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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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A note from Ray Carney: The following letter is from a former student of Prof. Carney's (actually, to be technical about it, a former auditor of Prof. Carney's classes).

Dear Ray,

This is Matt Boese. It's been so long (almost a year) and as I'm not currently in Boston I wanted to write to say hello share a few words while I have the chance. I miss your class and the excitement of your words. I've attentiviely noticed the updates and I'm glad to see the site back in full swing. I write with a load of guilt as I have stood by the sidelines for months without a word of input. Your notes seems more confrontational, less restrained, sometimes disturbing (i.e. the Christmas letter and the recent anniversary post about some events in human history) but always compelling and honest.(Go to Mailbag page 51 to read the Christmas note and to Mailbag page 60 to read the other note about the event Matt alludes to.) Your efforts are a continual source of inspiration for me and I give my infinite gratitude. Anyways, how is the writing going? Is there anything nearing publication? And your classes this semester? A quick, trivial question concerning your American Indie's Class. I wanted to know if you are still screening the Robert Kramer films and if so do you have any clue what dates you may screen them (I know you are continually shifting things around so maybe you can't answer this question). I will be in town and if at all possible I would like to attend and finally see Kramer's works. I've only managed to track down Starting Point. The only place I know of that even owns Milestones is the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Do you know where most of Kramer's work resides?

Some films for the list: Nostalgia . Andrei Tarkovsky. Andrei Rublev . Andrei Tarkovsky. (was this an intentional omission???? The bellmaker sequence is one of the most unbelievable things I have ever seen on film, along with the end of Nostalgia and the end of Ordet ) The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Cristi Puiu. ( I agree with Alex's suggestion. If you haven't seen you must.  I watched it once again and I'm still blown away. So much undigested experience its almost impossible to wrap your brain around. A non-stop magic trick that will not let-up? Renoirian to the extreme? These are only some words I would use to describe.) Speaking of Tarkovsky have you read Gianvito's book of interviews?

Since I remember your recommendation, I have been diligently reading William James lately. Pluralistic Universe is on repeat and attacking some of his correspondence as well. Have not finished Radical Empiricism. Talk about an active mind. It reminds me that there are other great minds out there who feel "caught between the upper and nether millstone."

Will continue to read the site and fight the good fight + let you know if I hear anything of interest.

Thanks again for your time and energies. Yours is a heroic mind.

Kind Regards,

Matt Boese

Dear Matt,

Great to hear from you! Great timing. I am showing Robert Kramer's Ice next week (Feb. 27) and his Milestones the week after (March 6). You are, of course, welcome to come see them. I always have five or six "outsiders" sitting in on all of my classes (former students or students at other universities or just lovers of film, just like you were last year), so you will have some good company. Some of the same ones are back this year as when you sat in--e.g. Mitch, Frankie, and some of the other true believers in the art of film.

John Gianvito, the editor of the new Tarkovsky book of interviews, is a good friend, so, yes, I know about the book and admire it terrifically (though I still haven't seen a copy). John is one of the greatest minds in contemporary film appreciation and understanding. He knows whereof he speaks. So, yes, I recommend his book highly.

Thanks for the film recs. I still haven't managed to catch up with the The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, but as you note, it was recommended to me by my former student, Alex Lipschultz, and his taste is seldom wrong. I trust his judgment implicitly.

Isn't William James great? Why aren't there statues in every town square in his honor? Who are Washington and Lincoln and Franklin to compare?

And, of course, thanks for the kind words about the site. It is a labor of love. I get virtually nothing out of it but letters like yours. But that is enough.


Ray Carney

Hi Ray,

I've set up a website housing all my writing, and soon some of my film as well. Check it out and spread the word!

Also, I just returned from the Berlinale Talent Campus (, a week-long event that's part of the Berlin International Film Festival, bringing 350 young filmmakers together from over 100 different countries. It was a pretty amazing and eye-opening event----a lot of unlikely alliances and parallels drawn between pretty disparate parts of the world. (Who knew Singapore had so much in common with Ireland?) I thought it might be something worth alerting your mailbag readers too, as the event seems to be aimed at, and mainly attract, you know: people who actually care.

I was there as part of the 8-person Talent Press, reporting on the festival and the campus. Our writing for the event can be found at

Hope all is interesting on your side,


A note from Ray Carney: I just received the following email from a dear friend and wonderful filmmaker, Rick Schmidt. He mentions that he will be speaking in Boston on February 24th. I highly recommend his filmmaking seminars and lectures to anyone who can take them. He has a web site at with more information about his work and his teaching. --R.C.

Subject: Hi from Rick/at Boston's Ruff Cutz conference this weekend

Hi Ray,

Thinking of you this morning since I'm being flown into Ruff Cutz/Boston moviemaking conference today, as featured speaker tomorrow at Brookline Holiday Inn.  I plan to give them some Carney-style-used-car heads up approach to it all!  Wish me luck.


RC replies:

Knock 'em dead, Rick!

This weekend, the whole world and all of the suck-up media are focused on the Academy Awards idiocy, while the real work is going on elsewhere, as usual. The real events are taking place not among the millionaires and the celebrities surrounded by paparazzi on the red carpet, but with the artists who devote themselves to studying the small, otherwise unrecorded murmurs of the individual human heart. The hearts of real people with real stories living real lives, not the melodramatic, exaggerated, mass-produced, demographic-tested, media-hyped simulacra that Hollywood specializes in. The non-Hollywood artists are recording the news that stays news (to paraphrase Ezra Pound), the news that is not part of the style system, the news that will matter in eternity.

Keep up the great work. Celebrate the roughness! Praise be to imperfection! That's where the life is.

Love and hugs,


P.S. To see an example of how most American university film programs participate in the media frenzy over the Academy Awards, rather than critiquing it or holding up an imaginative alternative to it, click here to read: Lights, Camera, Oscar! Four BU film experts tell us who'll win at Sunday's Academy Awards

Hey Mr Carney,

We emailed each other several times a couple of years ago when I hassled you for some Cassavetes screenplays. I also nerdishly told you I'd found a copy of 'She's Delovely' with a draft date more recent than the one you refer to in 'Cass on Cass' (which I still have in Australia and would be happy to copy or whatever for you).

I love your book, well books, but mostly 'Cass on Cass'. It must be the best text on filmaking around. I tell you, it's wieird, like I've met him; he and his films really got under my skin and stayed there.

I made my first film 'right here right now' and it won 'Best Film' at the 2006 Rebelfest International Film Festival in Toronto. But the Australian film industry is fucked at the present time so we're having difficulty with distributors, etc, plus we also made the film without any of their money so the funding bodies aren't too keen on us making them redundant. Oh well, screw em, coz I've just shot another one for even less money and I reckon it's better than the first. I have one more shooting day/night (tomorrow) then I start editing. I'd love you to see 'right here right now' and to hear what you think. I could send you a copy on DVD if you have time.

Hope you are well and happy.



Subject: Seeing with Rembrandt's eyes


Thanks for the kind words. I have lots of unpublished material that would (as Emily Dickinson puts it) take the top of your head off if you enjoy the Cassavetes on Cassavetes book.

I guess you could send me a copy of your film, if: 1) it's readable on region 1 (USA) equipment; 2) if you won't bug me for a response since I just can't guarantee anything and certainly not a prompt response (I'm a working stiff and busy with at least a dozen other events, films, lectures, etc. on any given day); 3) if you don't attach any real importance to my response (I'm just me, just what I am, and why should it really matter what I think?).

The important thing is to keep working--somehow, someway,  any way you can, over the long term. I'm no different from you. And there is no reason I should be. I write books and essays that don't get published, many more than the ones that are published (see paragraph one above). I teach things to students that they are not in a position to fully understand or appreciate. I fill notebooks with thousands of pages of notes and jottings.... And even Cassavetes died with two films (Opening Night and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie) that had only been seen by a few hundred people, and (depending on how you count them) two or three other films that people STILL don't know about.

Moral: It's not about reviews or popularity or sales or fame or glory or awards. (Forgive the mention of the last item, but this is both Independent Spirit and Academy Awards weekend in America and people really seem to be profoundly confused on this subject, as if an award mattered in some way.) It's about living your life as a never-ending process of exploration and discovery. Art is one way of doing that, one of the best, but even non-artists can do it when they put themselves in the right state of open-ended, non-grasping, detached awareness (what many meditative traditions call "seeing") and allow themselves to take in experience without filtering it, censoring it, judging it, or otherwise attaching themselves to it. (Even intellectual understanding is a block to this kind of "seeing." You need to break free of ideas and conceptions and categories as much as anything else.) Work to become a "seer" in this way in all of your experience. Work to become God's eyes and ears--half-inside, half-outside, tasting, relishing, savoring, loving, caressing everything around you (even what your mind tells you is evil or bad or wrong or stupid--which is why you have to break free of those categories too, thinking without thoughts, as I phrase it somewhere else).

That's ultimately what it is to be an artist. And the more you do it, experience after experience, hour after hour, life after life, the further you'll see and the more you'll understand and the more you'll be able to experience and the richer the experiences will be--and, if you are an artist, you'll be able to share your seeing and understanding and experiencing with others, to help them move farther along their own spiritual paths.

All best wishes,

Ray Carney

Matthew Newton wrote a brief response to the preceding. I loved his spirit, his feistiness, his pizzazz, his self-deprecating humor so much I wanted to reprint it:

Mr Carney,

Wow. I'm honestly not a gusher but wow. What you wrote to me is the clearest, most heroic and decidedly practical description of what it is to be an artist that I've read. Is 'become God's eyes and ears' your quote? Scrap that. It doesn't actually matter.

I read that paragraph to a couple of my friends and fellow criminals (a playwright, an actor and a film maker -- sounds like the start of a bad joke) and two of them went out and bought your book straight away and one of them is in the process of ordering a heap of stuff from you on line (no commission necessary, hahaha).

Thank you for your words and your time. I will send you an NTSC region 1 DVD copy and not hassle you at all -- if you get to it, you get it. And don't worry, I'll take whatever you have to say with a grain of salt -- I adore the film personally and am also an egomaniac.

Thanks again and I'll chuck it in the mail.



RC replies:

Subject: Energy is eternal delight

Thanks for the kind reply. And the enthusiasm. All of life is the energy we bring to it. Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm. I think someone else said that. But if not, give me the credit.

About God's eyes, and much of the rest, it would take too long to explain the origin. And it would be too unbelievable anyway. Suffice it to say I've had a lucky life. Some very very wise teachers. I owe everything to them.

Keep going. Keep the spark burning. It matters.


Subject: husbands information

dear prof. carney

in the past few years i have become a huge fan of john cassavetes works and after the issueing of the criterion dvd collection i am enger to see another one of his masterpieces 'Husbands' released on any format. i had the opportunity a couple of years ago to see on video tape and found it truly affecting (like most of cassavetes film i must add) i'm sure i read somewhere about ownership battles and distribution quagmires or something of the such but if you could furnish me with any updates or indeed the truth on its lack of surfacing i would be very grateful. before i end i must congratuate you on some of the clearest and engrossing film criticism i have ever read with your various publications down through the years.

Tim Gannon

Dublin, ireland

RC replies: Check my web site. Search on the words: "UCLA" and "Husbands" and "restored." That should take you to various relevant pages. --Ray Carney

A note from Ray Carney: On the topic of art and profit, art and money, art and popularity, art and business, art and the masses, there is an interesting article in the current issue of The New Yorker (double issue date: February 19 and 26, 2007). Seems that an eccentric old lady named Ruth Lilly, the last surviving heir of the Eli Lilly drug company fortune, died a few years ago, and in 2002 left two hundred million dollars to the tiny, prestigious quarterly, Poetry magazine. The money is now being used to support the operations of the magazine and to run a foundation devoted to making poetry more popular, more available, more accessible to Joan and John Q. Public.

But far from rejoicing, many prominent poets and critics are crying foul and deploring the lamentable turn of events. Their argument is that two hundred million dollars may be able to do to poetry what criticism and ignorance and neglect haven't succeeded in doing in 2000 years: Destroy it. Or at least mortally wound it, compromise it, dumb it down, commercialize it. They are opposed to poetry for the masses.  They are opposed to trying to make poetry popular. They are opposed to the idea of using money to commission new poems. They are opposed to poetry that attempts to appeal to the man-and-woman-on-the-street and that (in the ideal situation) is expected eventually to turn a profit by becoming more popular. As Joel Brouwer wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "Contemporary poetry's great good fortune (despite contrary claims from certain hand-wringers mad to see poems affixed to every slot-machine, taxi stand, and flower pot in the land) is that it has no mass market, and so no call to pander." Carol Muske-Dukes (a University of Southern California professor and poet) called the foundation's attempt to bring poetry to the masses, "the consumerization of poetry. It is being co-opted."

The article is worth reading and pondering. After you've read it once, read it again, but this time substitute the word "film" everywhere the word "poetry" appears. Ask yourself what changes. Ask yourself why we take for granted that film is (and should be) a commercial art? Ask yourself why the poets in this article deplore popularity, while filmmakers want their films to be popular. Ask yourself why the poets in this article shun "being liked," "being enjoyable," and "being entertaining" as measures of greatness, while filmmakers want their films to be liked and enjoyed? Ask yourself why this hue and cry would never have occurred if Ruth Lilly had left her money to a film magazine or a film foundation. Ask yourself why they would, instead, be rejoicing at their financial good fortune. Ask yourself why no one ever protests the idea of providing money to bring film to the masses? Ask yourself what it says about film that we don't think of it the same way poets think of poetry. Why should there be a difference? What is wrong with the understanding of film, including the understanding of film in the film programs of our major universities, when we automatically assume that releasing a film involves "selling" and "marketing" a product? What is wrong when we teach our students that making a film involves learning how to "pitch" it? Why aren't students in poetry courses taught how to pitch their poems to editors? Why aren't they taught how to advertise and publicize their poems to reach the largest possible audience? Why do we automatically assume that the goal of film distribution is to bring the film to the largest possible audience? What is left out of such an understanding of an art? How does it distort our artistic values? How does it pervert the teaching and debase the understanding of the art of film in our universities? (To read a story published in the Los Angeles Times about the commercialization of university film education and the emphasis that is placed on pitching, promoting, and marketing, go to the top of Mailbag page 54 by clicking on the blue page menus at the top or bottom of this page.) -- R.C



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© Text Copyright 2007 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.