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

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Hi Ray,

You don't know me or anything I am just some person on the Internet. Sometime last year I managed to stumble across your web site, I can't remember how.

I guess I was looking for more information on John Cassavetes, having recently heard about him at the time. Anyway I am glad I found it. I have become addicted to reading your genuinely alternative point of view. I respect that you are not afraid to be critical of big names and darlings of the critics. Hell I even like most of those guys and enjoy their films, but I can see that there is a lot of truth to what you are saying and some of it really resonates. Sometimes your writing can be down right inspiring, for instance:

"If your work is even a little original, it is doomed to be misunderstood. Reviewers' criticisms will generally cancel each other out anyway: what one loves, another will hate. But read their reviews carefully. Read between the lines. Learn from their objections. Study what they can't understand about your work and go further in that direction. In particular, if several of them agree about some particular problem with your work, cultivate that aspect. It is probably its strongest and most original quality. Make it even more central next time."

That is pretty extreme. If you were a journalist they would kick you out of the press club for writing that. you would be tarred and feathered and ran out of town too. Thank god for the Internet. That brings me to the subject of why I am writing. I wanted to ask why do you not update your site anymore? Have you been asked not to by your employers? Maybe you are just on your summer vacation, or busy with life. I suspect that there are other anonymous readers out there like myself wondering the same thing, and want to read more, even if it is just the wonderful letters section.



P.S. I can't imagine you would want to publish this short note, but if you do, please change my name.

Ray Carney replies:

Dear XXX:

Funny coincidence. Caveh Zahedi just wrote me about the same thing a week or so ago. Your instincts are correct. The last few years have been tough ones for me and for the site. Several new university administrators, appointed in the past few years (I suppress the names and titles to, I hope, forestall further punitive action) have objected strenuously to things I have posted. They want to censor the site (making me change or remove certain things), check and approve what posted, and force me to take down parts they object to.

These attempts at censorship are particularly unfortunate in a university. If a university is about anything, it is about the open and free and unimpeded Your Life is a Movie coverexchange of ideas. But universities are often not really much different from the rest of the culture. People want to stamp out what they don't agree with. They want to censor ideas and feelings they don't understand. I've resisted the administrators. But it's not been easy. They have said nasty things to me about the web site, written abusive memos to me about it, yelled and screamed at me on occasion, and penalized me in other ways to try to get me to take down parts of it. I'll leave the punishment and retribution to your imagination; it shouldn't be too hard to figure out some of the kinds of things higher-ups can do to an employee to punish him or her.

If you are interested, I have a slightly more detailed account of the series of events in the "Necessary Experiences" packet I sell on the site (click here to buy it) and some of that same material is in a recent book titled: Your Life is a Movie: Alternative Visions of Film, Media, and Culture, edited by Don Thompson and Nicholas Rombes (click here to buy it).

Since the site has been a labor of love from the start and costs me a fair amount of money out of my pocket just to keep going (though I get thousands of emails like yours and hundreds of videos to review in the mail, I don't receive any payment or compensation for running it since it doesn't have advertising or any other form of corporate sponsorship), it has been an extremely discouraging past few years, and, yes, last year, after all the abuse and criticism, I just plain lost heart in keeping it up.

However, all of that is about to change. I plan to start adding more material soon. I shall post your letter and my reply to let others know what has been going on, since you are not the first one to ask me about this.

All best wishes. And thanks for the kind words. They matter more than you can know.


Re: Would Cassavetes like "Lucky Louie"?

I was watching this new HBO sitcom by stand up comedian Louis C.K. and by the 6th episode I was noticing a lot of complex elements that reminded me of the tonal shifts in prime Cassavetes stuff... as well as Noonan. I was wondering if you'd seen it. In my estimation, certain episodes (especially the 6th episode, "Flowers for Kim") contain passages that equal the brilliance of HBO's other good comedy, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," only in a different style. Louie feels much more 'stagy', directly opposed to the former's documentary feel. Maybe I'm way off the mark, but if you happen to see it I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Ray Carney replies:

Sorry to say I don't get cable TV. I had it for a few years but felt like I had an open sewage pipe draining into my living room and didn't like the smell so I cancelled it and have lived on DVDs ever since. Smells better and I never miss the beginning of anything.

But to your question, Lucky Louie (if that's the title) sounds interesting. And I have seen "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and agree that Larry David's show is good. (So good that I showed the pilot in class three or four years ago just after it first aired; HBO sent me a copy before it was out on DVD) The only thing to keep in mind is that it takes more than "tonal shifts" (Lucky Louie) or "tonal irresolution"/"tonal suspense"/"confused identification strategy" (my definition of "Curb Your Enthusiasm") to make art. Something must be at stake. Something really important that the viewer is emotionally invested in and that the work changes, threatens, adjusts, messes up. That's what art does. The technical devices are always in the service of doing something pretty radical to change how the viewer thinks, sees, understands his or her life. If Lucky Louie does that (and, just to be clear: comedy of course can do it wonderfully--I saw a stand-up comedian two nights ago who did it to my understanding of dozens of aspects of my experience) then it is doing something that John Cassavetes and Tom Noonan do.

All best wishes,


Mr. Carney,

Thank you for all that you do for independent film. I am twenty-two and just made my first film. I cannot imagine what the experience would have been like without Cassavetes on Cassavetes. The book has changed my life. Not only with my filmmaking, but it has had a real effect on my day-to-day existence. My film stars Larry Holden, another big fan of yours. I will send you a copy, but realize you might never actually get to watch it with the amount of mail you get. Thanks again and I look forward to reading more of your work.


Ray Carney replies:

Dear Rob,

Larry is a great guy and fine artist. Thanks for the good words about my work. I'm getting a lot of resistance here at my school from certain individuals in the administration and some faculty but I guess that comes with taking a stand and saying anything different from the mainstream.

All best wishes.....


A note from Ray Carney:

A recommendation.

Derrick Jensen's Endgame, Vol 1: The Problem of Civilization and Endgame, Vol. 2.: Resistance.

Murray Bookchin's The Ecology of Freedom

Hi Ray -

I thought you might like to take a look at this book notice - there's an internet address to click on. It's by an old friend of mine, and I read it in ms. - quite civilized and interesting.

I read a new book on Kiarostami recently by Alberto Elena - it's the most thoroughly researched and helpful work on him - and it praises repeatedly an article on Taste of Cherry by our own Michael Price (grad. student in the Boston U. Film Studies program)! I got in touch with Mike to tell him about it.


Dear Prof. Carney:

A graduating student in the Master of Theological Studies program, I'm currently creating a course on the Beat Generation that I'd like to offer through Tufts's Experimental College. Titled "The Beat Way and Fellow Travelers" (sample syllabus, minus course description, attached), the class will approach the phenomenon of the "Beat" movement, of momements it was related to and which it spawned, and its influence on American culture through literature (mainly), religion, and history. I'd also like to add film, and here's where I"m stuck. I plan to end the course with "Down By Law" from Jim Jarmusch, who owes quite a bit to the Beats. However, I would like to add another film.

Bryan Stone, currently my professor for "Faith and Film", directed me to your "Beat Generation on Film" website. After looking at your site, I plan (if I can find it) to add "The Beats: An Existential Comedy" as a documentary (I believe it's one of the docs I saw when I took a course on "The Beat Generation" as a Penn State undergrad). I want something to provide some background for my students, and I think this would help. However, I want to add one other full-length film from the "Beat" period, perhaps something underground though not exactly "Beat"--and after having read a review in Sunday's GLOBE on his work, I'm thinking about something by John Cassavetes? Can you suggest something, either by him or by some other related auteur, that could fit my class?

I was also thinking of "Pull My Daisy", but I've not yet seen that either. When I presented a paper at a Beat conference in China two summers ago, the movie was originally to have been screened (and David Amram was in attendance). However, due to some of the subject matter, the censors yanked it at the last second. I think my suggested "musical interlude," however, will provide my students with a good sense of Dave's contributions. (Also, I'm not sure whether or not it's in print.)

I'm trying to cover everything possible in this class (hence the "fellow travelers" mention in the title)--and Tufts only gives me thirteen weeks to cover it! I know this is awfully close to the break, but this is due one week from Friday. This is something I've long wanted to do and, should I go into teaching, would like to offer regularly. Any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much for your time.


Matt Stefon

Ray Carney replies:

Cassavetes' Shadows would be ideal. But not as a first film on the movement but as a last one or an "aftereffects" film. The reason to save it for later is that, if you view it subtly (and it is a very subtle film), it is a critique of the movement. The character of Ben is definitely Beat, but represents an ANALYSIS of the flaws of the Beat position. Don't tell the students this, but ask them to discover it. Or you could put it as a paper topic for them: "Use Shadows to discuss how Cassavetes understands the movement....... etc."

So many Beat works (including PMD) are self-indulgent, narcissistic, celebrations of irresponsibility, selfishness, disengagement. So Sh. is one of the VERY FEW critiques. Much smarter than the other works.

PMD is a great film though (with all of the above flaws). See my page on the web site about it and Shadows. I contrast them.

You should show both. I haven't time to look at the syllabus you attached but I hope that answers your questions. Don't know how Pull My Daisy could have offended anyone or upset the censor. It pretty much neutralizes any critique it contains by wrapping it in goof-ball goofiness and humor. (That's one of its weaknesses.) But America is in moral trouble and our fear of anything different or even mildly unconventional is proof of it. Even in the bland, mild, comic Pull My Daisy, I guess. But I assume I am speaking to the choir about this subject.

Dear Professor Carney

Hello. I am a local independent filmmaker. Over the years I have gobbled up much more of your writings on film and art than I care to admit, and they've played no small role in shaping and unshaping my cinematic impressions.

A few months ago I completed my first feature-length film, 'The Hole Story', which was made without lights, formulas, money, homages, compromises or excuses. It's currently playing at film festivals and this Thursday evening it will screen at BU as part of the Cinematheque Screening series. If you'd like to come by and watch it, I would be most delighted. It would be a genuine pleasure to meet you.



For more info on the film you can visit its website at

Ray Carney replies:

I recommend this film.

Subject: Wanda on DVD

A quick head's up: Barbara Loden's "Wanda" has finally been given a respectable video release.

Also -- Mitch pointed this out to me, I'd imagine you've seen it before, but if not, here's a link. The author cites you and your work a number of times.

How's all your writing going? If you need anybody to proofread, research, etc., I've got nothing to do the latter half of September, once my work for Andrew is completed.

Hope all's well!


Ray Carney replies:

An amazing movie. A life-changing viewing experience. And about time for it to hit the video stores: thirty-five years after its release. One of the six or seven supreme masterworks of the first generation of American indie filmmaking -- from the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s. Here are the titles on my "Top Ten List" and, alas, more than one of them is still not out on video, even at this late date in the so-called media era:

Morris Engel, Little Fugitive, Lovers and Lollipops, Weddings and Babies
John Cassavetes, Shadows (both versions), Faces, Husbands
Milton Moses Ginsberg, Coming Apart
John Korty, Crazy Quilt, Funnyman, Riverrun
Elaine May, Heatbreak Kid and Mikey and Nicky
Claudia Weil, Girlfriends
Robert Kramer, Ice and Milestones
Barbara Loden, Wanda
Bruce Conner, A Movie, Marilyn Times Five, Mona Lisa, Mongoloid, Valse Triste
Mark Rappaport, Casual Relations, Mozart in Love, Local Color, Scenic Route, Chain Letters
Shirley Clarke, Bridges Go Round, Portrait of Jason
Paul Morrissey, Trash, Flesh, Heat, Lonesome Cowboys

and about ten others I don't have time to list.

Subject: movie list

I posted a list of must-see films on my myspace page at I know I missed a bunch, but if you can think of anything further that I might just be totally missing (I.e. films that I've seen but for some reason excluded from the list) I'd appreciate it.

Darren Pardee

P.s. Hope everything is going well. Kick Gena Rowland's ass. Peace.


Subject: have you seen the film Half Nelson?

I'd love to hear your opinion about it . . .

Hope you're well.

Dana Yeaton

(A note from Ray Carney: Dana Yeaton is an important "younger generation" playwright. I highly recommend his own work.)

Ray Carney replies:

No. But you got my attention. What is it? Current release? Out on DVD or what? I'll try to get a copy if it's out already. Who directed? Who is in it? Best year-old film I've seen in the past month is Nine Lives. Rodrigo Garcia. Son of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but totally different from his dad's novels. Straight drama almost as if on a stage. But brilliant. Brilliantly acted, beat by beat, moment by moment. Check that one out yourself. The supermarket scene, the two couples in the swanky apartment scene, the funeral scene, and the parents with the shuttlecock daughter scene are especially amazing. Rodrigo Garcia is someone to watch.

Term began today. A bit hectic. See ya,


Reply from Dana Yeaton:

It's a current release, directed and co-written by Ryan Fleck. Apparently it was selected best film at Sundance this year, though I know that's a dubious distinction. It was a story I'd never seen before -- at least not told this honestly. It certainly would never get made in Hollywood. If you get a chance to see it, please let me know your thoughts.

Does it avoid Neil Labute-style contemporary cynicism?

All the best,

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