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Hello Professor Carney:

I am a graduate student in English at UC Davis. (One of my dissertation readers is Scott Simmon, who says, 'Hello.') I've read your site off-and-on for a year, and you've got me intrigued by the films of Mark Rappaport. I've been looking for his films. I've had some success with expensive used copies of his earlier work, but I can't find your recommendation, Three Short Films. It was released by VideoActive Media in 1997, but it seems to have disappeared in the meantime. Do you have any leads on how I might track a copy down? Thank you for your time, and thank you for sharing your ideas.

Sean Allan

Ray Carney replies:

Hi Sean. Hi to Scott too.

I'm not sure what to tell you about the three short films. I was involved with the Videoactive release (a former student of mine was part of the arrangement to finance it) and have a video copy of my own, but am too straight out with work (and lacking in access to equipment right now) to dupe it. Also, I'm not sure if the site says it but I might as well mention that I now have many other things that have never been released. I mean not only not released on video but not released on film either. Mark amazingly gave me his complete work, his files, his papers, his script drafts, the whole nine yards of thirty years of work he has done, etc. last year when he moved. So I now have thousands of other things that the world doesn't know about and hasn't seen. So there's lots more beyond the three films that is worth looking at. Just wanted you to know that.

What is your dissertation on?

And more importantly, I wonder why more people haven't asked me this question or hundreds of other questions. If my memory serves, you are the very first film academic, the first film studies grad student or professor, ever to ask me about Rapp's work. Isn't that strange? What's wrong with our profession? Film studies, I mean. Why don't film scholars want to know more about Rappaport or Cassavetes or any of a dozen other topics I could name? Why don't they care? It's completely different in other fields. If I had special information about the Reimann hypothesis, the location of the zeros in the zeta function, or about one of Gauss's theorems, twenty thousand math professors and grad students would be all over me to get it out of me. Even if I was telling them about the music of "Clap Your Hands Say Yeah," it would matter more to the indie music scene. Why doesn't it matter when I tell them that Mark Rappaport is one of the greatest filmmakers of the past thirty years? Why aren! 't film scholars--professors or students--interested? It mystifies me why they aren't really paying attention--or just don't care--in a parallel situation. They seem to have their heads in the sand. Or, even more weirdly, to take their scholarly agendas from the New York Times. In my academic experience, among serious academic areas, only film has this sort of lowbrow mentality. Almost no one is interested in finding out about things they don't already know or have a theory to apply to. Why is it?

Sorry. Forgive the preceding outburst. I temporarily lost it. The questions are strictly rhetorical.


I left a message on your office answering machine last night, the name's J.R.Heffelfinger, I was a student of yours a few years back and really learned a great deal from you. Needless to say you were very influential to me. With your permission I'd like to send a copy of my film. It would be only fitting that I share with you something that was borne entirely from my soul and commuted through the medium, amidst sacrifice, compromise and starvation and yes even blood loss from which I (for the most part) and it emerge intact, for you to see. From a student to the teacher I hope you accept. If and where do I send it to?

Man I hope this gets to you.


For some information about it go to:

Ray Carney replies:


Got your message. Good to hear from you.

The address on the web site (where, presumably, you got this email address) is the right one. With any luck, it should also appear at the bottom of this email.

But please note that I am inundated with mailings and requests for responses. (See the first page of my Mailbag pages for more about that.) I can't really guarantee that I will be able to respond to your work. I tell everyone that, and then two months later, they still write and ask me to tell them what they thought of it. So I don't want to disappoint you. If you knew how many things I get every day, you'd understand.

Read any good film books lately? Most are so dismal. So irrelevant to anything the soul cares about. Most films are too, of course.

Best wishes,



Just happy to get word from you man. Trust me I understand. I know how valuable your thoughts are and could only imagine the amount of tapes and dvd's that have formed mountains on your coffee table. I consider myself guided in ways by fate and having the opportunity to have learned from you is some evidence of this....

If and when you get the time, just know it's from the soul, entirely.

Keep at it Ray, and thank you,



i took "Cassavetes on Cassavetes" with me to europe... read the whole thing through for the first time (had previously only skimmed chapters)... i love the way you present him... all of his bullshit rhetoric, double talk (and self contradiction) don't diminish your love and respect for him... and, as a reader, it makes me appreciate him as a "character" the way he appreciated the characters in his films... i.e, fucked up and highly lovable... great work, ray...


A note from Ray Carney.

The preceding writer is Mark Duplass one half of the dynamic duo of Mark and Jay Duplass, the writer-director-actors who made the feature, The Puffy Chair, and four extraordinary short films, including the amazing Scrabble/Scrapple and The Intervention.

Ray Carney replies:

Subject: Food for thought....


Thanks for the kind words about my C on C.

But just to show you how strange life can be: those parts you are alluding to--the parts I was so careful to put in that show Cassavetes wasn't a God, but a man, a man with human failings and foibles, just like his characters--are one of the main reasons that Gena Rowlands has been so horrible to me lately. She just can't stand to have the "human" side of her husband revealed. (And trust me there is a lot more to reveal that I didn't put into the book. You should see the half million word version! Or better yet, you should not see it!) Rowlands caught me a couple years ago and told me that I had called him a "liar" and that she was very disappointed with me and very unhappy with the book as result.

A lot of her treatment of me has come out of her resentment of things like that (starting way back with a remark I made in a NY Times article more than a decade ago).

The lesson I take from it is that you can be married to Cassavetes and still not appreciate the value of "truth-telling." That you can still prefer the press release version of life. Isn't it completely bizarre to think of someone so close to Cassavetes believing that? Too weird for words.

I tell you the story for a more personal reason: As a "truth-telling" filmmaker, be prepared if it happens to you too someday! That the very thing you are most proud of doing is the thing some actor or producer involved with the film most objects to and wants taken out of it.

No reply expected. Keep doing great things! Puffy Chair deserves the best!



Subject: It's a wonderful life

Hi Ray,

This is Jonathan writing to you deep within a tenement building in the east village, NYC. We used to write back and forth when I was at NYU regarding Cassavetes work as I became obsessed with his films and your writings which have illuminated so much for me over the last few years.

The reason I'm writing is because I was doing a search on Wikipedia regarding It's a Wonderful Life, one of my favorite films of all time, and I found this....

", but it is much more than that: a look at the pettiness, incompetence and bullying of small-town life. It is also an almost frightening portrait of a depressive man (played by Jimmy Stewart) with suicidal wishes. The fact that this tone is ignored in the public perception speaks to Capra's talent in creating this dismal story, throwing the hero into an alternative world nightmare and then shattering it with a blast of pure joy and love at the end as he realizes that his life has been wonderful after all with his sacrifices making him one of the most admired and influential figures in his town. The film critic Ray Carney has popularized this view and provided the most insightful commentary on the film."

First, I was wondering where I can find your commentary/writings about It's a Wonderful Life, and secondly I wanted to let you know that coincidentally I'm actually writing a screenplay that has it's heart rooted in "it's a wonderful life". I've been working on it for the last few months.

My story concerns an idealist who leaves his Illinois small town during the great depression to pursue a film career with the goal of "making people feel good" but his dream is shattered when he finds out the world is not so friendly. People like "Potter" and others try to destroy the protagonist, but he ultimately returns home and through a twist of fate, he has a similar realization to George Bailey, discovering that during his whole life up to that point, he had in fact been fulfilling his dream, but was unaware of it.

I'd love to send you the script when I'm finished and I'd be thrilled to chat with you further.

I hope you'll be in touch.

All the best and wishing you joy this holiday season,.

Jonathan Blitstein

Ray Carney replies:

Subject: Dreams, ideals, blowing up what is


Good to hear from you after so long. I remember your previous notes to me. But I forget whether we have ever met. I don't think so. But just for the joy of it, I might as well quote the Yeats' poem. It goes something like this:

Speech after long silence
William Butler Yeats

Speech after long silence; it is right,
All other lovers being estranged or dead,
Unfriendly lamplight hid under its shade,
The curtains drawn upon unfriendly night,
That we descant and yet again descant
Upon the supreme theme of Art and Song:
Bodily decrepitude is wisdom; young
We loved each other and were ignorant.

Yeats is the master of nostalgia. A very modern emotion. I think he and Matthew Arnold may have invented it.
But to your question: I wrote a whole book about Capra! I guess you didn't know that. I think the chapter on It's a Wonderful Life is almost 100 pages long. And the Wikipedia entry is right. (How rare that is! Their entry on my Cassavetes and Rowlands work is stupidity epitomized.) But in this case, I'm glad to say that they are spot on. The book is an attempt to firebomb the Norman Rockwell/"triumph of the common man"/Up With People reading of Capra's oeuvre. The films make that obvious: The melodramatic accesses of imagination; the stunned silences; the wild, impassioned gasps; the emotionally intense music; the narrative propulsiveness; the Slavko Vorkapich montages are all evidence that the Charles Maland/Robert Sklar/Richard Glazer/John Raeburn version of Capra CAN'T POSSIBLY be right. Capra is a lot closer to being the poet of breakdown, loss, and crisis--of problems and failures--than a celebrator of American democracy. To call him the poet of idealism is to put your finger right on the sore spot. Idealism is always AT ODDS WITH/IN CONFLICT WITH reality. That's why we call it idealism. Norman Rockwell is not an idealist, he's just a silly light-weight sentimentalist, which is an entirely different thing. You and I are idealists. Cassavetes was an idealist. Capra was an idealist. Karl Marx was an idealist. Henry James was an idealist. Emerson was an idealist. And that always causes problems--big problems, major league problems--for the person and the world. Ideals are dynamite. They threaten everything. They put everything into question. Those problems are what Capra's films are about.

But I can't say it all here. Get the book! : ) It's available on my site of course. Go to the Film and Other Arts section and click around.

Oh, an afterthought: Be sure to get the Wesleyan revised edition. It has a new Preface that addresses the specific issue you are raising about past misreadings of Capra's work.

Good luck with the screenplay.

Stay well and all holiday best wishes,


Subject: bo harwood question

Professor Carney -

Sorry to bug you, hope you have time to answer, because again, I know no one else who'd knowŠ I'd really like to track down some of the music from Cassavetes' films, particularly the songs on LOVE STREAMS. I'm having no luck finding a useful site on Bo Harwood on the internet and I don't know if any soundtracks were issued for any of Cassavetes' films after FACES. Any leads you can give me would be appreciated. I'd gladly pay for even a CDR burn of those songs, if Harwood has them and could obligeŠ

Looking forward to reading about "yet another major Cassavetes cinematic discovery" of yours, mentioned on your site.

Merry Christmas and so forth -

Allan MacInnis

Allan McInnis has a blog at

Ray Carney replies:

Subject: the way a market economy works


Glad to answer. Bo is a friend of mine. None of his music has been commercially issued in any form. Sorry. Just not the market for it I suspect.

Don't forget that Cassavetes is still really far out on the margins in terms of the public taste. Even at this late date, how many years after his death. In other words, his work or things about his work or things connected with his work are not profitable enough to justify a release. As proof, even Love Streams and Husbands are not "commercial enough" for anyone to issue them on DVD. Heck, I'll go further: Even most American universities have internalized the same business values. There are film professors in every major program in America, including my own, who haven't even seen all of his important work. That's like teaching art and not having seen Picasso's major paintings; but in terms of film that's just the way things are. And it may be a long long time, if ever, till they change.

As to the discoveries: I actually have made three major "finds." All really really wonderful. But I don't want Gena to electrocute me, the way she did with the Shadows find, so I'm lying low at present. Like a bank robber after a big heist, I guess you could say. Just kidding. Hope she doesn't try to use that in court against me! : )

Holiday cheer,


Subj: The Haircut

Dear Dr. Carney,

If any one could help me it would be you. Do you know if John Cassavetes's The Haircut is available to rent, buy, or view? Or where I could get more information on it's avalialbitly?

Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Joe Campbell

Ray Carney replies:

It's one of the "extras" on a Tamar Simon Hoffs DVD. I think it's included with her "The All Nighter" but I may be misremembering. Check the listings and you'll definitely find it included with one of her DVDs as a short film "bonus."


hi prof. carney,

it's about midnight here in southern california. pretty cold, to my surprise.

wow, i don't know where to start. it's so late that you would be the only person i feel like i can write to because...well, i have a hunch you'd find this interesting. and i really wanted to share this with someone who i have a lot of respect for. it proves much of the points that you constantly bring up in your writing (i just got through your mike leigh book, by the way...i am fond of "abigail's party" and your discussion on it was dead-on. brilliant work).

so, i was compelled to write to you and share a little story.

about 30 minutes ago, i got off the phone with a girl. yeah, a girl i like. and she's someone i've not even met. i know, i know - it's the online community network thing that usually spells disaster and heartbreak, not to mention iscommunication and self-deception. but i met her online through a friend's message board and, well - the rest you can sort of fill in.

but we've been talking on and off for several months. i view her as a penpal, except that instead of letters - we call each other. and the thing is that...because of the nature of our "relationship," she's very honest with me. she's told me things about myself that i don't like to or want to hear - but she's right. absolutely right! about my stubborn attitude, how i contradict people just to have an argument, how i judge people harshly, my pompous points-of-view, my ridiculous high standards.

i don't like to 'fess up to this, but i was caught red-handed...she wasn't wrong about any of this. i am all those things. but in moderation, of course. like all people, the flaws arise depending on the context. depending on my mood.

but it got me thinking - earlier today i watched "tape" and "my dinner with andre." i'd seen both movies before. i actually saw "my dinner with andre" a few years back when i saw "the wife" and i became very enamored with wallace shawn's acting style. he's truly distinctive and carries more range than i think he gets credit for. anyhow, both films for me were rather compelling. it was the fifth or sixth time i'd seen each, and i realized that as human beings, the major characters all confront really terrible, ungainly truths about themselves. like all the films of cassavetes or ozu or bresson or all of the other greats. it's about confronting other aspects of one's personality that aren't flattering. the ugly stuff. the real shit.

this is nothing new. you've said it many times, and others have said it for centuries before. but with that girl, that wonderfully honest and smart girl i spoke to - she opened me up to aspects of myself i hated. and i loved her and wanted to smack her for it. i was angry and thrilled. i did cry a little. i was humiliated. i was emasculated. and then i told her what i hated about her personality, and she was mad at me. and we started yelling, then laughing. and then a minute of silence. then i told her i really found her sexy, and she told me she didn't find me physically attractive. i thanked her for her honesty, and she told me she valued me deeply as a friend. on and on it went. it was a rollercoaster conversation, one of the most intense and uncomfortable i've ever had.

and you know what? i feel great. because for once in a long, long time, no one bullshitted me. no one told me what i wanted to hear. and mr. carney, i respect you so much because on a daily basis the stuff that you've written and the movies and books i've seen or read due to your recommendations - i am constantly re-understanding myself and the life i lead with others. i've started to learn how to accept the huge, friggin' mess that life is and can be. i read "the beast in the jungle" because of what your wrote about henry james. it was scary. i realized that i am chicken. like mr. cassavetes says, "people are so chicken. they hide behind things." i hide, i hide behind so much in my life. the beast is my own insecurity. the beast is different for different people. i like that i am scared and that i don't know what to expect.

i don't really understand or know why i wrote this, except to say that i pondered what you would say about all this. i've always written about movies to you, whether it was about caveh's new work or "mutual appreciation" or random cassavetes observations. but i lack so much genuine encounters with others in my daily life. i think we all go through droughts of experience...pure experience. and i know that when you read this and if you respond, you are not a man who tolerates bullshit. and it's not validation i need, it's acknowledgement. that i acknowledge how completely messed up and imperfect we are and that i'll never have a normal relationship with a woman and that no "hack" dr. phil is going to make my self-esteem better or worse. this is life, and tonight was a little bit of an awakening that's a long process to go. very long and a very winding road, so to speak.

and i'm giddy and wanted to talk to someone and i saw the mike leigh book by my monitor, and i thought, "dammit, ray carney...i want to share my excitement! i want you to hear this rant!" because i still don't even know what i'm excited about. i am and will always try to figure out what on earth we are doing here in this tiny little planet.

and all because of a phone call from a girl who refused to lie to me.

and you know what? i'm still pissed that she doesn't find me attractive. and i'm offended by her criticisms. and i love her laugh and i love hearing her yell, and the silences are so overwhelming. ah well. she likes me anyway. or does she? whatever.

thanks for reading, i hope i've not rambled too far off the edge of sanity! i got an e-mail from andrew bujalski. i am so thrilled to hear he's teaching a class at BU.

have a good one. be hard on your students come finals week. they'll be better for it!


Ray Carney replies:

Thanks for sharing your experience with me. It's very deep, very touching, and very important. It's always surprising how the shocks of life can be deep lessons. "Everything is a teaching" as a Zen master once said. All of life is giving us lessons, if we open ourselves to learn from them. But you're right: we screen them out usually and only want to hear the good things, the compliments. So we go to art that flatters us and makes us feel smart; we seek out people who reinforce our views; and we crave compliments from our teachers and mentors. D.H. Lawrence uses the metaphor of a parasol. He says we don't want to look at the sky, but only at the painted images on the inside of a parasol we hold over our heads. The painted images are smooth and beautiful and calming. The sky is fearful and rough. And only when a rock comes crashing down and breaks a hole in our parasol do we get a glimpse of reality. But we stitch up the hole as quick as we can in fear of the view.

But even shocks fade. I think of what another Zen master told me about a student saying he had an enlightenment experience the night before, but when the Roshi asked him to show it to him, the student said "It's not as vivid now. It seems distant." The Roshi laughed and laughed. He said to me "And he called that enlightenment!" The student didn't understand that that was a teaching too. Your experience will fade. It will seem less vivid and more distant, but keep allowing more punctures to happen. He who disagrees with us is our friend, as William Blake said. No progression without contraries. Sailing or flying are only possible against the wind.

In terms of my job (since you mention it): my students don't want to hear that any more than George Bush does. Most of them want compliments and agreement. They haven't understood that progress only happens when there is disagreement. That agreement is the negation of creativity. They want everyone to get along all the time; they themselves want to imitate and borrow and follow the leader when they should be questioning everything constantly. It puzzles me why disagreement scares them. Sometimes I think it's the result of too many years of "raising self-esteem" education, where only positive things were allowed to be said. Where everyone agreed with them all the time and indoctrinated them into believing that agreement was the goal of life. It makes them fear opposition rather than learn from it. It makes them want to go along with everything. It creates passivity.

But I don't want to sound too hard on the students. Most professors are no different either. They are born followers in their own right. Organization men (and women) who go along to get along. Intellectually speaking, they are slaves to intellectual fashions and styles. That's their parasol. Their way of feeling safe and comfortable.

Keep going. There are a lot of upheavals in life. Most of them good. All of them lessons.


P.S. May I post an anonymized version of your letter on the site? There is a lot in it that can teach others valuable truths. Compared to these sorts of experiences, the rest of life is as worthless as TV or the (so-called) news. (Our newspapers and magzines are worse than Hollywood in their banality, their stupidity, their reliance on clichés.)

hi prof. carney,

thanks for responding so quickly. after a long night's sleep, i can see how much of the initial impact of last night's conversation had subsided. the initial shock waves have seemed to simmer down. the facts and the truths still remain. really, the d.h. lawrence quote is incredibly apt. i don't think there is anyone who can honestly say that they don't carry some form of a parasol over their perceptions. in fact, i look at some of what i wrote to you last night - and i am surprised to find certain phrases and observations. am i just that fickle about my emotions? it's been in the past few weeks that i've come to acknowledge my own problems - which is to say, not the problems that one goes to a therapist for, but the inherent problems of feeling different and having varying opinions on a minute-by-minute basis. it drives everyone crazy. as it would drive me crazy when i hang out with equally indecisive friends. but you're right: the real friends are the ones who can kick you in the ass from time to time. the ones who don't coddle my comfortable view of the world. because that would be a form of self-deception - to willingly forego the waking realities of pain and cruelty and love and compassion and divorce and war and drugs and lies and truth and friends and enemies. all in one basket.

it'd be fine if you posted an anonymous-version of the letter. so many of the letters you post there are quite affecting. the one written to you earlier in the summer (?) wherein a man mentioned his torrid road trip and affair with a woman. something along those lines. it was an intense read - again, because it wasn't laced with bullshit. i don't remember the details of the letter, but i remember the ferocity of the text. the urgency of his emotions.

and it's like how i view you and your writing: i'm not in 100% agreement with all you say. there are some works that i don't find as interesting, as i'm sure there are certain things i value that you would dismiss. but that's irrelevant. no one has an obligation to agree with each other ALL the time. how boring that would be! it still didn't prevent me from learning valuable things from you and other writers and artists and painters and poets and filmmakers.

the zen master is correct: everything IS a learning experience. even writing this e-mail back to you...i'm reevaluating some of my thoughts as i type. how crazy
and strange we humans are.

thanks again. for being an open ear.


Hi Ray,

I just stumbled across this and thought you might be interested. (Click here to access it.)

In case that doesn't open, it is a book called Early Escapades, and it's a collection of writings and drawings from Eudora Welty's childhood. It was just released a month ago.

Also, another Library of America volume of Henry James will be released next year. (Click here to access it.)

I hope you are well. I recently read your note about being replaced as director of the film program. BU's loss, and unfortunately, a bigger loss for its students. Best wishes for next semester and all your endeavors.

-Robert Quirk

hi, Ray,

i met you in 1997 and you autographed your book THE FILMS OF JOHN CASSAVETES for me. i'm an alum of BU (English MA '89). i'm the author of THE ART OF KISSING and am working on a new book for St. Martin's press on movie kisses. my problem is i don't know how to get good enough photos from DVDs (still photos) to print in the book. if you have any idea, please let me know. (there is no way i can use actual film as this would be prohibitively costly).

if you have any idea, or can suggest anyone at BU or elsewhere who might know, please pass that contact info along to me.

thanks in advance.


p.s. your website is excellence personified!

Ray Carney replies:


You can do a frame capture and run a thumbnail sized photo that is fine for grayscale use in a book. But you must keep it small. If you go larger than about 2 by 3 inches, there just isn't enough detail resolution on a regular DVD. (HiDef DVD will be better, but that's a year off at least.)

There is no way to improve the resolution. The source is only as good as it is. Not very good in other words.

Color is much more fussy. And harder to get good quality off of. Focus/definition issues arise.

But be aware that you need permission to run anything that is copyrighted. Getting the shot is one thing. Permission is totally separate. The film owner, not the DVD releaser, must provide that. And any reputable publisher will insist on the paperwork being in order to avoid a future claim (or law suit.) All photos in my books are run with permission. And it ain't cheap. I spend thousands of dollars on that alone for each book. Sorry. Don't shoot the messenger. You can ultimately thank the damned and damnable Michael Eisner for most of the legal hoops you will have to jump through. He changed the copyright law a few years ago with his high paid lobbyists and made permissions and copyrights much more stringent and longer in duration. Corporate America triumphs again. The same people who brought us Enron and Worldcom strike again.


PS. Thanks for the kind words about the web site. I wish my bosses at Boston U. felt the same way!

Dear Prof. Carney,

I had the good fortune to see snatches of It's A Wonderful Life last night. I love that movie, hadn't seen it in years. I thought I'd like to share a few of my thoughts about it.

When I went to bed and was trying to fall asleep, for some reason, I kept thinking about Zuzu's petals. Zuzu's petals. How precious and wonderful. How fragile and tender that little scene between George and his daughter. To pretend to have fixed the rose that had lost a few of its petals, and then telling her it was better to fall asleep than stay awake to look at a single rose, when she could dream of a whole garden of them... And I thought of how later, the petals disappeared during George's nightmare of finding out he had never been born. And how Zuzu's petals returned magically to his pocket when George came alive again, and were infinitely more precious. How to understand this miracle? Reality intruding on magic or magic intruding upon reality? These accidental "talismans," marking moments of magic and innocence, these reminders that magic happens?

And then the scene with Mary and George sharing the phone as they "talked" to hee-haw Sam Wainwright, and the flutters of feeling across their faces as you watched them realized they were in love, falling deep and hard, so many shifts of feeling and confusion and weakness and awe. Being swept away by love feelings without a single word spoken. Sooo beautiful. Amazing acting... Their faces both unforgettable... And here again, reality intruding on magic or magic intruding upon reality?

Anyway, I wish I had your Capra book so I could read again what you had written about It's A Wonderful Life, but it will keep.

Ah, those magical moments of shifting away from reality into another universe of the imagination. Entire worlds await us there...

And I think you might enjoy this article "Art, Truth & Politics" by Harold Pinter. writes a fascinating account of his creative process. (Click here to go to Pinter's Nobel Prize acceptance speech.) And Harold Pinter writing a whole play on a word or a phrase, brings me back to Zuzu's petals. Zuzu's petals. I think I could write an entire volume on "Zuzu's petals"...! Wonderful stuff...

Ray Carney replies:

I know. I agree. That's what's so magic about the film. George is an imaginer. Not a doer necessarily, or only unimportantly. A feeler and thinker. He imagines the Explorers' Club and South Sea islands. He imagines skyscrapers. He imagines lassoing the moon. Things that he wil never do or that can't ever be done by anyone. And the magic of the movie is that Capra shows us everything twice. Once with his imagination and once without it (when he has not been born). And shows us that THE WORLD IS DIFFERENT because of his imagination. That's the miracle. We all have dreams, but to think that they actually change, have changed the world, is the miracle.

I love that movie. I went to a play version of it about a week ago and cried all the way through. I couldn't stop. It's a magic work. Downright Keatsian! "Much have I travelled in the realms of gold, round many Western islands have I been, and many goodly states and kingdoms seen, Oft of one wide expanse have I been told, Deep browed Homer rules as his desmene, Yet never breathed its air serere, till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold........" Chapman, not sailing is what takes us there. Imaginative gold, far greater than real world gold. Balboa not Cortez is the rich one. Wild surmises not greedy graspings are the real possession of life. The vision is greater than the deed.

I'm in the middle of Carlyle's The French Revolution right now and living the same thing today. I can't sleep for the desire to read it.

Subject: Please read this even if you may not care to

Mr. Carney,

I am writing today to plead with you to help me in any way possible. No, I don't need money. Well I do but I'm not a degenerate so I'm not going to ask you. The truth is I'm a huge fan of yours. Since I saw your intro in Rick Schmidt's Feature Filmmaking at Used-car Prices, I was hooked.

I wrote to you and you sent me back several articles and interviews that you had done. It made me very happy not to get a form letter back or a BU iron on patch stuffed in an envelope. I had already wanted to be a filmmaker before but this encouraged me even more.

That was about 7 years ago. Since then, I have tried to make films with people that have no passion. They've read every book about filmmaking but they lack the passion. I gave up on them two years ago and since have gotten into school with only one goal, to be in your classroom and out on the streets making film. I've taken the long way to get to this point but I'm tired of wasting time. I know how the college system can sometimes can be bureaucratic that's why I'm coming straight to you. I'm going to spend the next semester taking a couple extra classes at night and saving some money. Whatever you tell me to do, I'll do to get in.

I'm not going to make this any longer, but I want to thank you for your time and your fight. Hopefully, I'll see you soon.

Shane Ford

Ray Carney replies:


Thanks very much for the kind words.

I'm not sure I understand exactly what you are asking, but if it's about sitting in on my classes, I have a reply to a similar question on page 35 of my Mailbag pages. But maybe that's not what you are saying. In fact, I hope it isn't, since I'm not sure why you would want to do it and it would not be the best use of your time and energy.

If you want to learn more about art, study at the feet of the great artists. The artists are the real teachers. Not me. Not any professor. The artists. I learned virtually everything I know not in a classroom but in a theater or from a book, not from a teacher but from an artist. Not by talking to him or her, but from going to dances and plays, listening to music, watching movies, reading stories and novels. If you want to learn to make art, study the masterpieces. I have a page on the site where I make recommendations for entering grad students. Check it out. (Click here to go there). Study how Mozart's and Bach's music keeps you in the moment and apply it to acting. Study how George Balanchine or Paul Taylor organize their dance pieces and apply it to narrative form. Study how Cosi fan Tutti or Le Nozze di Figaro mix farce and lyricism, the Three Stooges and romance, and use it to explore questions about a work's tone. Study Chekhov's dialogue to learn how to write screenplay dialogue. Look at what Tom Noonan does in terms of pauses, shifts of beat, and emotional zig-zags and use it as a way to create drama.

These works are the only real teachers. Everything else is a waste of your time. Especially college, where too many of the faculty and students are no different from the people you've worked with on films. They are just doing what is required of them, doing their jobs. What a funny concept that is--a job! Doing a job is never enough. It's passive. Make yourself active. Plan your own course of study. Study at the feet of the artists. They are the wise ones, the ones you call the passionate ones. Steal their secrets and make something of your own out of them. The doing is what is important. That is the other problem with college. The passivity. It involves sitting still and listening to someone else's ideas. Not actively doing, thinking, puzzling through, enegetically dissecting, actively engaging with things. College will make you passive. It will suit you to do a job. It is the intellectual equivalent of TV. It keeps you in place. It makes you a recipient of knowledge not a creator of it. Don't go (back to) college. Make your own course of study. With the great ones. The artists.

Good luck!


Subject: Want to Discuss Bujalski, Cassavetes, Etc w/ You Next Week

Hi Ray, apologies for the weird subject line, trying to get past your spam defenses. Do you know that you'd get a whole lot less spam if you didn't literally post your email address on your webpage? Just post "raycarney -at-". People will know what to do and most spam robots will be stymied.

Anyway, I came across your work after reading an interview with Andrew Bujalski in which he mentioned your influence on his first film's success. From there I read each of the articles and interviews available on your site and then ordered your three collections available via paypal. I want to say thank you for making them available to me and taking the time to sign them. (Click here to learn about the collections of material.)

I am a young filmmaker and have finished one short film, with a second now in the can. (My short will be playing at Slamdance 2006 and is available at if you'd like to see it. It's entitled MY MOM AND DAD by Andrew Brotzman.) Your writings influenced the direction I took with my second short, which is radically different from the first, and I'd like to talk to you about the inconsistencies I haven't been able to reconcile between your requests/demands of filmmakers and the things they say they look for specifically. I see eye to eye with you on the bulk of your criticism, but other essays and interviews about and with filmmakers like Terrance Malick, Robert Altman, and David Gordon Green lead me to believe that they are executing their films with the exact goals that you talk about (excluding, in some cases, their specific choice of narrative). I'm sure you're familiar with their points of view and I'd be interested in discussing these things with you. Are you at all available for a chat on Thursday the 22nd around noon? I'll be traveling through Boston from New York and would love to meet you, talk to you about my filmmaking, and get some of these things cleared up that have been troubling me for you'll get a free lunch out of it.

If for whatever reason you'll be at the Mutual Appreciation screening tomorrow in NYC, let me know. I'll be there.

andrew brotzman

Ray Carney replies:


Thanks for the kind words. Two dear friends are showing their work at Slamdance: Dina DeCola and Karin Wandner, the actors-directors-writers of Five More Minutes. Look out for it. It's very good. And very daring. A brave work. That's so rare.

I'm not sure how to reply to your note. To start with: I'm sorry that I won't be in Boston over the term break. I flee to the country and hide out and try to get some writing done. So lunch won't work out. But I am a bit confused by your concern, if I understand you correctly, that my ideas are different from Terrence Malick's or Robert Altman's or David Gordon Green's. I don't know exactly what you are referring to, but if they are saying something different, praise be. Vive la differance! It would be a boring world if everyone said the same things in the same ways. Art would be science not art. Heck, I'm sure I contradict myself on alternate Tuesdays. So what? There are many windows in the house of art. Many different views, many different ways of making art. That's the point. It's as individual as our DNA, as different as each one of us. Only factories like Hollywood turn out ten or twenty kinds of similar products (thrillers, farces, romances, quests, costume dramas, etc.) on similar assembly lines, made in similar ways to create similar kinds of experience. That's why they are not works of art. And who wants to work in a factory? Or buy factory-made products. That's McDonald's and Applebee's, not home cooking -- let alone gourmet cooking!

What is important is to make YOUR movie. Not Altman's or Green's or Malick's -- or mine! The kind of movie ONLY YOU can make. Anything else is factory work. Even if you are imitating a master, it's not YOU. Tell YOUR truth in YOUR way. That means in the end throwing away everything you have been told by everyone. Everything.

Of course it can be beneficial to hear what others think. But the best way to do that with art is to look at an artist's work. Not their interviews, but their work. Don't pay attention to what they say, but look at what they do. That's why I wouldn't worry too much about what Altman or Kubrick or even Cassavetes says. Look at what they do if you want to find out what they are thinking.

But in the end you have to throw it all away and go down your own path. That's why lunch with me, even if it were possible, is not really important. Anyway, what could I say at a lunch that I haven't said in the millions of words I've already written in books and essays or spoken in interviews? I promise you: the lunch would be a disappointment. I'm a very ordinary person. Nothing special. My work is the best I can be. It's actually more interesting than I am as a person. Even when I talked with Cassavetes, I thought this half the time. I would sit there and think to myself "but his films are so interesting and what he's saying right now is so ordinary -- or wrong!" : ) In my books I open a vein and let it all come out. In my life, nothing that exciting is really going on. It's all very boring most of the time. That's all you'd get out of a lunch with me. The boring part. What I call the peanut-butter part. As as first year graduate student, I went out to lunch with a faculty member I was ga-ga about in terms of his writing and all he talked about was the difference between different brands of peanut butter. Of course, there are exceptions--people that I'd study with no matter what they talked about--but I'm not one of them. I once knew a Zen master that I thought was interesting no matter what he talked about. I remember telling a friend I'd study with him even if all he taught was farming. But I'm not a Zen master! I'd end up talking about farming and just plain bore you.

But the great artists never will. Study their work. Steal their secrets. But make YOUR kind of movies. The ones only you can make.

Best wishes,


A response from the same writer to the preceding reply:

Thanks for the generous reply, I appreciate it. Sorry to hear we won't be able to meet this time around, but mainly I just wanted to say that your writing and POV on film has been eye-opening to me, and the film's you've exposed to me have been literally life-altering experiences.

The thing that I suppose confused you about my email is that you have been a harsh critic of Malick and Altman specifically, and have made very clear statements about what it is you wish filmmakers would do. However, when I read interviews with them (Altman especially) it's almost as if they have read your writing and are trying to follow it chapter and verse. I'm not saying I am at all eager to make films similar to theirs (I'm not), it's just that I enjoy some of their films greatly and have had difficulty reconciling their films, their statements, and your criticisms of them (excluding, as I said, their choices of narratives, which are at times intentionally predictable). My question to you is does this matter? And why do you find Altman's material so heinous, given his expressed desire to achieve his films in a manner similar to those you admire? (Ignore his choice of narrative for a moment).

Thanks for your correspondence.

Ray Carney replies:

Dear Andrew,

Ah, I see I misunderstood what you were saying. You mean we all spout the same THEORY but believe in different kinds of MOVIES. Same ideas, different results. I guess the only response I can make is to say trust the tale and not the teller. Look at what the filmmaker makes, and not what he says. It all goes to show that theory doesn't count for very much, I guess. I can't tell you how often I've gone to events, banquets, lunches, cocktail parties with famous Hollywood filmmakers, real hacks I mean, who spent the entire time telling me how "subversive" their hack slasher movie was, what a radical critique of capitalism was embedded in their stupid romantic comedy, what double meanings resided in their thriller. They had all the theory down pat, like a college professor; but their movies were worthless anyway. I'm sure Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg talk a good game too. I'm sure their theories are as radical as mine. Probably more radical in fact. But that just goes to show that talk is cheap. And buzz words can be thrown around by anyone. As they say, even the Devil can quote scripture. So all I can say is for you to let the work of art, the movie itself, be your teacher, your guide, your instructor. Not me. Not the theories. Not the fashionable buzz words.

But as to what I think of this or that particular fashionable, media approved, Charlie Rose sanctioned filmmaker, from Spielberg to Stone to Ron Howard, there's just too much to say in an email. My books have a lot on this subject, and future and forthcoming books will have more. That's the best I can do for now. But to repeat my previous email to you: IT'S NOT WHAT I THINK THAT MATTERS. It's what YOU think. It's what YOU are. It's what YOU can give the world that no one else on earth can. In the end, when all is said and done, your goal should be to forget me. Forget my theories. Forget my buzz words too. They are only to inspire you to dare to go your own way, to throw a quick light on something or other, to force you to think on your own, to go down your own path your own way. That's the goal.

Go, man, go!


Ray -

Thanks again for the Dreyer book, very much looking forward to reading it over break. Finally saw Love Streams, finally finished Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies, both of which were truly excellent. I have some questions about some of Love Streams stylistic elements that weren't really covered in the book, but I'll save them for class. Do unpublished chapters exist on Husbands or Opening Night?

Anyway, I wanted to ask about your feelings regarding performative style in film. Even within your personal canon of great movies, all of which seemingly refute conventional notions of dramatic / idealized acting, I still feel there's some kind of divide in regards to acting styles. In one camp, one could probably place figures such as Cassavetes, Morrisey, late May, early Jarmusch, up through Andrew Bujalski. In the other camp I'd posit artists like Leigh, Dreyer, Bresson. The key difference between the two groups, I think, is that the former have a nearly inscrutable looseness to the performances in their films, one that masks the fundamental structures and meanings of each scene, let alone the entire film. Acting in the films of the second group, while still largely refuting conventional dramatic presentation, seems in comparison pared down to semi-essential structures (Bresson's "models," Bleak Moments' introverts, etc.), which for me, ultimately yield easier readings of the work. Not to mention, the flow of the former just seems to feel more like real life. Still on the fence as to which category people like Renoir, Ozu and De Sica would fit.

It's almost 5 a.m., so this may not be making any sense. Maybe it didn't make any sense to begin with. Am I wrong to sense this dichotomy? Is it there, but insignificant? If it does exist, does it make one or the other set more interesting or valuble as artists? Should I not even judge such obviously brilliant filmmakers against one another? I ask partially out of academic interest, and partially out of selfishness.... Very unsure about what type of direction I want to push my own work -- I feel very differently on different days. All in all, as usual, I'm very confused... not necessarily a bad thing, but troubling nonetheless.

(My apologies for the preceding grammar.)

- Alex

Ray Carney replies:


Good to hear from you. Too much to say about a complex subject. Intellectual categories, oppositions, alternatives are useful. They can force us to clarify our experiences. Keep digging. Keep categorizing. Then throw the categories away after you've used them up.

On the subject of film acting, all I'll say is that it always surprises what a mystery it still is. How film scholars, critics, professors have ignored it, downplayed it, overlooked it to focus on visual stylistics, lighting, camera movements, symbols, metaphors. How can they be so stupid? How can they miss the boat so completely? It's like watching a dance but forgetting about the movements and steps and talking instead about the costuming or props. Or listening to an opera and forgetting to talk about the orchestration and notes and key changes, and trying to talk about the characters' psychology and events. It's missing the boat. So anything you discover will be news.

The professors have missed the boat for so long about so many aspects of art.....

Forgive the brevity of this reply. Miles to go.... etc.

I hope you have a restful and restorative break.

Best wishes,


A response from the same writer to the preceding reply:

Thanks for the long reply. Seriously. You're absolutely right. Which is why I'm forced to direct these questions at you instead of my peers or any of the other professors in the program... Even the acting and directing teachers don't really seem to get it. Did I ever tell you about the course I took on Renoir here? He was treated more or less as a strictly political filmmaker. "Rules of the Game" is apparently a tract about pre-WWII aristocratic corruption, etc. Some structural elements regarding camerawork and "coupling of figures" were mentioned... That was about it.

Have a "restful and restorative" break yourself! Couldn't have put it any better what I am desperately in need of at the moment. That said -- will definitely continue pestering you about this subject in class next semester.

Happy Holidays!
- Alex

A note from Ray Carney:

I received a DVD of Frank V. Ross's Quietly on By in the mail unconscionably long ago. I'm embarrassed to admit that -- what with one thing and another -- I didn't sit down to look at it until the other night. That was my loss. It's really wonderful. I don't think it's been released yet, but if you have a chance to catch it at a festival or special screening, by all means do. And let me know what you think.

Quietly on By is a delicate mood piece centered around the life of of a sensitive but lonely and lost central figure. Aaron is in mourning for a love affair that didn't work out and a life that seems to be on hold. This is the territory many recent films, including some of the works of Wes Anderson, have mined; but what makes Ross's film special is the authenticity of the characters, performances, and setting. Nothing is heightened or exaggerated (except perhaps for the very first scene, which I could imagine being eliminated to the film's benefit) and none of the characters or their relationships is cartooned or caricatured.

Ross beautifully captures the longing and aimlessness of a certain emotional moment all of us have experienced in our lives. All of the performances are strong, but look out for one actor in particular, the one who plays Mike in the film. He steals the movie. He's amazing! He operates at a completely different level from the others, as good as they are. I predict great things for him.

A postscript: I went to Ross's web site (click here to go there) to look up this actor's name, but unfortunately (and somewhat strangely), it isn't listed in the film's credits. Well, he's still worth looking out for anyway. And so is the entire film.

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