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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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Thought you might like to read this. I posted it on my site and the general consensus has been that it has changed or at least altered people's perspective of Paris Hilton (and other media figures in general). In fact, the more I study someone like Paris, the more I understand what Capra was doing with Meet John Doe. You'll probably see what I mean.

Hope all's well,


Paris Hilton: person or pose?

To put this situation simply: Paris Hilton is a very bright and intelligent human being at odds with a very ditsy, dumb and delinquent public image of herself.

Who's to blame for this? Her? Yes, maybe to some extent. She did, after all, agree to do "The Simple Life," even though her mother and other family members warned her that the show was essentially meant to poke fun at her (yes, I read Confessions of an Heiress). And it's basically from the "Simple Life" that her dumb blonde persona stems from - a combination of her actually playing dumb and the manipulative editing of Fox television that portrays her as being dumb.

But the general media is probably more to blame for Paris' negative influence on our culture than Paris herself. There are several interviews out there (if you look hard enough) where Paris not only explains to people that the Paris Hilton she plays on "The Simple Life" is just a character, but where she also says a variety of very bright and intelligent comments that totally undermine her dumb blonde image. This side of Paris, however, doesn't get very far. The media needs to preserve the false image of Paris Hilton as a dumb blonde because this is what people are more entertained by. To present Paris as saying anything the least bit intelligent only demolishes the very Paris Hilton persona that rakes in so much money for the media companies.

Paris, in fact, is now trying very hard to shatter this false image of herself. Her new album (which, in my opinion, is fantastic) is one of her ways of doing this. She wrote all her own lyrics herself - except for one song - and all the songs truly are products of free individual expression (that is, they express very unique and genuine feelings, which is all you can really ask for). Nobody wants to admit this, though: especially members of the media. They don't want to accept the fact that Paris Hilton is intelligent and talented because that image isn't as bankable as the dumb-blonde image.

The media realizes that people in our culture need stupid characters like the Paris Hilton persona so that we can feel better about ourselves. We look at her and say, "Oh, look how dumb that person is. At least I'm smarter than her." We like to have an 'other' to use as a punching bag for our own problems. Why work to change ourselves for the better when we see a person like Paris Hilton out there who is so much more stupid than and inferior to us?

But the problem is that the Paris Hilton we're comparing ourselves to doesn't exist. She is a media construction, an unreal entity that exists for the sole purpose of making us feel better about ourselves and, in turn, attracting our attention, energy and, ultimately, our money.

Paris may have made a mistake when she did "The Simple Life" and she may still be making some mistakes now in how she presents herself to the public, but the media (and, in a lot of ways, ourselves - the media consumers) are to blame for any bad influence her persona has on our culture. Or, in other words, the flaw with Paris Hilton is a flaw in our media-controlled culture. Or, to be even more general, it's a flaw in human nature.

I for one appreciate and respect the fact that she's working hard to create a better image of herself by writing her own songs and expressing genuine emotions through her music. I think she still needs to become more secure with her real self, but at least she's trying to break her dumb-blonde mold and that's key here. She's TRYING, but the media isn't helping her. The tabloids and newspapers and TV programs and, in many ways, ourselves refuse to let the real Paris Hilton come through.

We see what we want to see and, right now, everyone wants to see Paris being dumb, not smart. But to see her this way is to be blind from the truth. She's smart! And you don't have to take my word for it. Listen to her album!

RC replies:

I take your point about Frank Capra's Meet John Doe. And agree. But....................

I have to confess to hardly knowing who Paris Hilton is. Some (bimbo) movie star, right? I guess the blog could be right, and she might be a little Einstein, but I'd still ask, who cares? Who cares if she's smart or dumb? Who cares if she has been unfairly maligned by the press? Who cares if the media have made mistakes about her personality? Why in the world should I care about any of this --- with the war in Iraq, with the destruction of our skies and waters, with all the people who don't have houses because of hurricane Katrina, and all the people in this country and other parts of the world who don't have houses at all, separate from Katrina, with the lies and deceit and corruption of the Bush White House --- well you get the idea.

To get caught up in a debate about Paris Hilton's IQ or the media's image of her is like debating the merits or demerits of Oliver Stone's or Steven Spielberg's or the Coen brothers' movies: "Spielberg's AI is better than critics said." "WTC is Nick Cage's greatest acting performance." "Fargo or The Green Mile is a brilliant this or that....." Who cares? It's all some Tinseltown railroad village under the Christmas tree to me. A little Plasticville village with plastic people and plastic issues being debated by plastic reporters for plastic newspapers.

The debate--about Paris Hilton, Hollywood movies, or practically everything else the media focus on--only keeps our attention in the wrong place. That's the game. Distract the people from things that matter. Preoccupy them with trivia, while the world ends. Tell the crew of the Titanic to re-arrange the deck chairs. Moral: the Media are donkeys (or should I say, Paris Hiltons?) All of them. Everywhere.

If you want to talk about the stupidity of the media, you're just scratching the surface if you talk about their estimate of Paris Hilton's IQ . That doesn't matter. You're missing the far more obvious, more important stupidity of the media when they did their 2006 Commemorative pieces on 9/11, and focused on all that nostalgia for an America that allegedly (but never really!) existed before 9/11 and encouraged us to bathe ourselves in gallons of self-pity (woe is me; poor innocent, good-intentioned me--what disgusting sentimentality we Americans are capable of!), and for the victims of the World Trade Center events -- all the while, of course, not saying a word about the tens of thousands more victims of our Middle East policy since 1967 or before. Those dead bodies, those homeless people don't matter. They don't exist. They're foreigners, for God's sake. Who cares about them?

Look at the stupid Ken Burns movie about 9/11. It was rebroadcast recently on the 5th anniversary. I almost threw up when Burns allowed someone to say on camera that just before the planes arrived, the twin towers of the World Trade Center rose up in a crystalline, clear blue, cloudless sky, when anyone with a brain knows for a fact that those towers and all of the U.S. was covered that morning (and every other day that half century) with the roiling, turbulent, threatening clouds of fifty years of hateful, destructive, foreign policy disenfranchising the Palestinian people, supporting Israeli paranoia and vindictiveness, and propping up dictators in Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. A clear day? A clear conscience? Not exactly. We were propping up and sending money to the obscene Shah and the Royal Families of Playboy Mansion sheiks for decades. Where was that in the 9/11 memories? They said America lost its innocence on 9/11. Give me a break. We're still as stupid as ever if we don't come to grips with those kinds of facts. Or have we lost our minds entirely? Doesn't anyone learn anything from anything? Are we all that stupid, and that unable to learn anything, even from 9/11? If so, we're far, far stupider than Paris Hilton could ever be accused of being.

Now THAT'S stupidity that matters. Stupidity that you'll find on the front page of the New York Times. And if Paris Hilton wants to prove her high IQ, why doesn't she talk about that? What is knowledge disconnected from reality, from action, from event? Is that in her songs? Is that in the "genuine emotions" of her music?



I was prowling around your website to find an article about Mike Leigh to show Andrew Bujalski., and caught that you've finally begun to update it again. Very glad to see it!

Re: Half Nelson, which somebody had contacted you about... It's the indie-darling of the year, out at the Kendall Square Cinema now. It's okay, maybe even good, but not great, and most certainly not a masterpiece. I finally caught Nine Lives too... Very good, with several wonderful sections, though I have some reservations overall. Anywho, catch The Death of Mr. Lazarescu when it comes out on DVD sooner or later -- that's the one to be waiting for.

How's your new Cassavetes book coming along? I'm almost done with the Capra book -- did the man himself ever read it or give you feedback on it? Would be very curious to see what he said...


RC replies:


Thanks for the info on Half Nelson. I'll have to see for myself. As you know, being popular is always a mixed recommendation. Half Nelson's popularity definitely counts against it; but of course it just might be good anyway, even if a lot of people praise it. I'll have to see.

God knows how stupid most fans of "indie" film are. They are trapped by the same mind-forged emotional manacles as the rest of the population. Look at how worked up young people got over trendy silliness like The Royal Tenenbaums, Sideways, and Napoleon Dynamite. Self-pity and narcissism are the curse of our culture. The recent 9/11 anniversary tributes proved that. Feeling sorry for themselves is apparently more important to most people than doing anything actually to change the world they live in. Emotion replaces action. That's my definition of sentimentality.

Nine Lives is a great film. But it's a film of moments. There is really no overall structure. It's a mistake to treat it like Altman. As Emerson said, we can read for the glimmers, the glistenings, and sometimes a work that sparkles in bits and pieces, and doesn't really "add up" at all or try to, is greater than one with miles of structural ingenuity and complexity, which are often just names for intellectual preciousness.


Prof. Carney,

Your site is wonderful. I just saw page 8 of your syllabus page. Your Cassavetes class sounds ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! (Click here to go there.)

I can't resist sending you a great compliment I found about you on the Internet this morning. And I quote:

"...I'm not as fiercely discriminating as Ray Carney..."

"Fiercely discriminating." I love it. What a great description. I can just see you brandishing Excalibur.

And I also found this article about your writing on JC today. It's by Matt Zoller Seitz and was written in March 2006. I thought it might interest you.

Carol Millis

RC replies:


Thanx for the kind words. I guess if you care enough about something (film, life, art, honesty, truth-telling) it can come off as ferocity. But it's still just caring.



I am interested in viewing some of the French New Wave filmmakers (namely Godard, Truffaut, and Rohmer especially) and while I will see them regardless, I was wondering how you feel these director's works compared to the others you've recommended that I really enjoyed (Cassavetes, Gallo, Kar-Wai etc...)?

Also, since I'm Canadian I was also curious if you've seen any of Larry Kent's work. Quite amazing I think, he's always referred to as the "Father of Canadian Independent Film" and made three amazing films while attending the University of British Columbia in the early 60's all bridging the beat generation to the counter culture movement of the late 60's, and he's self-distributing his first film in 12 years, The Hamster Cage after no distributor would step up. It's very difficult to see his films unfortunately, it took me nearly 2 years of taping them off of Bravo! Canada, but check out The Bitter Ash, Sweet Substitute, and When Tomorrow Dies if you get the chance.

Thank you very much for your valuable time.

Clark Grieve

RC replies:

Thanks for the recommendation on Larry Kent. The French New Wave question would take too long to answer, but the (overly) short answer is that the reviled Rivette in his more extreme works (Out One, Spectre, Celine and Julie Go Boating) is a crazy genius, while the sanctified, canonized Truffaut is not. But as to who is the greatest of the greatest of all the artists working in that period of French cinema? It was, neither Jacques Rivette nor Francois Truffaut nor Erich Rohmer, but.... (a trumpet flourish and snare drum roll, please): Robert Bresson. Just shows the hazards of thinking in terms of "movements," "periods," "schools." Bresson was not anything but "Bressonian." But that was good enough. More than good enough.


Subject: Criterion collection and rowlands

i saw your site and you mentioned in this video on youtbue. thats terrible what they did to you both criterion and rowlands. i hope thing are getting better.

here is a link to the vid i s aw you on

Weeba Macentire

RC replies:
Thanks for the tea and sympathy.
Much appreciated. But I have to tell you that my computer is too old and creaky and its hard drive too bulgingly overloaded to access or play videos. Or do much else, other than type emails and book manuscripts on. And I have neither the time, the interest, nor the money to upgrade it.

I'd rather spend my bucks on something else, like a Mozart or Bach CD or score. Just technologically behind the curve I guess. So in short I'll have to take the link you sent me on trust. I can't look at it. (I tell that to all the young filmmakers who send me video links too.) But, yes, the Criterion and Rowlands situation sure is a doozy. Takes the cake, doesn't it? I have more than you want to know about the gory details on the site. Just type in "Criterion" or "law suit" or "Rowlands" or "fifty thousand dollars" and the site search engine will whisk you away on a magical mystery tour that will make your eyes bug out.

Who are you? What are you? Filmmaker? Teacher? Student? Cinephile? All of the above? Drop me a line and tell me about yourself. I'm always interested. I've met the most interesting people I know through this site.

All best wishes,


A Note from Ray Carney:

Donal Foreman, the student who contributed the essay "What's Missing from Irish Cinema" that I posted on the site last year (click here to read it) , has sent me one of the papers he recently wrote for a class he was taking. It has an ungainly title -- "The present state of Irish television and the Irish film industry from the view point of people with creative ideas who wish to exhibit or show their work and make some money from it -- but is simply a thoughtful series of reflections on the fate of non-Hollywood filmmaking. I recommend it. Click here to read it.


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