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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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Subject: Chekhov

Dear Dr. Carney,

Thank you for the hours of enjoyment and stimulation I've had reading and considering your ideas on art. I followed your advice and began a serious study of Chekhov's plays. This is a agonizing one-way trip. But then you know that.

The other thing I will mention is your ideas on truth telling make me really uncomfortable. Thank you.


Scott Evans


Tell me more about yourself. Reading is great, but also try to see Chekhov if you can. As many of the plays as you can. As often as you can. Near me, in Providence Rhode Island I just saw a great production of The Cherry Orchard at the Trinity Repertory Theater. And I am planning on going with a friend to see it again at a Boston theater (the Huntington Theater) in January. It's wonderful to see different productions of the same work. I've spent many years traveling around the world watching different versions of La Boheme. Have seen scores of productions: from La Scala to the Met to the infamous Linda Ronstadt production in Washington DC years ago. Seeing different versions of the same play (or opera or whatever) will free you from "logocentrism"--the belief that the word takes precedence over our unique, personal performance of the word.

Glad to make you uncomfortable. As my high school football coach used to tell us: "No pain, no gain." I used to puzzle over that as a 15 year old. I  had no idea what he meant until it suddenly became clear when I read William Blake, who put it another way: "No progression without contraries."

Keep struggling. Don't give in to comfort,




Subject: middlebury student saying hello


total blast from the past here....My name is Andrew Creighton and I took a couple film and English classes with you in the early-mid eighties at Middlebury. I particularly liked the class  you taught on John Cassavetes. I just heard a song and thought of you. The song is "What's your take on Cassavetes" and it's by a band called Le Tigre (check them out at: The song is pretty good in a lo-fi kind of way.   I realize that you may have already heard the song...I think it's an interesting illustration of how Cassavetes has made his way in the popular psyche.  

That's it! I live in Nelson, BC and enjoy looking out my window at big mountains.  


Andrew Creighton

Midd. '84


Wow. I remember you. Those were the days, eh?

Thanks for the song reference. I knew it, of course, There are five or six Cassavetes songs in circulation. But I'm not sure any of them represent (what you call) "the popular psyche." I think rather that artists are drawn to other important artists along a mysterious path for mysterious reasons. Critics aren't. They are too dumb. Reviewers aren't. Ditto. Professors aren't. Same story. But somehow artists "sniff out" other artists with psychological problems and are attracted to them. Other weird misfits. Other visionaries. That's the real history of art. The history that's not in the books. The underground history. Geniuses recognize each other by sniffing, like dogs. While the professors, the critics, the cognoscenti, and the hoi poloi just keep walking in the same old ruts forever, like cows. They'll never learn. And the geniuses don't have to learn. They teach themselves by following their noses.

Keep sniffing,


Independent filmmaker and good friend Jon Jost mailed out his annual Christmas newsletter recently. For those who are as interested in his life and work as I am, I include most of the text below:

Lincoln, Nebraska


Yep another season coming up, and time for another update.....

Winter almost officially here, certainly all around from Denver to Chicago there's been tangible proof, though the snow managed to skip us here in Lincoln. Just cold here. On TV Big Red is down 14-7 to arch-rival Oklahoma. Opps just shifted to 21-7. I guess it'll be a quiet night here later on. Marcella is off seeing some dance I had to bow out of early owing to intolerable pain - of which in a moment.

We've been here since October, though I had a 12 day trip to Europe - a week teaching at Centro Sperimentale, the Italian national film school, and then 5 days in Rotterdam working on a film about Arabian history with a Syrian friend. Marcella stayed here. While in Europe my late spring case of piriformis syndrome returned, and now the stretching exercises that cured it then don't work. Lots of pure pain and lacking any other option, eating pain-killers while trying to find a way to shake this. Literature on it says it is elusive, usually can be "fixed" but I thought I'd licked it before. Oh well, popping at the seams goes with the spins around the sun. Meantime, having taken a modest gamble in coming here - had a grant for a residency lined up, but it required matching funds which when we came here was still far from the case - a week ago the rest fell into place, and so we're here to May, have a place to live in and will get some modest pay. Must teach a little - lecture on digital media - and do some other things, but for the most part it will be my time to do what I can manage. Hoping to shoot two features, and do some installation stuff (a gallery here will do one in March, and working on getting the Sheldon Museum here to nod), along with edit some other things done before. Should be kept very busy.

Marcella and I had a good time coming here - a very zig-zag journey from Portland Oregon through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and S Dakota, a 1500 miles trip turned to 3000. Slow, seeing lots of things - Snake River Canyon, Sawtooth Mountains, Missoula and Butte Montana visiting friends not seen in 20 years, then Yellowstone, northern Wyoming to Devils Tower, Black Hills and then the slow long way through the Nebraska Sand Hills. Visit to Mount Rushmore - not sure how many times I went by while in area - was a grim revelation: the viewing platform has blossomed into a full-fledged chunk of fascist architecture that would fit well in Mussolini's Rome or Adolph's Nuremberg. It has the same symmetrical set up, looming columns arrayed in that distinctly oppressive order, draped with flags of the States, and then opens out onto a view of the faces carved up on the mountain. Ironically the effect is to shrink the mountain, the staging being far too heavy for the on-stage act. The visiting tourists did the usual behavior, which at least was a relief. That was back in September, a two week meander giving me a chance to renew my familiarity with this region, and friends who live there, along with seeing some of the drastic changes that have happened in 20 years. And the pleasure of sharing it with Marcella who learned to like rare steak, had a plate of Bull Fry (testicles thereof) and other very American pleasures. She liked it all.

And she likes Lincoln, which in fact is a nice place, with some good microbreweries, restaurants and a nice little arts/cafe scene. We have a good place to live in, free access to the cinema a 5 minute stroll away, and lots to do. And we seem to be solving getting her a Green Card and stabilizing her situation here should we decide to stay in the US. She's been editing things - most recently some material from a project in the Sand Hills - a remote area up by the S Dakota boarder, sparsely populated ranchland where we've been going to help students, aged 4-12, in little one-room schoolhouses, and their teachers to use DV cameras and how to edit, for them to make a kind of portrait of this passing reality. State is going to close them down for economic reasons. She made a nice 40 minute work of their very messy shooting, but in her hands it is quite interesting and informative in a playful way. We go back again in February for 5 days, and again in April. When all is said and done hope to have something the regional public TV can show.

In the last few days we finished up newest film, OVER HERE, about Iraq war vet returned to US. A kind of companion piece for HOMECOMING. It came out very strong and I'll send it to the Berlin festival (might be too late but I suspect they'll take a look and if so, likely take). Though it is clear for me that for the moment, there is no "market" whatsoever for anything I do - the film world has shifted so much that to even think of distribution, a TV sale, etc. is a waste of time. Which in turn is also liberating - now I make what I want to do, with no regard for thinking of some potential market: there is none, so I am free to do what I wish [and starve to death: there was an article about 6 weeks ago in the New York Times that lead off with my name, something about the tough times of so-called "independent" filmmaker, though their definition slid rather widely all over the place; thanks to a little slippage in his chronology the writer suggested that after a 10 year stay in europe I returned to the USA a few years ago to live in Montana with no electricity, etc, and dumpster-dive....oh what's 3 decades these days in the press?). It is a vaguely curious pyschological state to spend a life doing something, and in some eyes doing it well, only to have it all invalidated at the conclusion: don't make a zillion bucks we don't care. End of discourse in our brave market economy new world. Money talks and bullshit walks, the old All-American mantra. Anyway we'll send OVER HERE out to the festivals, and carry on to the next things.

Which for the moment look like this: an installation at a gallery here in March; maybe something lining up at the Sheldon Museum here; shoot a few features between now and May, edit a few things from the past. And await word about a residency in Boston (Radcliffe-Harvard) for which I am given to think I have a good chance. If that occurs, would mean moving to Boston in September, and a very nice year there - good pay, no teaching obligation, just do my work. If so it will be a long essay film about America, number three after SPEAKING DIRECTLY and PLAIN TALK AND COMMON SENSE - to be titled UNREQUITED. And if so, we will probably spend the summer traveling in US, shooting. Though not until we take a little trip to Korea where we have to do a job interview for a serious teaching offer there - Yonsei University, apparently their best. In Seoul - a city (of 20 million) both Marcella and I liked on our visits, and had said we'd be happy to live in. Am told the job interview would be a formality and that the job is more or less a sure thing. [I will believe when I see, however]. It would involve 6 hours a week teaching, and pay nicely. Can take up in autumn 07 if no Harvard, otherwise in 08. So, hypothetically we're a bit secure for the next few years. However, we must wait to March and then May to be sure about these. It will be nice if both happen, making a little glimpse of "security" for a few more revolutions of our solar friend. And given the popping seams in body a little cushion of a fiscal sort might be handy - I have zero health, life, or other than minimal auto insurance. The story about the squirrel that saved up for winter....

Meantime over the summer arrived a packet of legal notices from Portugal, announcing that formally custody of daughter Clara, unseen now for 5 years and 4 months, not a word directly of from or about here, has been made to Teresa. Allegedly I am to pay the costs of this ruling, and to pay monthly sums to help subsidize this crime (I will not). And allegedly I have visiting rights, though it is transparent that Teresa would never cooperate, and the Portuguese juvenile courts in this case (and others) never back up these orders. Hence officially I've been notified that Clara will not see her father - if ever again - until she contacts me, at a later age, and asks. Or I do so after she is old enough to do as she wants. To say the arrival of these rulings were painful is to understate it by far; but it was expected, and somewhere in the last few years I have made whatever internal peace one can with the fates. The film PASSAGES signaled this to me, a bit of a surprise since I didn't realize it while I was making it, only afterward. Here is a letter from someone in Portland, a true film viewer, about the film:

"I ruined my old DVD player trying to get your Passages to play. God in His Infinite Mercy led me to a replacement that plays your gorgeous, heartfelt film perfectly. The film seems, if anything, more extraordinary now than when I first saw it.

Experimental stuff is mannerism unless it's expressive. Your Passages is to-the-bone for you and, also, for me. It is a WHOLE thing.

Not that you will listen to me, and not that you necessarily should, but the prose introduction about your ordeal with the Portuguese system: Would it be so harmful to put this at the end of the film? Subsequent viewings--and people will WANT to see this film again--will have the effect you want, because what came last at the first viewing will be first in the re-viewer's mind at the second viewing and all viewings thereafter; but just once the viewer will have that intoxicating experience of having to rush through the film in her or his mind upon that passionate disclosure. You probably considered this and rejected it; but it's a thought.

The film is beautiful beyond belief--and searingly human. I say what I said before: What a gift to Clara! "Passages" is everything you might have hoped it to be, given that reality sometimes imposes unconscionable limits on us and our art.

However, now I can do the job I promised to do (within the limitations of geography and the people I know). I am going to share your great Passages to the end of my days. Each occasion will give me another occasion to take the film in. I will test the notion of its inexhaustible beauty and humanity."

So Dennis wrote. Others have, I think sincerely, said they have felt similarly. It is in no way though a compensation for Clara or for me. I am presently starting to edit, again, PICCOLI MIRACOLI, a film which I hope will be as expressive of the joy of the time it depicts - Clara's first 3 and a half years, an infant and then little girl, growing, being loved and loving. It is not easy at all to face now but I need to get it done. Along with many other things.

Of course that assumes a certain larger sanity in the world, which despite the election, which counter to virtually everyone I know, all of whom exuded doomgloom in the face of my perhaps misplaced America optimism (rare for me) about it, still looks rather dicey. Perhaps America is on a course-correction, but I suspect it will be way too little way too late. Despite the rejection implied in the election of Bush policies, and despite the Baker Band-Aid report, I think the hard-noses who cooked up this imperialist scheme - permanent bases in Iraq to hold and control the oil being the real reason - will be loath to give up their real aims, that is, until the last GI is helicoptered out of a beleaguered Green Zone and the other 5 huge bases that have been and continue to be built. But that is just humanoid idiot behavior. Just wait until the Ross ice-shelf collapses, and desertification here, and loss of coastal lands there all collude to equal the biggest bust ever on a human endeavor.You think a fence along the Mexican border will do the job ?! Ha. The dollar, in case you hadn't noticed is properly doing a shrinking act as we borrow to pay for our little adventure with George in Iraq, nevermind our seemingly mindless appetite for gizmos of all sorts eagerly provided by our asian friends who likewise prop up our gargantuan personal, corporate and government debits. While it is difficult to convey it to my younger friends for whom the concept of poverty is like talking about life on Mars, one can only imagine what will happen when, like in '29, the economy goes poof, and all of one's assumptions vanish over night.The housing bubble is fast deflating, and taking with it all the attached assumptions. Someday the credit card companies, like China, Japan and others, will call in their debts from Uncle Sam, and you and me. Someday, and likely now sooner than later, this house of illusions will come, as they ever must, tumbling down. Bye-bye I-podville. Hello Bushville....

Anyway seasonal ho ho's to those who like such things. I duck and cover as best I can for this.

Best and kindly drop a note. And if you'd rather be dropped out of these just let me know. Want to tidy up my bloated email address list anyway.

Happy seasonal follies

jon and marcella

PS: Attached is text of an article in NY Times about a month and some ago, along with text of my letter they published in response.

The text of the NY Times article about independent filmmaking follows, along with Jon's reply, written as a letter to the editor:

Copyright 2006. The New York Times. All rights reserved.

Survival Tips for the Aging Independent Filmmaker


The New York Times

October 1, 2006

JON JOST might be considered the epitome of the aging, alienated and aggrieved independent film director. He is sitting in a borrowed New York apartment in hand-me-down clothes, doesn’t have a place to live and has no visible means of support, other than a coming arts residency at the University of Nebraska.

“Most people from my generation became teachers long ago,” Mr. Jost said.

For the past four decades Mr. Jost, 63, has been making films on shoestring budgets with no-name casts that almost nobody outside of European film festivals ever sees. Perhaps the closest he has come to popular awareness was All the Vermeers in New York (1990). Since then he spent a decade in Europe toiling away in relative obscurity and then moved to Montana, where for four years he scrounged from garbage cans and lived with a single mother and her daughter in one room with no heat or running water. His latest address was Portland, Ore., where he stayed at the house of one of the actresses he cast in his most recent film, “Homecoming,” which he is still trying to find a festival home for domestically — forget about distribution. His income, such as it is, comes principally from selling DVD’s of his work on the Internet.

“I can’t say I’m happy not making a living after 40 years in the business,” Mr. Jost said. “I’m not independently wealthy. I’m independently poor.”

Mr. Jost’s plight and perseverance constitute an extreme version of the mostly sideways career path followed by many of the generation of independent filmmakers who made a splash in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. When these directors, mostly now in their 40’s and 50’s, got started, the indie business was full of mom-and-pop operations with nickel-and-dime aspirations. Now the corner stores have been edged out by studio specialty divisions with far larger appetites and needs. Geoffrey Gilmore, the director of the Sundance Film Festival, said that in the early 90’s an independent film was considered a hit if it grossed $1 million. Now it’s $25 million.

These elevated expectations have proved to be a problem for many (though not all) of the filmmakers who chose to stay close to their indie roots, as opposed to, say, Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects” to X-Men) and Christopher Nolan (Memento to Batman Begins).

Today, to keep working, these filmmakers need stars.

“The biggest change has been the casting,” said Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol), 49. “We had a free hand until Hollywood stars became interested. It’s a huge problem. We used to be able to draw from a large pool.”

The producer Ted Hope (American Splendor) seconded that notion. “Just to get above $2 million you have to cast certain names,” he said. “Ten or 15 years ago you could make a film for $1 million and get a release. Specialized distribution has now become a science. They’re not looking for singles.”

Mr. Hope added that singles hitters like Hal Hartley (The Unbelievable Truth) and Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Doll House) have also had a hard time because their audiences have dropped away, though both have films coming up (Hartley’s is Fay Grim, Solondz’s is untitled). They might be stars in the indie world, Mr. Hope said, but audiences just won’t flock to a Jim Jarmusch film for an anomie fix or to a Solondz movie for a dose of discomfort (or disorientation).

“If I were starting out now, I would be a producer for the Internet,” Mr. Hope said. As he suggested, it’s tough for longtime producers of indie films too. Christine Vachon, who has worked for years with indie filmmakers like Mr. Solondz, Ms. Harron and Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven), said the struggle to get money for three of her most recent films, Mr. Haynes’s I’m Not There, Tommy O’Haver’s American Crime and Tom Kalin’s Savage Grace, was “soul deadening.” She said that some of this agony is a consequence of a conservative cultural climate that resists experimentation, a thesis she elaborates on in her new book, A Killer Life: How an Independent Film Producer Survives Deals and Disasters in Hollywood and Beyond.

Comparing the landscape now with the 90’s, she said, “it feels like a different cultural environment.”

The director Finn Taylor (The Darwin Awards) pointed to a new aesthetic conformity. “I feel like the indie genre has developed the same predictable subgroups that the studios have,” he said. “Screenwriters play it structurally safe: interconnectivity of stories, time shifts, following quirky characters.”

Of course the movie business, no matter what the scale, is inherently unstable, and so are the people in it. Mr. Gilmore said that there is an indie equivalent of box office poison, “a person who takes a script that has sex appeal and turns it into something marginal, esoteric.”

It’s also true that a director’s interests change as he or she gets older; audiences may or may not follow, but the filmmaker’s vision is almost always guaranteed to require a larger canvas and more money.

“If you’re in your 40’s, you’re going to do a movie that’s more expensive than what you made in your 20’s,” said Mr. Taylor, who is 48. “The story you want to tell is bigger.” In some ways, then, independent filmmaking may be a young person’s game. It is certainly easier when there is no family to support. And pulling together projects can be debilitating, especially now that budgetary thresholds, casting requirements and narrative norms must be met. Mr. Taylor said that one reason he has never had a family is that these demands are so all consuming.

“I’ve been engaged, had long-term girlfriends,” he said. “But making films has taken a lot of my time. It’s hard to maintain a relationship. For me it would have been difficult to pull off the nuclear-family thing. My crew is my family.”

Mr. Jost said, “It precludes you from having a life so that you can make movies that might be of interest.”

Mr. Taylor said he had managed to get by between projects with money he has been given by studios to develop scripts. The indie-film godfather John Sayles (Return of the Secaucus Seven) takes frequent jobs as a script doctor for other people’s films, just because they pay the bills. Other filmmakers, like the documentarian D. A. Pennebaker, eke out a living from the royalties on their earlier work. Mr. Pennebaker said that he and his partner Richard Leacock for years lived off the proceeds of their music documentaries Don’t Look Back and Monterey Pop.

“They kept us in business,” said Mr. Pennebaker, now 81. “Still do. How we made it through the 70’s is a mystery to me. I don’t know how we survived.”

Some filmmakers have managed to find work between work, notably on cable. Alan Poul, a Six Feet Under producer, used to troll Sundance for quirky talent, and has hired, among others, Ms. Harron, Lisa Cholodenko, Rose Troche, Michael Cuesta, Miguel Arteta and Nicole Holofcener. The producer Tom Fontana has cherry-picked indie filmmakers for his television projects, including Homicide: Life on the Street and Oz.

“I like doing television,” saidMs. Harron, who added that she didn’t know where she would be without it. “I’ve learned so much from it technically. I enjoy doing something that isn’t mine. And it’s only a month.”

Ms. Harron, who has directed Oz as well as The L Word and Big Love for cable television, said she enjoyed the process. Working within established aesthetic parameters, with actors who know their characters better than she does, is, she says, a “corrective” for director’s ego.

Another filmmaker who has found both a lucrative and technically satisfying way to make a living outside his chosen profession is the documentarian Errol Morris. Over the past decade, in addition to winning a best documentary Oscar for The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara, he became what he describes as “an unlikely avatar of American business.” In other words he directs commercials for Apple, Toyota, AT&T and Miller Brewing while making movies about mole-rat specialists and Holocaust deniers.

“It’s indeed shocking,” said Mr. Morris, 58. “I only wish I’d discovered advertising years earlier. I’ve gotten into financial trouble over the years.”

Mr. Morris is one of the few independent filmmakers who have benefited from the turns the business has taken over the past two decades. When he first started out, in the late 70’s, there was hardly an audience for documentaries and very few theatrical distributors of them. At one point he stayed afloat by working as a private detective in New York. Now of course, in part because of the success of his films (The Thin Blue Line), documentaries are the darlings of the indie world.

Still, they won’t make Mr. Morris rich. Advertising may. It has also contributed to his skill set and the content of his films. On a Reebok commercial he got to indulge his interest in “shooting the world at alternate speeds” by playing with a high-speed digital camera.

“Will I use that in my next movie?” he asked. “You betcha.”

Mr. Morris is also not above using locations required by his advertising work to further his documentary aims. He said that for “The Fog of War” he needed to shoot a B-29. The only one available was appearing at an air show in Rockford, Ill., so he asked his agent to get him a commercial in nearby Chicago. He did, for Quaker Oats, and the company has since become a steady client.

Some indie filmmakers also find advertising work in new media: Mr. Gilmore said he knew independent filmmakers who direct clips for cellphones and the Internet. Of course the indie business tends to attract the kind of people who do what they do precisely because they despise commercial filmmaking of any sort.

“I have thus far resisted taking jobs in those venues,” the 57-year-old director Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World) said via e-mail. “Directing something that is to appear on a cellphone or MP3 player?” he continued. “I would be hard pressed to come up with something more hateful.”

Almost none of these filmmakers, no matter how hard up they are, are willing to be a hired gun on a studio project. Unlike actors, who can spend a few months on a film and then move on, a director must remain committed for years, and many indie filmmakers believe life is too short for that. At the same time, the 40-something director John Curran (We Don’t Live Here Anymore, the coming Painted Veil) conceded that “as you get older, your definition of selling out changes.” He added, “It’s nobody’s ambition to remain independent. It’s to work with a major studio while keeping your project intact.”

Obviously the ideal would be to make a big score on a small movie. Ms. Vachon, perhaps reflecting the view of many of her filmmakers, is looking for that score, but on her own terms. In the meantime she and Mr. Hope and others like them provide “constant motion,” as she puts it, for aging filmmakers too stubborn, too proud and too passionate to give up.

“I’ve spent my life being left out,” Mr. Jost said. “I’d like to stop, but it’s what I do.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times. All rights reserved.


The next week, at my request, they published a correction, noting that the writer had scrambled his chronology and my time of living in Montana sans everything, dumpster diving, was only 30 years ago…. And a few other minor things. The following week they published this letter from me:

Dear Editors,

“Survival Tips for the Aging Independent Filmmaker” gives the impression - “alienated, aggrieved” - that after a 40+ year “career” I feel cheated by the circumstances in which I find myself; however, I am scarcely surprised, as American history is replete with similar stories of creative “outcasts” and I consciously made my choice not to pursue the “go Hollywood” option or even “go indie” in the terms represented by others mentioned. My work - some 25 feature length films, 30 shorts, installations. - could be said to draw a portrait of exactly why I did not choose those paths. Our present cultural landscape suggests we live in a period of profound corruption, symbolized in the ideology of “the Market Economy” in which the only value honored is that of money - its earning, spending, making. There are other values I chose instead and I willingly pay the price for my choice.

Jon Jost

Subj: Dick Cavett, youtube, questions.....


My name is Bryan and I have a few questions that I was hoping to get answered.

First off, How close is the world to getting John Cassavetes Husbands on DVD? With the cut footage... ect. I know there is petitions you can sign for sony picture classics...but I don't know if they are helping.

Secondly, Why is all that rare footage you have so difficult to find elsewhere? I would love, as would all my casavetes loving friends, to See the Dick Cavett show for HUSBANDS. We would like to see all those amazing interviews you speak of. How can we see it and have you ever thought of using ?

Thirdly, is there anything cassavetes related that most of the public does not know about that is planned on being released? Another documentary conflicting with Constant Forge?

Please answer my questions as I have been pondering these things for a while.

thank you

Bryan Tampa, Florida

RC replies:


Well, I agree with you that it's a shame that the "Entertainment Tonight" sensibility of Charles Kiselyak's Constant Forge stands unreplied to. It's evidence of what a low state film criticism and commentary is at that the fraudulence of his film wasn't detected and decried by reviewers. (Click here to read an interview about how Kiselyak's movie was made and the values that informed it.) But that's the way things are. To answer one of your questions: Filmmakers occasionally contact me about advising them on documentary projects, and I've always agreed to help them, but none of them has actually followed through and done anything. However, I can tell you categorically that Gena Rowlands would resist or refuse to aid anyone who announced that their goal was "to tell the real truth" about John's life and her relationship with him. That's what got me fired from the Criterion project, as far as I can tell (though she has never really explained why). Rowlands is committed to the "press release" version of Cassavetes' life and their life together, and terrified of (and, as my case shows, retaliates against) anyone who won't toe her line.

But you know everything is a lesson and there are at least two in the preceding: First, now do you see why those AMC/TNT/MTV artist biographies are generally so awful? The filmmakers are afraid to alienate the widows, who control permission to use the film clips. Second, and more subtly, do you see how what I've just described about Rowlands can throw a lot of light on Cassavetes' films and on her relationship with John? Rowlands's fearfulness and guardedness tells us things that are terribly important to understanding John's work. But I'll leave that to your ingenuity. I'll let you fill in the blanks.

As to another one of your questions: Yes, I have much Cassavetes material (some given to me by him personally) that is not generally available. Many extraordinary things that I've never written about or shown to my students. (We all have to have some secrets, some surprises, after all!) Here are two teasers: 1) How about hundreds of pages of John's writing about his life? 2) Or how about the master tapes of the New York studio session where John recorded the music for Shadows, in which he talks to the musicians about the film and at one point he himself sings a song he intended to use on the soundtrack?

That's really just the tip of the iceberg. I have a lot of amazing things. Look at the syllabus page where I list some of the things I've used in Boston University courses. (Click here to go there.) And I've alluded to other things in my replies to earlier letters posted in the Mailbag, (Sometimes I just enjoy dropping in an unknown fact in a posting just to see how many people will notice it--to see if anyone is paying attention. It's a kind of game I play.) As an example, here's something I already mentioned on a couple of earlier Mailbag pages, but very few people seem to have noticed it. Guess what? There is an unknown Cassavetes film that no one knows about. Yes, a new film, something he wrote and directed.

And it's quite extraordinary. (And I'm not referring to the first version of Shadows or the alternate print of Faces; they are something else.) But that's all I'll say about it for now; except that the answer to your question about whether any of this stuff is going to be released is that, as far as I can tell, no one seems interested in doing it.

I would, of course, be delighted to work with a DVD company or a publisher to release any or all of this material, but so far no one in a position to make it happen has asked me, and they probably couldn't do it for some of this stuff without Gena's permission, and it doesn't look like that's going to happen. I've virtually pleaded with her to let me show some of these things and have offered to show them to her, but she's just not interested--and you probably know how she treated me when I was working for Criterion to get material out. Not exactly calculated to win my love and affection. (Click here and here to read more.) So I'll probably take this stuff to my grave. Oh, I guess I'd better retract that statement or you'll dig me up. So let's just say that the things I've mentioned (and many many others) are squirreled away in a safe place and will probably remain that way for a long long time. Too bad. Really too bad. But thanks for asking. I'm glad you care. There are a lot of us who do.





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