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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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Dear Mr. Carney,

I have emailed you already and i know you have a lot of emails to answer. I just want to thank you for your inspiring webpage. It helps to know there are so many others just like me. I was in L.A for 12 years trying to work as an actress ( if thats what you call it) and got so fed up and discouraged with the industry and how people try to suck money from actors. The worst thing was the casting director workshops where they ask actors to pay for a workshop and maybe they will call them in for a reading. I had done some plays and worked as an extra on a lot of sets before I left. Recently i am doing theatre again and have found some wonderful things here(NC) like the documentry center. They encourage people to make their own films and it is not terribly expensive like in L.A. Thanks again for your wonderful site I have read it many times.

Mame Cotter

RC replies:


I wish you well. Good work is always in the minority. Excellence is always a struggle. Even just today, I am "fighting the good fight" in my own program. Struggling to hold the line on excellence against the forces of mediocrity. But that is what life is. We make all values that matter. Nothing is automatic. Nothing is a gift (well, a few things are gifts from heaven: the friendships, love, and kindness of friends and strangers, but most good things take unceasing work, work, work). Keep going. It matters.


Subject: The Art And Politics Of Film

A discussion between film critic David Walsh and John Steppling about the contemporary state of film. Have you read this before? If so, what did you think?


RC replies:

Thanks for the link. I recommend the conversation between Steppling and Walsh to my readers.You ask for my response.It would be an interesting exercise to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their critique of the mainstream media. But I don't really have time to write the essay your question deserves, so I'll have to give a fearfully brief answer:

Of course, I share Walsh and Steppling's disgust with television and most movies; but I disagree with them both about the nature of the artistic problem and the nature of the artistic solution. In other words, their hearts are in the right place, but their understanding of the possible functions of film and television and other media is a bit too simple, in my view.

I don't have time to say much more, unfortunately: One quick point would be that a political view of art (or a sociological or ideological view of it, the view taken in most university film programs) is far too limited. The imagination is the most radical force for change in the world. Political understandings of and agendas for art are too small, too limited, too narrow. The world that politics and sociology survey (and exert power over) is a tiny, unimportant, marginal one. Most of life takes place elsewhere. Most of what matters in our lives has nothing to do with politics or sociology.

The world of the imagination is the real world and it is a million times larger and more important than the world defined by sociology, ideology, and politics. If people's imaginations were really free, the other problems Steppling and Walsh decry --the political problems -- would be solved as side issues. We must aim higher than aspiring for political change in the world, political relevance in our art, and political truth from the media. We need imaginative change, imaginative relevance, and imaginative truth. We must change more than our social institutions. We must change more than a few ideas. We must free our minds, our hearts, our souls from various forms of enslavement. And once we do that, the political problems will solve themselves.

Only works of the imagination can work on our hearts and emotions at the deepest levels. Political works are not enough. Shakespeare and Rembrandt and Johann Sebastian Bach and William Wordsworth and Henry James are more radical in their implications than the writing of C. Wright Mills, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn (as great as the work of these three is). Midsummer Night's Dream, The Brandenburg Concertos, Gulliver's Travels, The Prelude, and Emerson's Essays are more explosively, world-changingly, radical, dangerous, and liberating than Das Kapital.

End of sermon. That's the best I can do in two hundred words or less. This subject -- the power of the imagination to free us -- deserves a book, but I can't think of anyone who is likely to write it. It so goes against the grain of current intellectual fashion. But, alas, there is not world enough and time......

Professor Carney -

How are you? I believe it has been a couple of years since I last wrote you. I wanted to check-in and let you know what was going on. First, and foremost, I completed my first film earlier this Spring, The film, WORKING TITLE, is a 54-minute doc that explores what it means to be an artist in contemporary America, where you so much of your identity is placed on "what you do" for a living. You know when you've become a doctor. You know when you've become a lawyer. But how do you know when you've become an artist?

Thus far, WORKING TITLE ( has screened at the San Francisco MOMA, the Montclair Art Museum in NJ, and just recently had its festival premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival. The film has been received tremendously and the Q&A discussions that ensue afterward have been extremely rewarding.

A co-worker/ fellow BU COM grad (I still have a day-gig working with Film Arts Foundation and other non-profit arts media groups in San Francisco) and I were comparing notes yesterday. I was telling her how much "Carney" had influenced me while I was in school. She asked me if you knew what I had been up to with regards to the film - which prompted this e-mail. Besides the completion of WORKING TITLE, I also wanted to let you know that when my partner and I were in pre-production for the film, and getting together for regular weekly meetings, we would read your essays on film and art as inspiration.

Thank you again, for everything. I hope all is well. Have a wonderful day!

Your former student,

Phil Lane

Subject: Advice for writers

Dear Professor Carney,

I've often thought as I've read through these pages that for an artist in any medium, there are some really sage words of advice at every turn. Naturally, since so much of the site is dedicated to film, I understand a good chunk of the material will address the concerns of filmmakers. But I'm willing to wager a shiny new dime that others who aren't filmmakers tune in for some inspiration/correctives. As one person who writes to another who writes: don't you think it's time to put up something geared specifically for those of us mired in the written word? Just one thing? Throw us poor saps a much-desired bone...


Jonathan Dixon

RC replies:

Thanks for the kind words, Jonathan. I take your point but have to say that I didn't really think of my advice on the site as being so compartmentalized. Much of what I say about filmmaking and other forms of artistic creativity also applies to writing. And if you need more, I'm not sure I'm up to the challenge right now. Things are pretty hectic (read: awful) in my department right now. So a few apercus/apothegms will have to suffice:

1. Somewhere I quote Cassavetes as saying there's "no such thing as an actor, how you are in life is how you are in art." Well, I'd say the same about writing. All good writing is is being yourself, your full and undiluted and uncompromised self, on the page. (Of course you have to have a self to be; a lot of people think, feel, and act with someone else's mind and identity.)

2. Then there's what Eric Clapton said about playing the guitar: "It's not hard. I just play what I hear." That goes for writing too. Of course it takes years to learn HOW to play what you hear. It takes a lot of knowledge to know "where to throw that paint pot" (to switch to Whistler's metaphor). In other words: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice."

3. Then how about John Kenneth Galbraith's point? "There's an amazing spontaneity and freshness that come in around the thirteenth draft." I agree with that for sure. None of my real work (these quickie replies don't count) takes less than twenty revisions. But once you've written your way there, it seems so spontaneous.

4. Then there is Paul Taylor's (or is it George Balanchine's?): "I can't think dance. I have to move bodies." Writing is created in the process of doing it. You can't think an essay or book out in advance. You have to put the words down and let the sentences and paragraphs show you where they want to go and where they resist you, as you push them around and tease them into new places.

In desperate need of help, hell-bent for catastrophe. The melting of the polar ice cap, the change in oceanic salinity, the slowing, then cessation of the Atlantic current, the unbelieveable rapidity of a new Ice Age, accompanied by famine then extermination.

So, based on all of the above (which itself has taken me down a path I hadn't foreseen when I started and has taught me something just in the process of throwing those things out there like that for you to read), I guess the main thing I'd say is that writing is a machine for thinking and that, for me, the work, work, work of doing it--the hours, weeks, months, and years--the revisions, changes of mind, and discoveries, are always about trying to find out what I think and feel about something. Not what I think I think, or feel I feel, but what I really think and feel--when all the clichés and stupidity of which I am capable have been wrung out of the sentences. It's impossible to know that in advance. Writing (like all acts of artistic creation) is a process of discovery and the writer must hold him or herself delicately, sensitively open to whatever comes up during that process of exploration, continuously willing to change paths to pursue new material, to go off in a new direction. That's how I wrote this response to you and it's how I write everything.

(And, for my money, you can change the word "writing" in every sentence above to "making art" and everythingwould be equally true--which is to say that the other advice on the site is no different from this advice. It's all the same process. All art, all expression, all deep thinking and feeling work this same way.)

Cheers and best wishes. Tell me something about your own work, if you're a writer.

Ray Carney

Subject: How to save a nation

Hello Mr. Ray Carney I'll try to keep this brief, but I have many important feelings on this: My family has always stressed a spiritual life far above the trivial pursuits of most people. As such, I've had a very different take on movies, books, etc. I discovered Carl Dreyer and Tarkovsky through various books and such, and amazingly I saw Ordet, Day of Wrath, Passion of Jeanne, and Vampyr on the channel TCM and found Andrei Rublev, Mirror, and Solaris at our local Hollywood Video! Jumping ahead: One of my best friends and I had a similar conversation over the human soul which you reference in your Mailbag section. I've always felt strongly in the existence of the soul, God, and Eternity. This is why I've been attracted to Dreyer and Tarkovsky's work (as well as Bresson's, though I've only seen A Man Escaped and Au Hazard Balthazar.)

My father and I, among many others we talk to, all feel like America is going down the tubes in a truly 'spiritual' sense. Not a religious sense (since religion got us into this war as well as many other problems), but a spiritual sense. Movies can't save the world, and I feel I'm off to a good start, but what other films could you recommend to start the 'rebirth of the spirit'? Maybe books, music? Thank you, from the like minded artist of Reagan Molina P.S. I've also been writing since I was 3, aspired to become the next Hitchcock, turned 19, realized my stupidity, now am completely changing my perspective on art and its connection to life. I do make short films and have been talking to my mom about a film idea she had set in our living room and starring me and her, but I doubt anyone outside my family will ever see it. I'm also constantly writing a script on the last year my Grandpa was alive. His suffering was so intense that I'm fascinated. He was full of so much shame, and yet had more strength and poise than spoiled people who's air-conditioning broke. Anyways...

Reagan Molina

RC replies:


Thanks for the thoughtful words.

My site is full of recommendations of films to view and books to read. I have added a new ticket icon in the left menu of most of the inner pages that lists some of the viewing recommendations in one place. I will soon be adding books and other art works to the list. (Click here to go to that page.)

I agree with your words above. Works of art only matter if they help to purify and strengthen our souls, our hearts, our minds, our perceptions That's what art is. Anything else is just stupid, wasteful "entertainment."

Life is not long enough to waste it with that--though, of course, I don't mean that all art has to be dour or grave to matter. Soulful, spiritual work can be wonderfully joyous and affirmative -- and even hilarious. Laughter is not the enemy of spirit -- taking ourselves and our ideas too seriously, too narrowly, too selfishly is. If terrorists and ideologues of all stripes (including right-wing politicians and occupants of the White House, who resemble terrorists in the rigidity of their beliefs and the seriousness with which they take themselves) could laugh at themselves and their beliefs, they wouldn't be such enemies of the spirit.

But here are two specific recommendations: Look at the work of Andrei Tarkovsky and Robert Bresson. Two of the most spiritual artists in all of film. They show us what religious filmmaking in a post-religious age looks like. They show us the power of the soul to change the world.

Oh, and if you are willing to move beyond the realm of film, you might also listen to Puccini and Verdi. If the whole world could listen to their work with real openness and receptivity, it might begin to understand what compassion and love can do to transform all of life. But unfortunately, in America, "entertainment" and "entertainment journalism" fills all the column inches in our newspapers and gets all the attention on television. The spiritual is squeezed out of people's lives in terms of art as much as it is squeezed out of their lives in every other aspect of culture.

Best wishes,

Ray Carney

A note from Ray Carney:

Two of my dearest friends and great filmmaker/actresses Dena DeCola and Karin Wandner wrote me the following note about a screening of their film, Five More Minutes in the Zagreb Film Festival recently. With their note to me, they included a note from Matija Kluck about the screening, which they were not able to attend. (Five More Minutes was screened along with another great film that is well worth viewing: Apart From That.) I include both their note to me and the screening report below. The screening report is a scream.

Read Matija Kluk's email to see what great art does. It messes with our minds. It rocks our world. It kicks our butts. In other words, it drives people nuts and makes them run for the exits. Ain't that great? Ain't that grand? What else could do that to our blasé, apathetic lives? To quote Thatcher Hurd and Baby Mouse: "I love it, I love it, I love it, I do."

--Ray Carney

hey ray,

our short screened in zagreb on october 30th in front of apart from that. we wanted to share an email from the filmmaker who organized this screening.

love and more love,

d & k

matija kluk wrote:

Greetings, my dears.

Five More Minutes and Apart From That were screened yesterday in Zagreb.

I don't know if people were ready for your films, but it was a great feeling of victory in some way. For the first few minutes of Five More Minutes people were laughing and checking each other - Where did we come? What is this shit?- and then, of course, the crazy cut came and the theatre went silent.

I think you blow those minds, but on the other hand, I had a sense that nobody was willing to acknowledge what just happened to them. It's easier for them to dismiss the experience, because the experience itself tricked them. After saying to your girl or a friend how "dumb" it all begun, it's hard to swallow your pride and change your "judging" in the end. That's why I think Five More Minutes is something special. I felt the same way the first time I watched it, but it proved me wrong. I think that's what I'm looking in films anyway- to prove me wrong, 'cause I'm constantly getting in trouble for thinking I know everything.

With not more than few seconds after the closing credits of Five More Minutes: Lost & Brave, Apart From That started. Myself, Luka, my girl, and a few of our friends that already saw your film (a couple of times) went out in the lobby for a smoke. After 15 minutes or so, few people walked out saying: "What the hell this picture is about? A hubbub? I don't know which character want my attention? Stupid." - Ha ha.

I told Igor (a friend who managed the screening) to lock the doors so people must stay inside and see something different. He told me you can't force people to care. Otherwise they would hate it even more. Few more people went out right after that. At the start there was closely to 70 people at screening, but at the end only 20 of them stayed. And absolutely loved Apart From That. An actress from my film Asja (who played the Actress) and her daughter said they want to go home to think things over. All they did after I asked them what they felt was just a head nod and a smile. Some guy told to his girl - "Those were the best two films I've seen this year." His girl didn't say anything.

Must I say that the poster for your films was a still from Apart From That. A still of cows starring at the camera. Igor did it. Title was: NEW AMERICAN FILMS. So you got few more fans here in Zagreb. And a few people that want to kick your ass. If you ever find a way to come and visit us we'll screened them again and watch your backs.

Fuck 'em and feed 'em.


Ray Carney was so taken by Matija's screening report that he wrote him and asked:

Tell me about yourself: Student? Teacher? Worker-filmmaker (sounds Communist or Socialist, eh)? Old? Young? Male? Female? (Don't know the name genders.....sorry.) How many other films? Titles? Aspirations? Loves? Goals? Fears? Dreams?

And remember to keep kicking against the pricks. It's the only way to go. And keep making crazy work. In our crazy world, the only real craziness is sanity,


Matija replied:

Dear Ray,

I'm 24 years old, a male (a boy), Slow Days is my first feature. I did couple of shorts (Instrumentals; Vedran's Short Sick-Leave) that I consider my only film school, since film schools here are pure evil and teachers are worse than the government itself--all drunks who don't have any strength to care for any opinions other than their own. What they need to realize is they don't have any opinions of their own. It's nothing but fear and justification that comes out of them.

My only teachers are basketball coaches I've had in my childhood years. I learned a lot from them and then changed my discipline. Directors I love, hm--Wong Kar Wai, Jean Eustache, Goddard, Cassavetes, Renoir, Leigh, Branko Bauer (late Croatian director), Kiarostami, Majidi, Bergman, Tarkovsky, etc. Too many to mention.

I've worked on Slow Days for more than three years outside the system with no interest to get in. There's a lot of influences I've been struglin' with through all this years (including names above, your book on Cassavetes, Charles Mingus, Public Enemy and thousands more) and refused to finish my film until it's mine, all mine, and from all the creative people I've worked with.

Sometimes I hate people, sometimes I love them, sometimes I hate myself, sometimes I adore myself, sometimes I see a person, sometimes I only see a mass--so I make films with all these feelings.

My dream is to keep on dreaming, keep on loving my work, keep on working, keep seeing values straight, keep seeking for motivation- all that young and old stuff.

My coach once told me - With freedom you have a giant responsibility not to be stupid.

I try.


A followup from filmmakers Dena DeCola and Karin Wandner about the preceding posting with Ray Carney's reply:

love it! thank you!!!!! just got off the phone with randy and jenny (makers of apart from that). we are all so happy you put up matija's kick ass email!

love to you

d & k

RC replies:

Subject: levitation, mediums, ectoplasm, staying crazy

D and K,

You go girls.

Once, a few years ago, Harmony Korine and I cooked up a plan where he would get himself invited onto Charlie Rose and then get me invited along with him as "the critic." The plan was that we would wait until the taping started and then flip over Charlie Rose's ugly big round table and see if they'd broadcast THAT! But... we never got on..... Alas and alack. But I'm still up for table-tipping--in life and in art!


A note from Ray Carney:

Regular reader Jan Philippe Carpio sent the following url to me after searching for "John Cassavetes" on YouTube. Be sure to view both pages that the url brings up.

From: Jan Philippe Carpio

Subject: can it be true?

Did someone upload the whole HUSBANDS film on YouTube?



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