make good art....
You're probably asking yourself what the hell this is, wondering why someone felt the need to write an introduction to a script instead of just handing you the script and letting you make up your own mind. I can't really answer that, except to explain what I'm not trying to do by writing this. I'm not trying to give you an interpretation of it ahead of time. I'm not trying to compensate for the script's weaknesses by pointing them out or describing them as strengths. What I am trying to do is explain a little bit about my intentions behind writing it so that you can orient yourself to what is, in fact, a sometimes confusing and stylistically odd script. In other words, sometimes when you read something, particularly something by someone whose work you haven't read before, it can take a while before you get what the author was going for. You try to fit a square peg into a round hole instead of realizing that the peg belongs in a different hole. Just to damn myself a little bit, the first time I saw Mean Streets, I thought it was a lame gangster movie with shitty production values. I didn't get what it actually was (a movie about small-timers) because I was looking so hard for something else (the big-time Godfather-type Mafiosi). Needless to say, I've rewatched it since then. This is not a film that tries to be edgy. This is not an "independent" film, with all the rules that apply there. I'm not trying to be anything except honest.
I guess the starting point for the Honey script was when I watched Contempt at the Film Forum and saw the incredibly real fight sequence that dominates the middle part of that film. It was something I hadn't seen before, and it was incredible. The dynamics between the man and the woman were complex and true to life. She would sulk, he would ignore her, she would ask him some passive-aggressive question to get his attention, he would pay attention to her, she would ignore him, he would apologize, she would use that as an opportunity to get in one more free shot, this would make him angry, he would storm off, she would run after him and apologize herself, he would take his free shot, and so on. It blew my mind. This was the first time I'd seen something this real about such a basic, fundamental experience. The second thing that amazed me about it was that Godard basically stopped the film and gave the fight thirty minutes (I wasn't timing it) to fully explore its ins and outs. Having been brainwashed by Syd Field and like-minded books, I was reminded that you didn't have to chop everything up into small pieces, that putting the plot mechanisms in action did not have to be the overriding principle shaping a movie. He wasn't doing this to be cool - he was doing it because this is the way life was. And now it seemed so obvious, so simple - except that telling the unadorned, messy truth is so much harder than being coy or intellectual or overtly stylized.
Around this time I was reading a book of Bergman screenplays and was also stunned by Scenes from a Marriage, by the way he picked up on the nuances of where relationships dissolve into mistrust. Both of these works paid extraordinary attention to detail. Everything was not spelled out for you. The "plot" was nothing more than the sum of the activities of the people on screen - that is, it was simply about their lives. It didn't always make sense, until you reflected on it. In that way, it felt real to me. One of my favorite quotes is this one from Kierkegaard: "Life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards." As you read Honey, I'm sure both of these influences will be readily apparent.
Another influence that led to the writing of the screenplay was what was going on in my life. I had just finished writing a screenplay (October Surprise) that was meant to be a commercial script. It wasn't, by virtue of the fact that no one paid (or has paid) me for it. I had written something that my heart wasn't into and found out I'd sold my soul for nothing. October Surprise was a decent script, but it's very formulaic (in the "instigating incident on page 10" sense). At the same time, my girlfriend was working around the clock, and we had just decided to get married. So in a feverish 6-day period, I wrote the first draft of Honey. It was the antidote to all that was going on in my life. It exorcised the anger I felt, the fear of commitment, the fear of being alienated and abandoned by the person I love and trust the most, stuff I wasn't even in touch with. I would write something down and say, "Good Lord. What the hell was that, and where did it come from?" It was scary but exhilarating, because I wasn't trying to make it any particular thing, neither David Lynch nor Steven Spielberg. It was liberating because I willfully ignored all the "rules" that make most screenplays totally artificial and completely predictable. It had unfamiliar rhythms to it. It was work reading it. Not everything was spelled out in it. And I really, really liked it - so much so that, for the first time in a long time, I didn't give a shit what other people thought of it. I still don't.
So, what's it about, you ask. Honey is an almost unpitchable film, because the whole reason I wrote it was in reaction to pitchable films. There's no high concept to it (or, as in the typical indie film, a high concept that can be brought in with a cheap budget). There's no clear-cut story with a smooth, regular arc to it. But it ain't Hiroshima Mon Amour, either. What it's about, really, is how crazy things can be. How you can reach this point with another person where they've hurt you and you've hurt them and you're both thinking, "My God, I didn't know I was capable of doing that to someone, and I didn't know I was capable of withstanding that from someone," and yet you don't just run away because sometimes you have nowhere else to go. It's about finding out for the first time that love is damned hard, that it takes a lot of work and a lot of courage in the face of signs that tell you to turn around and run away. It's about that moment when you're waiting for the other person to turn the other cheek and they get mad because they're thinking, "I'll be damned if I'm going to do it after all you've done to me - you turn the other cheek" - and then you get angry because you feel that way and can't he/she see that they're really the one in the wrong. It's that moment when something breaks and you're both waiting for the other to clean it up because each of you is sure that you cleaned it up last time and isn't it just like him/her to always expect you to make everything better. It takes you through the moment where most films leave off, asking the question, "Is the realization enough?" In the average Nora Ephron film, the movie is about the characters' struggle to realize something, but once the realization comes it's crystal clear that they need to act and that they need to do particular things to achieve happiness. Honey is about the way it feels in (my) life, the questions you have after the epiphany - is the realization right, or is it another delusion masquerading as truth? Do I have the courage to go through with it if it is the truth? And what if I go through with it, and that's not enough?
Stylistically, I wanted to focus on small moments - by that I mean, the large moments that appear small. I wanted the film to key you to noticing the little but telling details in someone's behavior and/or language that tells you what's going on. There are few clues in the script; there will be few clues in the film. That's not to obscure things willfully, but instead to present the facts and let people make their own judgments, and make people think about the judgments they're making. There is no "Good Guy" or "Bad Guy" or "This is a Sad Moment" music and lighting in real life, so I don't want any in my film. And if you think someone is the good guy and then they're bad, or vice-versa, that's part of the experience as well.
I also wanted the structure of the movie to be conducive to having the really great actors establish that reality. Long scenes will give actors room to establish their rhythms, to get us immersed in scenes without the usual pressure of going to a scene, getting the simple picture (like an insert, or a reaction shot, or whatever) and then going somewhere else. I guess I kind of want the movie to feel like you're watching a documentary that started somewhere in the middle, where the characters act like they've known each other for a while and are not doing or saying things for the audience's benefit ("Well, Janie, in the past six years we've been going out, from when we started at Harvard University in Cambridge until now when we both are living with your parents in upstate New York, I've really had to struggle in my job as a screenwriter while you've worked as a waitress to support us"). Like people in real relationships, the people in Honey start and stop on a dime and have all kinds of shorthand for what is going on. In some way, that will make audience members (and you, reading the script) feel like outsiders - but every character in the script will also feel that way at one point or another. So I'm not standing around like Oz (or Christof) holding the viewer at arm's length. What I want it to feel like is life -- where just as you think you weren't expecting it and makes you see what you thought you knew in a whole new light.
Take the first scene in the script. A man and a woman, the woman dressed provocatively, the man drunk and in a suit. Hooker and john, right? The scene plays and at the end, they laugh. Weird. Then you see her pull out a wedding ring. Is it an affair? You see her come home at the end of the day. The same guy is there. You wonder for a second, surely this can't be the same situation, because we would have had clues that said, "Don't take this first scene seriously, it's just a put on." But that would be a different movie. But then you learned that the first scene was actually something very different from what you thought it was. You see John and Ruth (the man and woman) in a whole new light - and yet you're never really going to forget that you thought she was a whore and you thought he was a john. But that's because there's a reason they're role playing - even though it's not readily apparent what that reason is.
I want the whole movie to have these moments of discovery, and I guess that's the real reason I'm writing this introduction - to counsel patience in reading the script. To let you know that you're in capable hands, that I'm not going to leave you stranded, that there is some purpose to the under-writing. It's like the old riddle about the man who rides on an elevator who gets off at the 16th floor when others are on the elevator but who gets off on the ninth floor and walks up when he's alone. (It's because he's a dwarf.) The difference in Honey is that there are riddles, but they don't look like riddles, or they're not announced as riddles. You're not looking for the trick. Complexity appears in things you thought were completely simple - and yet the new insight coexists alongside the old. It's like the Vases/Faces picture that describes either a vase or two profiles, or the "What's on a Man's Mind" poster of the mustachioed man or a naked woman running down his face. Both interpretations are valid. They come from the same set of lines. But by putting them in different contexts, different aspects are highlighted. And maybe, just maybe, the film can get you to see both sides of the picture at once.
So the script is written with this in mind - or I should probably say "under-written" with this in mind. I don't take a stand on some things because I want one viewer to say "He's an asshole" and her boyfriend to say "He's just reacting to that bitch." Or the other way around. As you read it, there will be confusing moments, ambiguous lines, rapid mood swings that seem unmotivated until you get all the facts (which is sometimes much later and seemingly incidental), struggles to understand. I wrote the script that way because that's what I want watching the film to be like. In this, the creators, the viewers, and the characters are all trying to understand each other, to persevere, to live.
Anyone who is thinking about working on this production should understand that it will be difficult, not in the sense of draconian workdays, but in the sense that there will be no refuge in bullshit. I want us all to get together and say farewell to the easy, dead, "movie" interpretation and try to get somewhere rawer, realer, more human. To hold hands, cast and crew, and take a flying leap into unknown territory. I am interested in working with people who want to make a great film, one that is great even if everyone hates it, one where people feel alive during the process, feel open to possibilities, free of ruts, where they push and stretch and pull themselves in places they didn't know existed or didn't have the guts to explore. And that means everyone. I want to create an environment where no one feels self-conscious, where everyone feels safe to explore, because what we'll be doing is dangerous enough as it is without cynicism and self-consciousness. So that is, I guess the other requirement of working on the film - that you be brave enough to go there with someone when they're really out there, and not cover your own ass with sarcasm or irony saying, "Whoa, that's weird." Because that's the kind of slickness, the kind of bullshit, that sterilizes creative impulses. If you work on this film, you have to make the commitment not to cop out on the people you're working with. Because the situation will be unsafe and uncomfortable, we will have to make sure we don't alienate or abandon each other. If you don't want to learn potentially harsh things about yourself or you can't deal with the potentially harsh discoveries someone else makes, this is not the proper place for you. I realize that's not the prevailing attitude on most sets. But that's the point.
Finally, moving to the realm of the practical, here's what I envision about the production. I think we can shoot it in about 8 shooting days, which means every weekend for a month (or, if people can take off work, less time than that). I want to shoot it on DV, not just because it's all I can afford, but because a smaller crew lends itself to more intimate performances. It is not merely coincidental that the Cruise and the Celebration were shot on video. I won't have money to pay people up front, and I have no idea if anyone will be interested in distributorship, but a distribution deal is the last thing on my mind. I'm making this film because it's compelling to me, and simply doing it will be compensation enough. And if you're interested in making something real, I hope you'll work with me.
P.S. Some of the films I've watched during the revision process (most of which were suggested by Josh Apter, who has helped me immeasurably) are: La Promesse, La Haine (Hate), Faces, Husbands and Wives, The Celebration, and Once Upon a Time in the West. (If these don't resonate with you, it's not a big deal - it's just shorthand in case you've seen them.)
Dear Prof. Carney,
I was intrigued by your essay "The Path of the Artist." How you described with clarity the importance of story telling by the filmmaker was excellent. You focused on seizing the nature of mankind through characterizations of real life, proving that people are not entirely good or not entirely bad, that people cannot be categorized in these terms because they then become reduced or elevated beyond the natural limitations of humanity. The truth of mankind is found in his intricacies, it is evident in his actions: a man comes home, tucks his children in bed, makes love to his wife, and rests easy after a night of carousing and adultery. His love for his family is genuine but so is his desire to drink and sleep with strange women, although not justifiable, the actions are authentic nonetheless. In Hollywood movies, this man would not exist, only a politically correct imitation would remain, lurking the screen a two-faced liar without any redeemable qualities. But that isn't real, life doesn't function under any moral code, and there isn't a blatant message of what's right and what's wrong at the end of the day.
After reading your essay I was motivated to view the films you listed as honest representations of life, and after seeing Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence, Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry, and De Sica's Bicycle Thieves, I found true film as art. You wrote, "As an artist, all you can leave behind is some indication of what life meant to you..." and I couldn't agree more. The artist absorbs his experiences in life and interprets them through a medium most intimate to the artist: words, pictures, film, etc. But for a long time I pained to see this exist on film, and who could blame me when a movie like Braveheart is commended for its passion and veracity? The truth is, films like Braveheart disillusion those who search for quality filmmaking. Many of the directors and films you listed I had never heard of. Why? What do they lack? Nothing, of course. The only thing they're missing is the over-the-top sentimentality and the stock characters who would pop if you could only prick them with a pin.
Art is the honest representation of life, and your words supported this truth profoundly. Bring truth to the characters and they will bring truth to the story. With this incentive I'm moving into the realm of filmmaking, screenwriting particularly. My younger brother and I are both interested in filmmaking, and we were both taken by your three-part essay. We have the same interests in film and filmmaking, but know that further studies in writing and directing are essential (at least we think they are). After Spring 2000 I will have graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelors in English and my brother will be moving into his senior year of high school. The both of us want to take the next step into filmmaking, and we're looking for some direction to help us move. Your understanding of what makes for great story telling and filmmaking made me write to you. I too have an immense love for great stories, for real characters, and for films that don't make me feel alienated or imperfect after I walk out of a theater. With my devotion to bring a writer and my intense interest in film, and being where I am now, I must ask if there is any advice or suggestion you could pass on to me that could help. If so, I would greatly appreciate a reply. I hope that my words here have proven that.
Dear Prof. Carney,
I have sent a letter to you requesting two of your books but I also wanted to write a separate letter of gratitude to you. I greatly admire your work on film, art, and our culture. I am sure you are a very busy man but I hope this letter finds you and that you have an opportunity to read it, for I would like to express to you the profound effect your teaching has had on me.
In December of 1998, I bought Rick Schmidt's Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices. At the time, I was a very dissatisfied Criminal Justice student and, for whatever reason, the book seemed interesting to me. I must have read the forward, "The Rules of the Game: An Interview With Ray Carney" ten times within the first week I purchased the book. In that foreword I learned things that I had never learned in all those years in school like: art is important and that one can learn from it; what a film should be about and what role it can serve in society; the potential of film. All of these ideas you expressed and the names of these strange filmmakers and their films greatly excited me.
Shortly then after, I came across A Woman Under the Influence at my county library. I turned it off four times while watching it only to turn it right back on. I was in no way prepared for the emotional investment the film demands. However, by the time I finished it I was hooked. I wasn't sure what Cassavetes was doing with that film but I felt like that was the first film that I had ever seen (this from a movieholic who others would ask which movies they should go see) and that I wanted and needed to be a part of it.
My desires have been drastically altered since reading your work (Films of Cassavetes: Pragmatism., Adventure of Insecurity, the Movie Maker articles, and others found on the Internet) and viewing all of Cassavetes films and many other filmmakers. Until then, I never thought that film or art was important and why should I have, considering the movies I saw. Initially, I sought to do something in a social service role because I thought that would be more valuable to others. I lived my life as a walking, talking resume. What else should a 22-year-old do when jobs and career define your existence and worth. Fortunately, I was able to realize the truth that everything I was doing had absolutely nothing to do with me. I knew I was lost. I could see it in the results. I was numb. And, there is no reason to feel finished at 22.
Thankfully, I found art. I spent 1999 parking cars for Subaru of America for $10 an hour. I read, I watched films, I began reading the bible for the first time and praying, and I just tried to figure out what's been going on with me since 1975. I feel human again and I have hope and purpose. I sincerely thank you for your teaching and your initial and continual positive influence on me.
In four weeks I will begin making a no-budget digital film. It is not a career move or a lottery ticket to me. It is something that demands of me that it gets made and, God willing, if anyone ever sees it, I hope that it has a kind of spiritual influence on them as your work has had on me.
Once again, thank you for being such an exceptional teacher and I hope you continue your efforts. We need more like yourself if we ever have any intentions of growth. I apologize for the length and confessional nature of this letter but I felt compelled to express to you the effect you and the artists you have exposed me to have had on me. Thank you and best of luck to you and your future endeavors.
"Because I do not have enough talent, I depend on reality."
Takamura Kotaro (poet)
Dear Prof. Carney,
I had written to you earlier this year hoping to show my appreciation for your invigorating words in "The Path of the Artist." You responded by writing in my copy of The Films of John Cassavetes, "To Kian - Keep fighting for truth in art and life. All best wishes on your work." Simply put, those words are helping me persevere in my art. Your words are sincere and cut straight to the heart, like Cassavetes' films. Your book distinctly brings to light why Cassavetes' films are so powerful and real, and ultimately, important, not only to filmmakers and artists, but to humanity. In the interview portion of your book you said "...art is about one heart speaking to one heart, and nothing can stop that from happening," and that is the reason why art is so important to us as human beings. We are possessed by feelings that at times seem clear, and at times seem confused, and at times are both. But in reality we do not understand life and why we do the things we do, or say the things we say, or hurt and love the same people. "I don't want movies and characters I can understand. Just as I don't want life that I can understand," because our complexity, our interactions with one another, are unexplainable, and that is beauty, that is art. You also said the greatest art is an attempt at trying to understand our own confusion, that it "...doesn't give us what we want, but what we need." When I sit to write, whatever it is I am writing, I at times become frustrated because I trap myself into thinking that the actions of my characters might not be accepted by the viewer, even though my characters come from a very sincere place within me. You help me realize that I am using criteria created by the Hollywood machine, producing and reproducing clichés, characters who are always sharp and do the right thing, so the story can move along to that foreseen outcome. You give me confidence in what I am doing, through your openness to new avenues of artistry, saying how great art gives us "the weather in an emotional place we haven't yet visited," through the films you recommend that continually blow my mind, and your own honest individuality that comes forth through your words.
Recently I watched And Life Goes On and Life Is Sweet with a couple of my friends, people I love and admire for their acceptance of new ideas and their intelligence (among other things). They like these films, but at the end they said, "I don't get it. What was it about?" I couldn't answer. How do you answer a question like that? How do you explain 'feelings'? How do you explain a film's deep truthfulness when experience takes the place of words? I guess these are the barriers you talked about, the obstacles we all build no matter how much we think we'll never make these same myopic mistakes again.
Ultimately, the reason I'm writing is to tell you when you said "I'm only one voice so it doesn't make much difference," you're wrong. It makes a difference to me and to the other people who hunger for true art. When I'm pent-up and lose faith in my work, I pick up your book and it fills me with an intensity to continue. And other people like my friends, who may not "get it," at least know it's there and they know how much it means to me, so they try.
I wish I had this love for great films before college, and I wish I had studied under your instruction at B.U. I hope your students value the opportunity they have. All I can do is continue to fight, and so I will.
Dear Prof. Carney,
I promise I won't bother you again. I can imagine how your days might be (with about 100 guys like me sending you e-mails, plus the ones regarding jobs, family, etc.). I just wanted to say thanks. I never thought you were going to reply. I have written to several people and they never have answered back. But I'm always taking shots and look.bingo! Thank you. I really appreciate it.
Thanks again for the enlightening words. I want to know more, but unfortunately here in Mexico I haven't found your books. I'll try to order them in the United States, although I don't like that much to send my credit card number. But I will get some of those books. Believe me. I'll also look for Mike Leigh's earlier films, which I'm anxious to watch. It's really, really sad you don't teach summer courses, but well, as you said, reading is the best education. I'll try to acquire your books and hopefully we can meet and chat in a far (or near, you never know) future.
Thanks again for everything.
Rene Herrera G.
Dear Prof. Carney,
.. At some point in the next two years when I've finished a screenplay and work/family pressures allow, I plan on breaking out and making a film guerrilla style. I am reading classics from Sophocles to Shakespeare to Strindberg to Brecht, I am listening to Teaching Company audiotapes on literature, lit crit, philosophy, religion and reading the masters as I can (Plato, Augustine, Emerson, Nietzsche), I am watching great films and trying to study craft (Kieslowski, Cassavetes, Egoyan, Sayles) I've explored acting/writing with Judson Vaughan's WHAT films based in Atlanta (a studio/workshop that trains actors/writers by writing/performing scenes and building to shootable screenplays, three WHAT films made so far by participants). I am looking at weekend workshops on cinematography/film editing/digital camera work, etc.
So I am trying to shape myself as an artist for film and/or stage. I wonder if there is any reading list/filmography/schools/on-line courses/whatever you specifically recommend.
I have gut feeling that my best teacher will be my own muse but wondering if you have suggestions. (I am sure you get bombarded with requests of this nature near constantly). It's just that I want to avoid our cultural mediocrity, stay away from this phony vision of self/life that Hollywood/celebrity nausea inflicts on us. You seem a stark voice in the wilderness fighting against this rotten tide of ill pettiness. I will continue to read through your body of work which I believe attempts to answer many of these questions and if there are any specific thoughts you have time to toss out, I would greatly appreciate it.
Thank you for your consideration.
Dear Prof. Carney,
I found your very special book offer on your page on the internet. I was delighted. I have been a fan of John Cassavetes since 1991 when the Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y., ran a retrospective of his wonderful films. I have never been able to look at a movie the same way again. John's films capture for me the very stuff of life - the muck, the mire, the beauty and struggle of living, and somehow even the REASON for living as well.
His work has changed my life. Even a simple things as a walk down 7th Avenue in New York, surrounded by the intensity of individual human life, all caught up in the singular action of living, all somehow, some way, out of live (though few I'm sure would see that in themselves). John has ennobled the world for me. I see with new eyes. Of course, this can sound like so much sentimentality and fluff, and in the wrong hands it would be. But not in John's work.
Of course, I have read all of your earlier work on John, and liked it very much. Also, I have the PostScript from several years ago, and your most recent articles for Movie Maker Magazine. All of them are inspiring. Of course, I have been in search throughout the years for copies of his work on video. Finally, most of it is out now (I'm sure you know this already), thank whatever holy whomever is in charge of that sort of thing!
...I have struggled to use John's work as a kind of guidepost. It continues to be an ongoing process. That's how it's supposed to be....
Thank you again.
Dear Prof. Carney,
After coming across an essay of yours in Rick Schmidt's How to Make a Feature Length Film at Used Car Prices, I became intrigued. Your rhetoric reminded me of a professor I had in my undergraduate studies as a painter. He was an admired man not because of his pleasantries but for his candor. I have found this same trait in your writings.
As a student of film, I have seen many films and read many books on filmmaking, but hardly any of them speak so loudly to my soul as an artist....
Dear Prof. Carney,
I cannot thank you enough for sending me your collection of interviews, essays, studies, and thoughts on filmmaking, art, and life. And the cover page you wrote me moved me deeply. Your words are a true inspiration to me. I have been reading the collection religiously, not storming through but carefully absorbing the words. At first I began reading at night, before I went to bed, but after an article or an essay I found it hard to sleep. My mind was too stimulated, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of art, its purpose, its beauty, and everything else it encompasses. As a result, I resorted to reading it in the morning, to give me the energy and enthusiasm to write and read my own work, and even while I wait tables I could feel the excitement of knowing that I am involved in something beautiful. Art is always on my mind. The things you say, the films I watch, the books I read, the paintings I see, and the music I listen to, all come together and keep me moving.
I have met many professors in and outside of the academic environment and have discussed at lengths with them the issues that concern me most, namely literature, film, and the state of spirituality in America. And I have found that most of these scholars are suffering from a terminal case of short-sightedness. Most of them are too self-righteous to grasp what I mean when I say, "Understanding...compassion...different reasons, different realities...learning not to judge..." How these professors see the world and how they believe the world should function seems to be limited to their field of study. It seems as though each tireless year they spent in acquiring their doctorate a brick had been placed around their hearts and minds, eventually building a wall where thoughts are allowed to exit but nothing is ever allowed to enter. This reminds me of what Cassavetes said, "You have to fight sophistication...it's a trap, a kind of death," but I must admit that I am at times almost convinced that they are in the right and I am too young and too naive and too inexperienced to know what I'm talking about, even though what I feel is a truth that I hold dear. It's hard to let it out. Sometimes I feel like screaming and physically shaking them out of place. They have their arguments neatly laid out with facts to support them, and I have a confused mixture of emotions I wish I could articulate. But then it comes back to you. You are a man with the intellectual tools to express and beautifully argue the importance of art. Your admirable openness and love for embracing new ideas, new experiences, other truths, other lives, is astounding. You are a rare human being. You have taken what life offers all of us- the tragedies and triumphs- and decided to go through the experiences to get out, instead of going around. In this day and age when it is easy to pacify the pain and deny our weaknesses with facades of coolness, you teach others to explore life and endure it. You teach that the study of art is the study of strength, that we all rise and fall at times, but ultimately truth is nothing to fear because it only brings on optimism towards living. With your words, I am learning how to organize and interpret my thoughts. I use your words as foundations for building my own experiences in life and my own belief in what art means, and what great art truly is and what it does. Thank you. I'm sure you know that this goes without saying, but for my own comfort I would like to make it clear the reason I write to you. Not to flatter you, or to expect anything in return, but because of who you are. I understand the importance of art, of how it frees us from the confines of the world, of how ultimately it can create human empathy for anyone, regardless of who they are. And this leads to love and the harmony of living, of what life is really worth. And you are fighting for it, all of it, for the hope that those of us who feel such beauty will fight with you, and help plant the seeds for those that will come after us. And maybe it will grow, maybe years from now, hundreds, thousands, however long it takes, there will be a desire for humanity to fill its heart and soul instead of its wallet and home. I thank you dearly.
Enclosed is a tape with selected performances by Bill Hicks. In the vein of Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks rants and raves about the degradation of American society, culture, and spirituality. He is incredibly candid, bringing in his own life experiences and beliefs, some of which the audience loves (as you will hear), and some of which will remain unpopular for a long time. He is continually on the attack, mustering up genuine anger and hatred for the way things are, but although he seems to only point his finger at others and never at himself, behind this performance is an obvious vulnerability and insecurity. His performances exhibit just how complex people are, and how an unquestionable love for humanity and art can be mistaken for apathy and pessimism, especially by those passively self-righteous. Ultimately, that is what many artists want, to bring to light the beauty of life and what life is really worth. And they hope that somehow their work will help people remove themselves from the concerns of material and financial prosperity, to a life of enlightenment and spiritual fulfillment. Another Cassavetes quote comes to mind, "Film is an art, a beautiful art. It's a madness that overcomes us...And the hope is that the audience will forget everything and that celluloid will change lives. That's a preposterously presumptuous assumption, yet that's the hope of every filmmaker." I hope you enjoy listening to the tape, Bill is hilarious.
Again, thank you for allowing me to be so candid with you. When there is someone out there I can identify with I can't help but expose who I am and what I feel inside. Thank you for your fighting, and for the time you have given me to prove that I will continue to fight with you for truth in art and life.
With great appreciation,
Dear Prof. Carney,
I first read The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism and the Movies, back in 1997 while in attendance at the Victoria Motion Picture School in my hometown of Victoria, British Columbia. A terrible institute at its best, the school was poorly staffed and offered very little in terms of stimulating and enlightening courses. I was one of thirty, very naïve schmucks who coughed up $10,000 to hole up in a two-story garage in a warehouse complex that was also home to a sausage factoryMm-Mmm! You Can't Beat B & C Meatsand a furniture depot. Never was the mere concept of "originality" ever discussed or encouraged. They taught me little more than how that "Hollywood glamour" is made possible. All that banal bullshit that isn't even of interest to the average filmgoer, let alone an honest and true filmmaker. Nothing that you discussed in your aforementioned book, or in your interview preceding Rick Schmidt's book was ever, ever alluded to within the curriculum. There was no encouragement to be an explorer. They taught me how to be a teamster, a grip, an office clerk, a street sweeping fool. Were it not for your book I would not have realized any of this.
I was familiar with Mr. Cassavetes' work long before I heard of you (believe it or not he gets his own mini-festival now and then here on the CBC), and I find your book to be a fine, comprehensive companion to all of his films. I was relieved to hear that my own frustrating and maddening experiences with Mr. Cassavetes, most notably with Faces and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, are not a sign of my own burgeoning incompetence. Though I never met the man, John Cassavetes has been a most enlightening teacher of courage, pride and the crude beauty of life. That is true of you as well, Mr. Carney. It takes balls to challenge the idiom of the Hollywood machine, railing against all that is phony, irrelevant and insincere. There seems to be very little urgency on the part of our "entertainment media" or even the average filmgoer to revitalize our stagnant artistic output. I know, I know, I know: Their chief interest is that almighty dollar. Even thought they will never change their hideous ways, that doesn't mean that voices such as yours, and visions like John's, shall lose their potency or importance. I like it raw. I like it real. Unfortunately, this aesthetic is not a profitable one. The outlets for Shadows and its kin are few and far between. It's only by reading your articles, or the praises of Martin Scorsese, do I feel comfortable, somewhat galvanized, by the loneliness of being a student of John Cassavetes. It is a very select club we are in. Wouldn't you say so?
You will find enclosed with this humble letter either a money order or check or cash or pop bottles in the equivalent of ten American dollars. Please rush me a copy of John Cassavetes: The Adventure of Insecurity, for my own writing career has been derailed by doubts and a lack of excitement, and your new book, plus a return visit to my old friends Ben, Frost, Jeannie, Mabel, Lelia, Manny and Cosmo could be about the best thing for me today.
Thank You For Listening.
I have recently obtained a copy of your book "Cassavetes on Cassavetes." It is excellent and I wish to express my gratitude for all your hard work. It has inspired me to take a look at his films again which in turn has helped me to learn more about this life. It is amazing to realize, though, that like the great misunderstood artists of their time (VanGogh, James Joyce, etc.) many years down the road, the films he made will be considered profound masterpieces that yield many answers to the riddles of our existence. I now own 3 of your books on this great artist and I want to thank you for giving me further knowledge and understanding of his works.
Hello Ray Carney,
The arrival of "Cassavetes on Cassavetes" in my mailbox today was much, much needed. My wife and I are shooting a film we wrote this fall...and the assorted ghosts of Self Doubt, Inc. have been visiting me at all hours lately. (My wife, on the other hand, is absolutely and maddeningly confident.)
It has been said that all of mankind's troubles stem from doubting what we know is right in our hearts. Well, I don't know about the rest of the planet but it's certainly the case with me.... Your book was just the grounding "kick in the ass" I needed. It is aligned with "what is right" and it sure as hell beats antidepressants. ;) I am very grateful for your hard work. I will get the word out. (My wife is considering it required reading for the classes she teaches.)
Jack van Landingham
PS. Obstacle #3,593: Most of the actors from my core group are quite good and quite non-union. SAG told me I would lose my own union membership if I don't do it their way (them reviewing my script, casting it by their "rules", etc.). I told the SAG bureaucrats that I am an ARTIST FIRST and will do my film my way--not theirs (if I have to declare FINANCIAL CORE in order to do so). They looked at me like I was crazy (but, these sort of looks have always been like rocket fuel to me). To be a searcher (and not a sheep) is heresy on the Planet Earth... Well, I've got 521 pages to read (backwards, forwards, and sideways)!...
Dear Mr. Carney,
I just wanted to take this time to thank you again. I don't know if you remember me, but I wrote you a while back thanking you for the many essays you have written that have in one way or another influenced me in my filmmaking. We are currently in production (with only three days of shooting left!) and it has been thus far a challenging yet rewarding experience for all of us involved. I have learned much throughout our filmmaking (primarily that I have yet to learn much, but hope to never know everything), including a half-understanding of my own views of the film's subject matter. For instance, when principal shooting began I sympathized with the main character based merely on the fact that he was my brain child, but I have since learned that he is a loathsome character worthy of little or no pity. But I am ranting... Again, your words have been greatly inspirational throughout these days and will continue to do so I am sure. I end with a quote from Cassavetes that I find to be particularly prophetic.
"If you're worrying about how to finance and distribute your movies than you shouldn't bother making movies. You make movies because you need to make movies. Everything else is unimportant. If you wait to get the money to make a movie then you shouldn't make the movie. If you need distribution in place before you have the courage to make a movie then it's not a movie worth making. There are many other ways to make money than making movies. If you need to make money, please find some other way to do it. You make movies to lose your money. That is the purpose of making a movieto put your life into somethingnot get something out of it."
L. Marcus Williams
Dear Mr. Carney,
You don't know me, but a friend of mine from an acting class several years ago Xeroxed a copy of your article entitled "Pulp Affliction" and just recently sent it to me to read. I am a graduate of NYU's film/TV program from years ago and co-own a documentary television production company with husband based in NYC. (You can check us out on our website at www.Molesworth.com.) I wanted to drop you a quick e-mail for a couple of reasons. First and foremost because the article blew me away. You articulated beautifully and profoundly what I've always felt about the film industry here in the states as a whole. More to the point however, I've just completed my first feature length film script. I co-wrote it with a writing partner, but it is based on my life. It deals with a sensitive issue, one that we feel we've handled honestly, beautifully, tastefully and with humor. We've been told it's an "art" film by several people whom I admire. I don't dare flatter myself by saying that, but it touches me deeply that they feel that way. I may decide to direct it if I am unable to bring a talented first rate director on board. I love a challenge.... Thanks so much for having written that article...it gives my spirit hope.
Dear Prof. Carney,
Looking forward to the Cassavetes book..... Your writing is stimulating and inspiring in a very depressing, capitalistic age. I find solace in your words as I am now working on a 90 minute work for the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, which places the unquestioned "modern concert ritual" (which dates back to the European 18th century) in an ambiguous context. I find resistance all around me. No one really cares to question the very basic medium that we work in, preferring instead to invoke the dumbing-down of content in order to reach broader audiences (assuming that people are stupid has never been my strong point). I sometimes feel very lonely and your words really do help. Thank you for them.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Dear Ray Carney:
A few years back, you very generously sent me a copy of your Cassavetes on Cassavetes manuscript, with an attached note stating that you had been having great difficulty getting a publisher interested. Well, I can't tell you how glad I am that Faber & Faber has finally put it out. I had expected it to be much the same as the ms. you gave me, but I was overjoyed to find this version twice the length and a virtual goldmine of new information. Not only is it a thorough guide to Cassavetes' work and life, but I dare say it's also a guide to living a fully ambitious and artistic life. I'm also glad to see that its not a hagiographic work; while Cassavetes remains my favorite filmmaker, and a fascinating human being, it's good to know that he had very human insecurities and foibles. Thank you for keeping his example alive, and please keep up the great work.
Hi Professor Carney,
I used to study in Iowa and now I'm back in Malaysia. I'm working in the TV commercial industry. I have been working on documentaries and I was also shooting short films. Now I'm writing quite a bit and one day I hope to shoot a movie.
It's interesting that I get to see more clearly as I'm now in my homeland. It was like a swamp in the States. The movies and TV were fabricated for maximum effect and consumption. For us looking for something different, we bought the fake indies instead and thought that everything would be different now. Everything was so well manufactured and packaged. And I was steering a straight course that I thought was something close to "art". And then "art" became a loathsome word because the word seemed too hip for the crowd. I was an engineering student then but I had always wanted to write and shoot my own films. Later I graduated from engineering school, worked for two years, came back home and now I'm in the advertising industry to secure a job so that I could continue to write and shoot the things I'd like to see. I've read "The Path of the Artist" from magazines my friend brought back recently from the US. It's really refreshing to read your writing. And a professor friend of mine brought back a Frank Capra book that you wrote. I'm now reading The Films of John Cassavetes and I can't put it down.
I watched "A Woman Under the Influence" a few weeks back and I'm still thinking about it. I could only remember feeling that intensity and total visceral experience in viewing Robert Bresson and Kiarostami's films. It was like an earthquake. My intense film-going experience started a year before I went to the States and then most of the time when I was in Iowa I watched as many films as I could. And there I was, watching what many people felt was "necessary" films: Welles, Hitchcock, Lee, Lynch, Stones, the Coens Brothers, Scorsese, and etc. We were attracted to the loud bangs. It was hip because we understood the in-jokes and the structure and tricks. And then I came home. That's when I started reading American literature and encountered good Japanese writings and films (I saw Mikio Naruse and Ozu's films) and I was seriously into photography and arts. So I went half way through the globe and back and found Faulkner, Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Hemingway (I prefer his short stories and non-fiction writings), and all. And that was the beginning of an interesting revolution to how I would now perceive the world. The world as it is. And a world I can't read it like a film because it's so much more complex and strange and irrational and perpetual. And very much unlike the films that have thought us to see the world in a simplistic and reductive way. How successful we are in deceiving ourselves and limiting ourselves!
One day a friend who came back from the Yamagata Documentary Film Festival told me about Frederick Wiseman's new film Belfast, Maine and told me how it was like. It gave me real jab in the arm. I have read so much about him and sadly to say there's no access to his work whatsoever. And for that matter the same with some of the not-so-known American filmmakers (whom you championed) who work outside the system. A lot of times I feel like a lone-ranger because the local arts and cultural scene is very much exercises in smirks and points-taken sort of thing and I seem to be the only one who doesn't really "get it". Most of the time the artists wear sunglasses to create and we wear sunglasses to the theater and gallery as well.
I must also tell you that I watched Wanda recently and it's great and I've been telling my friends to see it so the VHS tape is now going around. At least now I look up to artists like Cassavetes, Bresson, Ozu, Renoir, and I have no regrets in diving in and fight the current because that's what matters. While I get distressed and angry over my paying advertising job I know I'm not alone.
I wish I'd have taken your courses. Anyway it's been very inspiring.
Dear Mr. Carney,
My name is Christopher Rozzi. I am a comedian living and working in New York City. For the past several years I have been watching and studying John Cassavetes' work and continue to be inspired by him in every way. I have read one of your books (The Films of John Cassavetes) and was most intrigued by the chapter on Chinese Bookie in which you mention his use of "mistakes". I look forward to the Cassavetes on Cassaveteswith great anticipation. The reason I have written to you is that a few years ago you spoke at a theater in New York called the Anthology film archives (which is located a block away from my apartment). Unfortunately I was performing my show out of town that weekend and could not attend. A friend of mine was there and said that you showed some rare footage of Cassavetes directing which I would love to see. I was wondering if you would be speaking any time soon and/or if this footage is available somewhere. Just wondering. Thanks for your time.
Dear Prof. Carney,
Thank you so much for your reply! Thank you also for your integrity, it's truly inspiring...I'm not a filmmaker(though it is a fantasy of mine), I'm actually a musician(saxophone, woodwinds).So, your analogies to Bird and Diz really hit the mark for me. When I'm improvising, there is really nothing better than being truly responsive with the other players...
The movies have always been a passion. I did alot of acting as kid and so forth. I didn't realize how good the movies could be until I saw FACES, though. That's about the time I picked up your Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism,and the Movies. Now I have a completely new standard. I'll take Elaine May over Tarantino anyday!!!
By the way, there's a few films you've mentioned that I can't seem to find: Killer of Sheep, On the Bowery, My Brother's Wedding. Any word on when, or if they will make it to video? Can't find anything by Loden or Driver either...a pity isn't it?
Thanks again for your time. Hope all is well with you.
Dear Prof. Carney,
Wow! I'm honored that you responded yourself to my email, as I hold your work in very high esteem - thank you. I am a junior biologist at Cornell University that was turned on to Cassavetes films last year, by a film student who was temp'ing with us. He said to watch 'Faces' first - during the first hour I thought it was the worst film I had ever seen - by the end I thought it was genius. I felt like I understood art and why people create it for the first time in my life. I got as many of his films as I could find (even found 'Love Streams'!), and then tried to find books about them - and you're it! I found your work very illuminating, with many points I had missed completely, but many others where I was "Yes -Yes - I saw that too!" The layers and complexities that are there in his films are finally being appreciated by a wider audience, thanks in large part to you. I'm going to have to take a film course here to find someone else in this frozen wasteland of upstate NY who is a devotee - watching the Independent Film Channel is not enough (why don't they show his films I might ask?). I could discuss his movies all day - having no outlet for my interest is a drag. I have so many questions about the films - I must have your new book, but I'll hang onto my moolala for the time being. Thank you again Professor for responding.
Dear Prof. Carney,
It was great to receive your e-mail. It's funny, there's this subconscious belief that a published writer wouldn't have time to write back, but it's nice to know that that's not true.
To answer your questions, I am an actor and writer, and I have a degree in filmmaking. I haven't made any films since school, but plan on it in the near future, in whatever form it happens to take. I know that I want to get projects made that I've written (or that I believe in), and if that means producing or directing, then that's just fine. I just know I don't want to sit around and wait for a studio to decide to make my film. I was living in L.A. for a few years doing a number of things. One was getting strong training in acting; another was starting a theater company towards the end of my stay there. For two years I also worked as director of development for a small production company called Milk & Honey, where I read TONS of scripts, few of which, as you can imagine, were very good. I did learn a lot from that though. Oh yeah, I also worked just before I left at a place called Filmmakers Alliance, a group of independent filmmakers working on each others' projects. That's where I first read your stuff. The president of the company, Jacques, printed out your articles from Moviemaker Magazine for everyone to read. They even had meetings to discuss the articles. I didn't make it to any of those, but I know that your articles affected me deeply. My boyfriend Bruce was affected in a similar way by them. What you have to say about film and writing and characters and acting reaffirms my beliefs about what art is, and reminds me to keep away from sentimentality and untruthfulness in my own work.
We moved to NYC 6 months ago because it seemed like the place to come to grow. And it has been that! I've been writing monologues and performing them on stage a couple of times a week, and have met many types of performers that come together in the Lower East Side area (at open mikes Surf Reality and Collective Unconscious). I've worked on several projects and seeing all this art and this community of artists only feeds my work (as well as being in contact on a daily basis with all of the many kinds of people who live in this city). In any case, this year I plan to finish my screenplay and get it made.....
Emilie Blythe McDonald
It's a pleasure to be posting you. I've admired your critical reviews ever since becoming aware of them in Rick Schmidt's filmmaking book.
I have an important question... How does someone go about getting their movie seen by you, or any film critic for that matter? 3 years ago I shot a feature, "The Simple Midwest". (I've since almost given up on trying to sell it and am currently spending my money on a documentary) Initially after finishing the long (over 1 year) editing process I submitted my movie to over 20 film festivals. Not only did I get rejected from each one, but when I tallied up the submittal costs, I realized I'd spent over $1,000 for rejection letters! I used to really like my movie. I felt it was different and was honest about they type of people I was depicting. Know, even I don't know what to think.
Last week my film buff aunt (who I hadn't seen in a year and is very smart indeed) watched The Simple Midwest. I couldn't watch it with her, I was too nervous, so I sat in an adjacent room and listened. From what I heard, the show was playing better than it ever had. I felt wonderful. It was a great work! The ending came and I went out to talk it over with my aunt. She gave me such an awful review that I was in shock. What's more, she was mad. The movie had offended her. She felt I had depicted women in a very unsavory light. The argument grew to such an extent that I almost started shouting at her. It made me feel awful most of the week.
I shot my movie in the late winter-early spring of 1998. I was 18 years old and nobody said I could make a movie. When I did do it, everyone thought I had made a cheap slasher type picture. The few people who have seen it seem surprised, then let down that it isn't a gore fest! The things I've gotten used to hearing people say about my picture are: "Boring, too long, why is it in black and white?, Why did you kill so and so?, Why didn't you kill so and so, depressing, Do you hate women?, etc., etc.
I'm desperate, Mr. Carney. I've sent letters not only to film festivals, but to producers, agents, film buyers, critics, everyone. I have yet to get a single reply from any of them. Perhaps I'm blind and the feature I made simply isn't any good. But maybe it is good and nobody who has seen it has been smart enough to "get it". I'm writing this after having stumbled upon your web page. I read what you wrote about all the troubles Cassavetes went through trying to get "A Woman Under The Influence" seen. It was 2 years before anyone saw his film. It's just like what I've been going through. Is there anything you, or some kind of showcase\festival that you know of can do to help an independent director? An address where I can ship a VHS copy of my film for a possible review? I don't expect an answer from you (if I do get one I'll be ecstatic) and I do know that you make a living by watching and teaching film and probably wouldn't have the time, nor even want to watch an unknown independent film by some kid in Missouri. And I can understand that. But, Mr. Carney, I'd be a damn fool if I didn't continue to try. Is there anything you can do?
The Very Best,
I stumbled on to your site by the recommendation of a friend who happens to be a young film maker. I am a frustrated actress. Frustrated not because of a lack of recognition or difficulty finding work or the "business". I have been frustrated by the work itself. If you look at acting as an art form, the commercial films today offer nothing in which an actor can express his art. I am encouraged by your beliefs and the fact that you speak them so freely. Your attitude is inspirational. It seems to me you are coming from a place of love and compassion even though the lessons you have to give may seem mean. So what I wanted to say was thank you. I love to feel. Emotions are our connection to our heart; to universal love.
I'm not sure what I want to say here, so I'll just introduce myself. My name is Sherman Alexie. I'm a novelist/poet/screenwriter who was partly responsible for the film SMOKE SIGNALS, released by Miramax a couple years back. Due to the success of SMOKE SIGNALS (a movie I have many misgivings about, liking only those moments that nobody else seemed to like!) I was able to work for Hollywood studios a bit, doing some grunt screenplay work for obscene amounts of money. I've since quit all that (having only one last draft of a Warner Bros. piece of crud to go), having seen my screenplay based on my novel RESERVATION BLUES go into turnaround at Miramax (thank God!), and am now fumbling around searching for alternative ways of making Reservation Blues or Indian Killer (a screenplay also based on one of my novels) into a film. Digital is the way to go, I figure, since nobody (especially not the so-called Indie world) wants to make movies about Indians. But I'm trying to SEE films in a new way. I'm trying to fit the concept of indigenous time and vision into a cinematic concept of time and vision.
Most simply stated, Spokane Indian time and vision is circular (the past, present, future, and dream world are all concurrent), as opposed to the western idea of time as more linear (then this happened, then this happened, this happened). In films, that western idea of time turns itself into that godawful prison of the three-act structure and I'm tired of working on that chain gang, so to speak.
So, anyways, your cinematic theories excite me, piss me off, delight me, disgust me, leave me fuming with ambition and paralyzed with fear. I agree with a lot, disagree with much, but am always made to think by it all. Above all else, I think you one of the few critics who has taken Schindler's List to task for being such a manipulative piece of shit, only exceeded in its glibness by Saving Private Ryan, and I thank you for that particular bit of honesty. So, I want to make the first feature film where Indians are complicated human beings, and not the cardboard cutouts we've always seen (including in SMOKE SIGNALS), so where to begin?