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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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In a previous note (click here to read it), Ray Carney asked for viewing suggestions to add to a new section of the site. Responses will be posted below:

From filmmaker Jan Philippe Carpio, who lives and works in the Philippines:

For my suggestions for the list:* (the film titles are just off the top of my head, most of the stuff they do is GREAT), I'd like to suggest you add the Taiwanese three,
Edward Yang: A One and a Two, A Brighter Summer Day

Hou Hsiao-Hsien: City of Sadness, Goodbye South, Goodbye, Cafe Lumiere, etc.

Tsai Ming-Liang: Rebels of a Neon God, Vive L'Amour, The Hole, The River, What Time is it There?, The Wayward Cloud, Goodbye Dragon Inn

From Belgium,
Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Dardenne Brothers: La Promesse, Rosetta, The Son, The Child

From France,
Jean Vigo: L'Atalante
Jacques Rivette: La Belle Noiseuse is all I've seen, but Donal and you yourself have said he's EXCELLENT, and based on that one film I have seen, yes he is.
Maurice Pialat: Van Gogh and some other stuff I can't recall

From Hungary,
Bela Tarr: Satantango, Weickmeister Harmonies

From Finland,
Aki Kaurismaki: The Man without a Past

And these new young guys I've been hearing good things about:

From Turkey,
Nuri Bilge Ceylan: Distant, Climates

From Mexico,
Carlos Reygadas: Japon, Battle in Heaven

And you should really check out stuff coming from South East Asia. Especially stuff from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and of course, ahem, where I live the Philippines:

Some names and films to look out for from my own country,

Lav Diaz: Batang Westside, Evolution of a Filipino Family
Jeffrey Jeturian: Kubrador (The Bet Collector)
Raya Martin: Indio Nacional
John Torres: Todos Todos Terros

A follow-up note from the indefatigable and always perceptive J.P. Carpio. I haven't checked out the video link (since my Macintosh and dial-up modem are too old and creaky to download video), but recommend what he has done to my readers:

Back again to that list, ooh, I'll send you another list of filmmakers soon when I'm less busy.

A lot of exciting work being done in Asia this young century.

A lot of joyfully insane people creating. =)

And just letting you know ahead of time, and this isn't a plug. I'll be sending a link to you and to everyone in my mailbox to view the 6 minute version of my film on the Guimaras Oil Spill tragedy on YouTube. (Click here to view the clip.)

For info on that you can go to this comprehensive blog:

It's a posting anyone can view.

The island of Guimaras needs all the help they can get.

You, Donal, Peter Green and I and whoever else (maybe Rob Nilsson "hint") should get together sometime, someday soon, over some alcohol or herbal tea. Great letter by the way from Dena DeCola and Karin Wandner, and Matija Kluk! (Click here to read it.)

I forwarded it to my two leads and sole crew member in Palangga (the beloved), and my girlfriend.

I told them I'm hoping and aiming for a similar reaction with our film.

With of course reminding myself not to be arrogant about it or doing it for the sake of doing it. Meaning, plain shock value for its own exploitative sake.

And just thought of something, for the list, another filmmaker I saw as per your recommendation, who as you wrote about Leigh, also "works within the conventions of standard narrative film" to create his art: Claude Sautet.

I've seen The Things in Life, Vincent, Francois, Paul and Others and A Heart in Winter.

It's incredible what he can do within a conventional narrative structure.

A Heart in Winter is my personal favorite.

That painful scene where Emmanuel Beart's character goes after Stephan (I forgot the actor's name) at the restaurant to get back at him for playing with her feelings was just so ... so ...

TRIVIA: I've learned that the actor who played the heart in winter violin craftsman was also the live-in partner/boyfriend of Emmanuelle Beart at the time.

I don't know if they're still together up to now.

An interesting behind-the-scenes dynamic I'm certain.

I've been screening Cassavetes for my girlfriend Yvette and now she can't get enough of him.


She really thought CHINESE BOOKIE was great, but she couldn't quite get into it also at the same time. I explained to her maybe it's the barrier of "not being able to relate". I've just realized that us not being able to relate to a character in a film can also be a good thing because we may learn something new about our own selves from this character or learn something about someone different from us.

She loved the three other films.

And I'm saving FACES for last which we should see unleashed in the next few days.

On another note, I was pretty wrong about OPENING NIGHT. Based on your book, I know John didn't get exactly what he wanted (No Bette Davis and Seymour Cassel, Gena pressuring to get her way especially with the ending), and when I first saw it, I thought it was his most conventional of the films included in the set.

But after seeing it with Yve (the last time I saw it was with my actress last year), man was I wrong.

New layers in it opened up to me that I hadn't noticed before. It was hitting me in a personal way that it hadn't hit me before.

(I think joining that summer beginning acting workshop and also hanging out with theater people here helped me appreciate it more as well.)

It's a great work.

Similar thing happened with SHADOWS and it just keeps getting better and better every time I see it.

Okay, now I've gone into another endurance letter ...

anyway ... let's keep going, loving!

Thanks again for everything Professor. trying to stay true


RC replies:

How could I have forgotten to mention it? I absolutely ADORE Claude Sautet's work. He's the Renoir of our generation. Truth as a master shot. Truth in long-take.

As far as the viewing order for John Cassavetes' films goes, I always tell festival programmers and theater owners to begin with Shadows. It's a limitation of most young people (me too when I was young!) that they "identify" with figures their own age on screen and go blank if some old coot is cavorting about. So Shadows is the way to reach the younger generation. After that, I recommend Minnie and Moskowitz. A little tougher and harder (both aesthetically and interpersonally), but still fairly "young" in sensibility. After that, the path forks: For women, (again that hateful "identification" thing is still operant) Woman Under the Influence; for men (same stupid need to "see themselves" on film) Husbands will probably work better. (Mikey and Nicky, which Cassavetes had much creative input into, and which almost counts as one of his films, could optionally be inserted at this point for men.) Then it's on to deepest darkest Cassavetes, accessible only with a machete and a compass in hand, the viewer in danger of being eaten alive, bored to tears, or lost and never found again at every moment, with this long, hard sequence of twenty-thousand foot climbs: Faces, then Lovestreams, then Opening Night, then Killing of a Chinese Bookie. I'd skip Gloria and Big Trouble altogether.

I can redeem them by showing where Cassavetes had input and where he didn't, but they are not really "vintage" JC.

Forgive me for calling "identification" (looking for and finding yourself in a movie) "hateful," but I must say that it is one of the shortcomings of human nature (and film festival and college student viewership) that it understands things and people that are similar to itself and doesn't care about things or people that are different. This is, in a nutshell, the whole problem of the world. If we understood and really cared about others, most of our problems would go away. But we "identify" only with characters, situations, and events we are familiar with. So when I see audiences (including students in my own classes) doing this, I go nuts! Young people have to learn how to understand old people. Old people have to learn how to understand young people. Intellectual professors have to learn how to understand washer-women just like washer-women have to learn to understand intellectual professors. That's the secret of life. Not seeing from YOUR OWN point of view, but seeing from SOMEONE ELSE'S. And that's why the movies I love, and the movies I seek out are not about me or anyone like me, but someone entirely different. I go to movies, I go to plays, I go to all art to meet people who are different from me, who function on completely different wavelengths. That is what drives me up a wall when audiences of gays adore films about and identify with gays, lesbians with lesbians, women with women, men with men, vegetarians with vegetarians, etc. etc. ad nauseum. That's not learning. That's having our prejudices and clichés reinforced and ratified.

For all of these reasons, Faces is the greatest, most complex, most profound film in the Cassavetes list. It requires the greatest emotional stretch and intellectual challenge--plunging into "otherness" much further than we normally go---appreciating, yes even loving and admiring, people VERY different from ourselves.We must learn to love things we normally hate, to embrace people we normally avoid, to accept and understand situations we ourselves have not experienced. That is why it takes a gradual approach, with lots of lower, less strenuous preliminary climbs (Shadows, Minnie, Woman, etc.) up less steep, less forbidding forms of "otherness" preceding it. Inexperienced climbers who attempt Faces too early will only fall to their deaths.

Thanks for all, JP. I appreciate all of your input and support on the site.

Ray Carney

Donal Foreman, the talented young filmmaker who wrote two essays that grace other pages of the site, offered this list of viewing suggestions to augment the list another reader provided. (Click here to read the explanation of the "Viewing Suggestions" list.)

Hi Ray,

Some ideas for the list. I'd be interested to see who you know or like yourself of the following. JP beat me to the bunch on a lot of my go-to geniuses so here's the remainder that comes to mind:

In recent cinema....

* MORVERN CALLAR, Lynne Ramsay.
* A PERFECT COUPLE, Nobuhiro Suwa.
* KEANE, Lodge Kerrigan.
* ALL THE REAL GIRLS, David Gordon Greene. (Occasionally verges on preciousness, but when it's good, it's good---and the guys who made it are fans of Cassavetes on Cassavetes too.)
* THE RETURN, Andrei Zvyagintsev.
* FIVE FEET HIGH AND RISING, Peter Sollett. (A half-hour short later adapted into the not-as-brilliant feature RAISING VICTOR VARGAS.)
* More Kiarostami: TEN, THE WIND WILL CARRY US, THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES, WHERE IS MY FRIEND'S HOUSE?, CLOSE UP. Maybe some Mohsen Makmahlbaf and Samira Makmahlbaf too. Iran is a happening place.
* More Hou Hsiao-Hsien: MILLENIUM MAMBO, THE PUPPETMASTER, A TIME TO LIVE AND A TIME TO DIE....THREE TIMES is a good introduction but not his best.
* More Tarkovsky: MIRROR, his best in my opinion. And let's not forget ANDREI RUBLEV.
* Also one more Leigh: FOUR DAYS IN JULY---simply because it's one of the best Irish-set movies ever made.

From many, many years ago...
* SUNRISE, Murnau.
* ACCATONE, MAMMA ROMA, and possibly others by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
* REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, Nicolas Ray----and probably more by him.
* QUERELLE, FEAR EATS THE SOUL and VERONIKA VOSS, Rainer Werner Fassbinder---and probably more.
* AGUIRRE WRATH OF GOD, Werner Herzog---and probably more.

Now for the controversial ones:
I say Godard should be up there. Whatever about the 60s pop stuff and the '70s political guff, his last few films---THE ORIGINS OF THE 21st CENTURY, ELOGE DE L'AMOUR, NOTRE MUSIQUE----are absolutely extraordinary. One of the most important filmmakers working today.

And here's the real tough sell: I'm going to lay my cards and say that Terence Malick, particularly in his most recent two, THE THIN RED LINE and THE NEW WORLD, is a genius. Malick is, as far as I can see, in a very unique position in being probably the only truly personal, individually-minded director who can make films entirely his own, despite star casts, epic settings and blockbuster budgets. THIN RED LINE and THE NEW WORLD are both fascinatingly complex and unconventional films that somehow overcome all these restrictions. I know he risks prettification with his images at times, but I think he falls into that trap very rarely. I say the man's really up to something.

A few more I'm not sure about but I'll put forward anyway: How about Joseph Mankiewics? I've only seen ALL ABOUT EVE and THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA, but there seems to be something going on there. Howard Hawks? Vincente Minnelli? (I'll stand by THE BAND WAGON anyday, hand on heart.) Three more names I've had limited encounters with, but seem up to something: Philippe Garrrel, James Fotopoulos, and Peter Tscherkassky. And Frank Ross' friend Joe Swanberg seems pretty cool as well.

The End. I'll leave Ford, Hitchcock and Scorsese for another day....

Now while I'm writing: I asked you this a while ago, but I don't think I ever got an answer: Do you think there's a large proportion of humanity that is simply incapable of ever really appreciating art, no matter what? It came into my head again reading some of your inspiring comments on the mailbag page about the socially and politically transformative potential of great art.

Another wonder: Apart from Eric Clapton, you seem to have kept quite silence about contemporary music. Are there any recent pop, rock, electronic, folk guys doing it for you these days? After a session of Bach, do you ever switch over to Aphex Twin, Bonnie Prince Billy or Joanna Newsom? Just wondering....

Keep up the good work on the letters pages, it never disappoints,


RC replies:

Thanks Donal. Forgive the brevity of this reply. I'm straight out with work, and have to claw my way out of a pile of paper even to see the top inch of the monitor on my computer (that's all that's still visible) and read your email.

(I'm a wage slave, after all.) So unfortunately I don't have time to respond in detail to your suggestions and queries, at least at the moment, except to say: Great list. Thanks. Thanks very much. And thanks, above all, for "leaving Hitchcock, Ford, and Scorsese for another day" !!! Ah, shucks, just joshing ya. Keep those cards and letters coming!


P.S. In partial answer to your: "Do you think there's a large proportion of humanity that is simply incapable of ever really appreciating art?" -- All I'd say in response is why aren't more of the names you, J.P., and the other reader list as "viewing suggestions" better known? How many of them do you think the average person has even heard of? Why is that? Can we blame it all on critics and reviewers and stupid writers for newspapers and magazines? Don't "a large proportion of humanity" have to take at least a little responsibility for this state of affairs? I've been re-reading I.F. Stone lately: Here's what he has to say on a related issue: "The main obstacle to the creation of a well-informed public is its own indifference. In every country thoughtful papers which conscientiously try to cover the news lag behind the circulation of those that peddle sex and sensationalism. This is as true in Paris and London as in New York, and if Moscow ever permits a free privately owned press, Isvestia and Pravda will fall far behind any paper which prints the latest on a commissar's love nest... Another obstacle is that this has always been a conformist country: Main Street and Babbitt--and de Tocqueville long before Sinclair Lewis--held a faithful mirror to our true nature. It doesn't take much deviation from Rotary Club norms in the average American community to get oneself set down as queer, radical, and unreliable......."

Dear Ray Carney,

A while back I asked you about spirituality and movies. You recommended that, in addition to Tarkovsky and Bresson, I listen to Puccini and Verdi. I quickly went to my library and did so. 'Turandot', even before I learned the story, really moved me.

However, as I am relatively new to watching movies of this artistic caliber (Tarkovsky, Bresson, etc.), I am wondering: How do you watch these films? Seems like a silly question, but is it the acting (body language, etc.) that you focus on? Are there particular items of interest for each director? I'm pretty new at this, so forgive my naivete.

Reagan Molina


It's really impossible to answer your question in an email. Art Speech is a language as complex as Latin, Greek, or Hebrew, and what you are asking me is more or less to tell you how to understand it. What makes it even more complex is that each artist changes the language, bends it, pushes it to serve his or her needs. (I leave off the further complication that each separate art or genre--painting, opera, symphony pieces, chamber pieces, ballet, modern dance, etc.--speak different languages.) So even in film alone, and confined to feature film, each artist changes the terms, the emphases, the focuses every time he or she creates a work. (Every art does this. The mistake many of my students in my literature courses make is to think that because they speak "English" they can understand the language Henry James or William Faulkner or Emily Dickinson speak. James and Faulkner and Dickinson and all the others speak their own versions of Art Speech just as different from what appears in the newspaper as English as Beethoven speaks differently from Britney Spears.) Confused? Sorry. Them's just the facts, ma'am. Every filmmaker emphasizes and accents things differently. Totally differently, with different colors, flavors, tones, moods, qualities. Only hack filmmakers (and hack artists in general) speak the "common tongue." Everyone can understand Hollywood movies at first glance, precisely because they ARE NOT ART, because they do not change the language or use it in any interesting, original way. (In my metaphor, if you are not hopelessly lost by this point: Hollywood is the newspaper of film. That's why it is not worth our time and trouble to discuss or review or attend.)

So the only way to answer your question and teach you "art speech" on a case by case basis would be for me to have you to attend my classes. But I can offer two other positive responses: If you want to know what I have gotten out of certain films, read my books and essays (Click here to go to the Bookstore section of the site). They are not as "hands on" as my classes, but should give you an idea. And here is an even better option: Ask the artists to teach you. It is in the nature of all great art that it creates its own audience by educating it about what to notice, what to care about, how to feel about it, how to think and perceive. That's what art does. It gives us the new language, the new ways of feeling and thinking, but it also--in the process of providing those new forms of knowledge--teaches them to us. Reading Henry James's The Sacred Fount and Awkward Age teaches us how to read those books, how to read them differently from reading the newspaper. Viewing Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice and Nostalghia and The Mirror and Stalker teaches us how to view them, how to feel and think in a Tarkovskian way. So if you can't come to my classes (and you can't I realize), and you can't read my books, then..... let the artists be your teachers. They are the greatest teachers who ever lived. Much greater than any professor in a university. That is what it is to be an artist. To teach the world new ways of feeling and thinking and being.

One necessary post-script: Note that to do the above, to let the art teach you its ways of being, you must stay open, open, open. And humble, humble, humble. And not try to bring YOUR ways of knowing to the work. That is what many viewers do. They want Tarkovsky or James or Bresson to speak the ways THEY think art should speak ("it's too slow," "it's too boring," "it's too hard," it's not my cuppa tea," etc.). You must approach art the way you approach a lover or God or guru or anything supremely valuable. You must let it teach you, not try to impose your understandings on it.

Happy viewing! You're launching yourself on a great adventure.


A note from Ray Carney:

A related question and response follows. I quote only a very brief excerpt from a longer letter and response. I recommended to a reader viewing Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice. She wrote back and offered a few responses to the video. I responded to her observation:

The Sacrifice was so deep it would take me forever to plumb its depths. A few emotional responses for you though, I can at least do that. The pacing was so much slower than I'm used to, I was very frustrated. The people around Alexander were so wooden and distant, unconnected and unemotional. Everything seemed in slow motion, suspended in time. But I kept thinking you recommended it, and that the style was trying to tell me something. What was it? ....

Jane C.

RC responded:

Deep insights about the style of the film. Let the style teach you how to understand it. Don't fight it. Don't impose your rhythms on it. The slowness is critical. Deep time versus shallow time. Acquaintance (getting to know something slowly) versus quick knowledge. Learning about something versus being told what it means. Experiencing versus thinking. We have a button-pushing sense of knowledge. Most other films pander to it. But Tarkovsky wants us to move beyond it. His way of knowing is living into, living with. His films show us how real life is dramatic versus how most other films are dramatic. Think walking in the woods. Think of taking photographs and looking at them later. How slow those things are. Accelerated pacing is a convention. We are in a world that wants speed and quick answers. Then there is a whole other exploration of magic and reality. Magic IN reality. The magic OF reality. That's all totally different from magic as an escape from reality, which is what most filmmakers give us.....


A note from Ray Carney:

I wanted to call attention to a new collection of essays that has just been published: The Best of I.F. Stone (Public Affairs Press). "Izzy" Stone was one of the great American independent journalists from an era that antedated internet blogs. He published, at his own expense, his own weekly "newspaper/newsletter," I.F. Stone's Weekly, for three decades, from 1953 to 1971. The new book collects some of the most interesting pieces he wrote, many of which presciently describe the America of today as well as they described the America of his own day. For what it is worth, he was (along with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Noam Chomsky, Paul Krasner, Richard Poirier, C. Wright Mills, and a few others) one of the intellectual heroes of my youth. I highly recommend his writing.

Here is a brief excerpt from one of his essays that will give you a taste of his Emersonian wit and insight: "Lifelong dissent has more than acclimated me cheerfully to defeat. It has made me suspicious of victory. I feel uneasy at the very idea of a movement. I see insight degenerating into a dogma, and fresh thoughts freezing into a lifeless party line. Those who set out nobly to be their brother's keeper sometimes end up by becoming his jailer. Every emancipation has in it the seeds of a new slavery, and every truth easily becomes a lie. But these perspectives, which seem so irrefutably clear from a pillar in the desert, are worthless to those enmeshed in the crowded struggle......"

You will have to get the book to see how the passage ends. I celebrate the life and work of a true American patriot and hero--someone far greater than any of our recent politicians and occupants of the White House.

From Reagan Molina (see the letter and response above):

Thank you for your swift advice, your direction. However, I'm afraid you've steered me right into the thickest swamp imaginable. I'm not complaining, but "adventure" is right. An adventure for the soul! The only one worth taking I suppose. Maybe I'll see you at the end,

Reagan Molina

RC replies:

In this world or the next, I guess. Though I agree with Thoreau when he said on his deathbed "one world at a time....."




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