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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 Prof. Carney,

I write today in response to comments you made during an interview regarding the state of film in America, available (in part) on your website (click here). My letter concerns your response to the statement "I didn't know you were so interested in foreign films." You respond by saying

I teach my department's International Masterworks course almost every year. [Laughing] My goal is to get as far from Los Angeles as possible, imaginatively and geographically! The single best thing that could happen to American film would be if the city and the reporters who make a living covering it slid into the Pacific. Where is the San Andreas fault when we really need it? If it's disgraceful that Hollywood movies get so much space in the media, it's even more disgraceful that they get so much space in the curriculum. The university is supposed to offer a perspective from somewhere above and beyond the hucksterdom of the culture, not be an extension of it. We have dumbed down film courses to what the students are familiar with and already understand.

First let me say that I mostly agree with you. I think the movies you espouse are beautiful, wonderful pieces of art, and that they should be studied academically over Spielberg and Hitchcock's brand of filmmaking. But what I don't agree with is this idea that "it would be best if Hollywood slid into the Pacific". I don't blame the Oxford Press for publishing this list of movies and holding it up on a pedestal, and I don't blame anyone for thinking that Hitchcock-style film production and Ebert/Maltin-style criticism is as good as it gets. I don't think the movies you (and I) hold so highly have been justified in the eye of the public. Let me explain.

I love these movies to death but they are for the most part extremely inaccessible and difficult to watch. There needs to be a Beatles or Picasso to justify this style of movie making, and there hasn't been yet. What these artists (and similar ones, like Nirvana, Shakespeare, Slayer, Matisse) did was to create things that everyone could enjoy, and for different reasons. Their accomplishments "justified" their fields to the public - after all, everyone likes it - and inspired people not only to seek out the inspiration for their work (like Nirvana brought a lot of attention to The Melvins, The Vaselines, Leadbelly, Pixies), but also to create works in that vein. There hasn't been anybody creating movies inspired by these film makers that have been accessible to a wide audience - David Gordon Green comes close with All The Real Girls, I think, but not close enough (though granted he is also not getting the exposure his film deserves from Hollywood, it is nevertheless mostly because the movie is not all that accessible). Once someone does, these relics will get the attention they deserve, and this kind of film making will take off. Of course, the old style will remain, but, I hope, it will lose its status as 'high art', much as the main-stream novels from the 19th century have.

I think it's possible to make an accessible movie in this vein, but it hasn't been done yet. It's why I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is such a great movie, because it's coming close, closer than other movies at least. I don't think there need to be "concessions" made when making such a movie, no, I think you could make a full-on awesome artistic effort and still have it be approachable/enjoyable by a large audience. Shakespeare did it. Picasso did it. Why can't somebody do it in film?

Well in any case, it hasn't been done and until it is, I don't think letting Hollywood slide into the ocean will solve anything. Such an event would only inspire a new generation of filmmakers to adopt the styles of the past because (and who can blame them), that's all they know, because that's all that's been "successful" as far as the public is concerned. I salute you for your tireless efforts in establishing film as a legitimate art form. If I ever make the film that bridges the gap, I'll buy you a ticket. Until then, I remain forever yours,

Michael Brotzman

RC replies:


Thanks for the good thoughts, but I have to be honest with you: This notion of "accessibility" leaves me cold (and puzzled). I know the clichés about Shakespeare "playing to the pit," but (alas, sorry to have to break the news to you) it's wrong. It's just something some English teacher made up fifty years ago to try to convince his students that Shakespeare was "the common man's playwright." It ain't true! He's the aristocrats' playwright, the supreme "elitist" of dramatists. The parts of the plays that would appeal to a working stiff are the stupid, unimportant, trivial parts only. The language, the metaphors, the imaginative understandings of life--the important parts--all take intelligence. Same goes for Picasso. He's not a populist painter. He's not in working people's houses. He's in the friggin' Museum of Modern Art.

And the proof of both points is that the people who watch American Idol do not go to see Hamlet and Lear and Antony and Cleopatra. If they want to see drama, they go to see revivals of The Fantastics and Chorus Line and Educating Rita and The Lion King. And the posters they put over the sofa in their houses are not reproductions of Picassos, but Norman Rockwells or black-velvet Elvises. They are not interested in Rembrandt's use of light, but in Kinkade's -- Thomas Kinkade, "the painter of light!" They do not watch ballet and opera DVDs in the evenings on their televisions; they watch sports and Seinfeld re-runs and Cinemax. Who are these viewers? Why should anyone other than a morally bankrupt businessman or politician be interested in pleasing them? Why would anyone want to please people who are interested in those kinds of things? Wouldn't that be proof that you must have done something wrong? That you had made something as stupid as what already pleases them -- McDonalds fries, gas-wasting luxury cars, and soft porn music videos?

If you want "accessible" art, you want schlock. You want Spielberg and Oliver Stone and the Coen brothers. Bresson is not "accessible" in this way, Chekhov is not "accessible" in this way, Cassavetes is not "accessible" in this way, Emily Dickinson is not "accessible" in this way. Thomas Eakins is not "accessible" in this way. Tarkovsky is not "accessible" in this way. Proust is not "accessible" in this way. Et cetera, et cetera--but that is not what is wrong with these artists, but what is right.

Accessibility means dumbing something down. Making it palatable. Making it appeal to more people. Making it more popular. Why, why, why in the world would anyone be in favor of doing that? The whole culture ALREADY does that in every way possible!!!! TV does it. The newspapers do it. George Bush does it. Time magazine does it. Broadway does it. How about just one or two or three places where things are allowed to be as complex as they really are? How about just one or two or three times a week where someone doesn't have to be stupider or more obvious than they really are? Those people, the ones who don't pretend to be stupider than they really are, are called artists, and the works they create, the expressions they utter, are called works of art. Why in the world would we want to make them sound stupid too?

The larger issue is your fear of complexity, your fear of works that make demands on us. What's wrong with being more intelligent than the average? What's wrong with saying things that take pondering? What's wrong with having to wrestle with something before you can begin to understand it? What's wrong with having to work a little? Why this need for easy, lazy, slothful, quick truth? Why are we so afraid of work and effort and thought? It's a problem with the whole culture. People want easy truths, easy lives, easy jobs, easy love affairs, easy conversations, easy relationships with others. Why, why, why? I just don't get it. As I move through life, I want things harder, tougher, more complex, more challenging than they generally, usually are. All of the greatest pleasures and fulfillments in my life have come from things that challenge me, that make me work, that make demands on me. Challenging teachers, challenging courses, challenging ideas, challenging experiences. That's the only way to grow, to learn anything, to build your soul

And you see what I am doing now? I am challenging YOU! But what's wrong with that? That's a good thing. I can't see one bad thing about it!!!!

Not facetiously,

Ray Carney

From: Clay Walker

Topic: Robert Gates Confirmation Hearing

When I was making "Post No Bills" I got on a strange tangent of wanting to go to Washington DC and actually film my beloved elected officials in action.

I became very interested in the nomination of Robert Gates to Director of the CIA, which was heavily overshadowed by the Clarence Thomas' confirmation to the Supreme Court on October 15, 1991.

Gates was originally nominated to direct the CIA under Reagan in 1987 but withdrew his name due to the controversy about his role in the Iran-Contra 'affair.'

In May of '91, Bush Sr. nominated Gates again to direct the CIA and this time the nomination went through the various Senate voting processes.

I put on my most scuffed up army boots & jacket and traveled to Washington DC to film the final Senate vote on October 18th of 1991. The vote took place at exactly the same time of Clarence Thomas' swearing in and this event received very little media attention...

I did not know how this material would find itself into "Post No Bills" and it basically never did. (but it will be included on the 15th anniversary DVD)

When I discarded all of my unused materials from PNB in '94, and there were literally tons as I has shot on film, the only film footage that I saved were the dailies from this confirmation hearing.

The film footage has only been viewed on my Steenbeck back in '92 and I finally had it transferred to video until earlier this year. So, it has truly never seen the light of day...

I have finally re-assembled the footage in order and I think it will be quite interesting to any 'history buffs' or anyone interested in a slight glimpse into this somewhat un-remembered event...

I filmed portions of the vote on b&w 16mm. with filmmaker Jon Jost's CP Gizmo and Marianne Dissard recorded the audio. I believe I shot 800 feet of film! (22 min.) Just to be flippant, we stayed in the room at the Howard Johnson's across from the Watergate, the very room that the burglars' lookout person had used during the break in... Not a whole lot of requests for it apparently...


You can see on this video good old grease pencil marks, etc. - no those are not high-tech digital effects... :)

This is about 20 min. long.

MAC version (160 MB)

Windows Version (90 MB)


Me right after I got a light meter reading on the floor!

P.S.On December 18, 2006, Robert Gates assumed the post of the 22nd United States' Secretary of Defense....


Subject: some overlooked Faulkner

In my chronological study of Faulkner (I'm about over 3/4 of the way through his entire body of work -- we'll say 7/9 as a good estimate) I've discovered a lot of real gems that were either dismissed in Faulkner's time (as much of it was, at least by the reading public) or dismissed now as "minor" Faulkner. They are --

Sanctuary (some incredible stuff about the nature of justice)

Mosquitoes (despite the intensely negative reviews, both past and present, I loved this, especially the last 20-30 pages!)

The Unvanquished (a great thing to do is read the stories that were published first and see where the changes were made in the final novel - what did he add, subtract, expand on, edit, leave be? The original stories can be found in Uncollected Stories by Vintage Press. There are also some good early versions of Snopes stories that were later incorporated into The Hamlet and the rest of the Snopes Trilogy in that collection).

The Wild Palms (where did this novel come from? It's amazing!)

By the way, is the 5 billion word-count version of Cass on Cass ready yet? I'd like to preorder.

Be well,

Darren Pardee


It's extremely common for critics and readers to be wrong about an artist in his or her lifetime. Look at Henry James. Could hardly give away his books. But now regarded (by me and almost anyone else who knows) as one of the greatest artistic geniuses of the past 200 years. Herman Melville is another illustration. Emily Dickinson another. Look at the final twenty years of Rembrandt's or Bach's careers just to show that the problem is not unique to American culture. Such is life. Genius does not compromise. It does not (to invoke the perspective of the earlier letter higher up on this page) cut its expressions to make them "accessible." That's why it is worth paying attention to. The whole capitalist system functions in the opposite way. Genius shows what can be done when we don't let popularity, marketability, or worldly profit limit our imaginative possibilities.

For what it's worth, to your list of deprecated or under-appreciated Faulkner, I'd add The Hamlet. Love that Flem Snopes.



Darren Pardee replied:

Subject: re: flem snopes

Haha, funny you should mention that, I just got to The Hamlet now! About halfway through. It's terrific! (since I'm going chronologically, I've already read the early drafts of some of the stories that were later incorporated into The Hamlet; "Barn Burning", "Fool About a Horse", etc.; very interesting how the early stories morph).

Darren Pardee

From: magnus eik

Subject: A Voyage to Italy

I think I might be writing to you too late, the life-force of what I'm writing about might be gone, but the basic story is that I've spent the last three weeks working in a shipyard in Italy and boy was that exciting. I'm not talking about the work itself of course, I've often regretted the educational path I chose. But living with my classmates, having very limited access to the Internet, meeting wonderfully kind people, meeting people I didn't like, living with people who couldn't speak English and being free of most of the distractions of the rest of my life was fantastic. Wanting to kill myself in the morning and feeling open and loved by lunch-time. Being jealous, being worried, reading William Wordsworth's The Prelude when I had the time, lying awake for hours thinking about my life. I was actually happy when one of the planes home was delayed, the next plane took off before we got on and I got to spend more time with them.

Now I'm back in Norway and I can't figure out what to do. I guess it is somehow a lesson. A situation I need to figure out. Maybe I can reach a family member or rekindle an old friendship.

Ugh, but work can really feel so wrecking, so pointless for soul-building. I chose a science/mechanical school instead of the normal (school you need to get into the university, high school in the USA?). So I need to spend three days a week for one more year outfitting ships in order to go to the university to study literature or to become a teacher or whatever. I really wanted to become an engineer until I discovered that I was mediocre mechanic and that engineering wasn't what I thought it was. Fortunately you have given me new eyes to look for paths with. I want to leave school so often. I want to try living like Doc in Route One or something. Travelling. But I don't know enough about the world to have somewhere to go. And I also think that I would be cutting myself off from too many paths by not trying the universities. I think I've even found a professor who I want to study with, but I need more info on the course and I have to read some his books first.

I've also tried talking a bit with my friends about the meaning of life and function of art, but from what I get they don't think much about it. Well, at least not further than the Dan Brown-interpretation, hidden messages artist-killing useless smoke screen function of art, or the simple "there is no meaning to life" and so they live life without seeking meaning. I'm being too harsh of course, for the most part they are smarter than me. But I just feel that if they just listened more they would learn something. You've probably been through this times one-hundred and hopefully I will too.

Thank you so very much for freeing me from a meaningless life and even more for the wonders that I will find, but never would have without you.

I don't know if this e-mail will do you any good, but I want you to know that you matter.

Also I hope that your new books aren't cut down by your publisher. Personally I hope one of them is the Independent Movie book. I might help some of the works get released. I hope.

Constantly on trial, battling tiny demons and learning to love,


Dear Magnus,

Wonderful to hear from you! Any break in routine is a path to discovery, a desirable shock to the system. Your note (and your whole Viaggio In Italia) reads like a D.H. Lawrence short story, or a Henry James short story, or do you know Judith Rossner's "116th Street Jenny"? Or the episode about meeting the Italian man that the woman in Rodrigo Garcia's Ten Tiny Love Stories tells? In short, it sounds amazing, brilliant, wonderful!

When I was your age, I built houses (what a joy to see the results of your work "published" gigantically at the end of each day--how different from the electrons on a magnetic surface I create now). I lived on a commune (where I farmed and did carpentry and met some of the most interesting people I've ever known). I lived, for a short time, in a Zen monastery. (Actually two of them.) I traveled. I wandered the streets of Rome on Easter and Athens on Christmas eve feeling lonely -- and infinite. I did a million things.

Don't worry about what school you are in or not in. Life does not ask us to decide things all at once and for ever. Life is step by step. Your plans can (and will) change a thousand times in the next ten years. The only important thing is to stay open. To let them change. Not to lock yourself into a fixed identity.

You are doing the most important thing -- living life consciously. Tasting, savoring, contemplating, wondering, marveling at the complexity of existence, the beauty, the ugliness, the tenderness, the harshness, the mystery of it all. Taking in the green and brown and blue enormousness. And what a great poem to read while you do it ..... Wordsworth's The Prelude (which I wrote my dissertation on) is about this same process. Do you see how art helps us to come to consciousness? That's one of its most important functions. Whether it's Wordsworth's The Prelude, Proust's Recherche du Temps Perdu, or George Eliot's Middlemarch--that's what art does. It brings us to consciousness. It helps us to understand the possibilities of our lives.

That's the voyage you are on. And what a wonderful journey of discovery it is. Fare onward, voyager!



Subject: Best mascot

Dear Dr. Carney,

You'll love this bit of trivia I ran across this morning while reading a local freebie magazine.

"I recently found out that the University of California-Santa Cruz mascot is the Banana Slug. The students apparently chose this decidedly unathletic creature as their mascot as a way of snubbing those other universities that have allowed themselves to be defined by an overweening emphasis on sports. It is possible that another California institution, Whittier College, has gone them one better. The Whittier mascot is the Poet. The Poet, too, is not an animal known for athletic feats. It is not famous for viciousness, like the wolverine, nor for eating petrified gazelles, like the lion. But the Poet is hungry. Hungry for life, and for love..."

Hungry for life and love, does that make me a Poet? : )

Elizabeth Rupert

RC replies:

I love the idea of having a poet as a mascot. "The poet is free and makes free," as Emerson says. We need more of that kind of freedom in fearful, monomaniacal, tunnel-vision America. The only freedom we come close to having right now is Adam Smith's kind -- freedom of the market. And, too much of the time, that's as controlled by corporate interests as our alleged (and ultimately trivial) freedom of speech is.

It's a funny quote. Why this obsession with sports and mascots in the first place? I've always been puzzled by that aspect of the culture. What does it tell us about ourselves that the largest public gatherings of people, the biggest architectural projects, the highest rated television shows, the most heated debates and discussions in America all involve sports teams, events, and rivalries? What does it tell us about ourselves that our high schools spend more on athletic facilities and coaches than on books for the library? Or that every father imagines his son or daughter from the age of six as potentially the next great basketball or soccer star, rather than as the next great thinker or helper of mankind? (Do we even have such concepts of greatness?) I personally love getting outside and rowing, biking, running, hiking, skating, and skiing, but I've never understood the spectatorial impulse -- the passivity, the vicariousness, the group emotionality (for more on that last subject, see my comments on the Star Wars phenomenon elsewhere on the site, and the differences between personal experience and group experience) -- that underpins so much of the sports obsession in America. And yet you couldn't pay the same people to sit still and watch a ballet or listen to a Mozart piano concerto. Americans want to be spectators, but only if it's a particular kind of event. Maybe it's because you can't cheer and boo opera and ballet, or because they are not based on rivalry and competition, or because there is no winner or loser at the end. The arts ask for a more slippery and demanding relationship between the viewer and the thing viewed. They ask for a different --non-capitalist?--kind of involvement. And, of course, you can't get up and get a beer from the fridge in the middle of it all.

Well, I'm clearly not understanding something. I give up. I'll probably never understand America. Thanks for the quote.-- R.C.

Subject: Re: Accessibility and imagination

Your Mailbag responses on accessibility and imagination are right on target, and so important. (See the letter from Michael Brotzman and the reply by Ray Carney at the top of this page.)

A few thoughts if you don't mind, off the top of my head, no big deal. You've said most of it (if not all) before. Just blowing off a little steam while I think about it. But it's what comes to mind when I read your words. Our culture wants to be spoon-fed fast food and sound bites, and let the corporations and politicians do our thinking (and creating) for us. And emotions too, for that matter! I was thinking the other day that we are what we think and feed our brains with. We program ourselves daily to be and think a certain way. An ultra-right-winger stays an ultra-right-winger. A progressive stays a progressive. As you say, the danger is limiting ourselves to one view of the world. A closed system. One that feeds our vanity that we are "right," and stirs our emotions of self-righteousness, encouraging an "us vs. them" mentality. It takes imagination to understand that there are an infinite number of right answers, if only we would open ourselves up to grappling with and embracing the multitude of seemingly conflicting facets that are all jewels in disguise. Except I don't know how to categorize the sociopaths of the world in this picture. (A note from Ray Carney: The writer is alluding to my mention of "the twenty percent" on page 79, the Mailbag page preceding this one.) I think creativity should be one of our highest values, it's one of the great joys of being human and alive. How can we find grow and expand our own new horizons without it? Creating something new is the most thrilling thing I can imagine, how dead people must be who don't know that. They are missing the glory of being alive, our ability to create new worlds in each and every moment, in every twinkling of an eye.

You mentioned one time that you thought our biggest problem (the world's, I mean) was failure of imagination. It seems to me that in addition to that, people give up their ability to think and question in order to be blind to the cruel and immoral behavior of the 20% sociopaths that you mention. We are not responsible. We give it all up for safety and security, blindly accepting whatever we're told. Better not to see the bad things, "the bugs under the carpet." If we see the horrors and think about them, we might have to take action. We think we're preserving our lives by avoidance, when in reality, we're losing them by ignoring the problems. Human nature, the denial. But reality doesn't go away. We all have to face it eventually. It takes a lot of effort to pull the wool from over our eyes to face reality. I guess it's better to put a stake in the ground and face it on your own terms, rather than what's dictated to you by someone else.

Marx was right about there being an opiate for the masses, and it's not just religion. I guess it's anything that makes us numb so we don't have to feel and take action.

It's scary to step outside the box. We might have to live with the tension of too many right answers that don't agree with the one security blanket we cling to. We might have to live! Why are we so afraid of being wrong if we try something new? How will we find what we are meant to be if we don't strike out and try anything and everything, if we're not willing to sacrifice all to find it?


RC replies: William Wordsworth wrote in one of the Prefaces to the "Lyrical Ballads" that reading the Arabian Nights did more service to mankind (and school children) than all of the history texts ever written. We must cultivate the imagination as an active, grasping, perceptive power. Not as fantasy and escapism (as Disney World and Hollywood and the Harry Potter books implicitly define imagination) but as the force that energizes our most basic perceptual activity -- in a word, we must understand the imagination as being "esemplastic" (to use Samuel Taylor Coleridge's term). Or to invoke another quote from Emerson related to the quote I used in the reply to the letter before this one: "The quality of the imagination is to flow, not to freeze." That's another reason why art matters. Or should. To break us free from all fixities, all systems, all provincialisms, all tribalisms, all self-regarding, self-serving immoralities. To flux us. To break up the ice floes in our lives, our hearts, our emotions, and our perceptions--so that they can freely, fluidly flow like water. But that's the last thing most people want. They clutch onto their ideological and emotional fixities with a death grip. They go to movies and read books to have their prejudices confirmed, not to have them brought into question. They respond to characters who look, act, and talk like them, not to ones who take them out of themselves and force them to encounter experience from a completely different perspective. As the recent Harvard screening of Ronnie Bronstein's Frownland showed me for the millionth time, even as they pay lip service to sappy, sentimental, self-satisfied racial and ethnic "otherness," they dread and fear anything that challenges their established mental categories. -- R.C.

Shots from the "Under the Radar" Harvard Indie Film Festival. Left to right and top to bottom, starting on the top left: Ray Carney and Ted Barron, Senior Programmer for the Harvard Film Archive; Mike Gibisser (Finally, Lillian and Dan) and Jennifer Shainin (Apart from That); Kentucker Audley (Andrew Nenninger); Randy Walker; Kentucker and Ray Carney; Ted Barron and Mike Gibisser. (Photo by Randy Walker)

Subject: Summer greetings from a rainy New York.

Hi Ray!
I've been meaning to email you for quite some time now about so many things. I wanted to wait and compile it to some sort of perfect ultra email/update, but why delay any further! And as a quick reminder, I stalked you from New York City with a camera for my experimental film class at Hunter College. (A note from Ray Carney: The writer is humorously alluding to the fact that she showed up unexpected and unannounced one afternoon outside my Bresson class, and had come up all the way from Manhattan to get a few minutes of me on film.) I have a cut of the film uploaded on the internet, the link is here. If you could put it up on your website, I would greatly appreciate it. And please take a look at it if you can! I'd love your feedback. There have been some comments on it asking for more footage of you, you've got so many fans!

(Okay, this is the last blurb of promotion, here is a link to a short film I made for an Abbas Kiarostami workshop at Hunter College that I am quite proud of that I would love for you take a look at! The link is here. If you cannot access it I will snail mail a DVD your way to add to your mountains of things to watch.)

Gosh, I've been so inspired lately, thanks so much for your Mailbag! A while back someone posted a link to a series of short films by Mike Leigh that went straight to my heart. (A note from Ray Carney: The link is on page 76 of the Mailbag, accessible via the blue page number menus at the top and bottom of all mailbag pages.) It was so wonderful! I've emailed the head of the film department to try to get you to lecture at Hunter next semester and show the original "Shadows" however I haven't gotten any responses yet..... (Omitted material.) No worries, it will happen!

I finished my first Henry James novel last week! I have fallen in love with an artist! Here is a cheesy poem I wrote about him:

what a funny day, what a funny path,
what a funny boy, he can see that i'm a funny girl!

he's sort of like
drawing shapes with your finger in the ocean,
like placing your hand in an ocean,
and what do you know, water is a liquid!
and what do you know, it's quite refreshing!

(the solid and gas phases are no matter to me.)

and what do you know, you can see through it!
and drink it too!

(what a funny mirror, i never look the same in it!)

Ugh, enough about me, how are you doing? I hope you are enjoying these summer days though I crave autumn breezes (and autumn color palettes.) Gosh, I use so many exclamation points! Are you teaching this summer? What classes are you teaching next semester? Perhaps on a future Boston trip I can sit in on one of your classes.

Okay, I must get back to transcribing footage!

Anne Yao

The "Mark (Burnett) of the Devil" Category, Part 3 (a note from Ray Carney): As I mentioned elsewhere on the site, one of my former film students, Hilary Weisman Graham, is (or was) a contestant on a nationally broadcast Fox television show called "On the Lot," in which (as in "American Idol," and the zillion clones it has, like the Devil, spawned) young filmmaker-contestants compete for a million-dollar production deal with Mark Burnett and Steven Spielberg. Contacted by a reporter about my response to the show and to Hilary's comments about me on the Fox Television web site, I emailed the following reply. Since I doubt it will ever appear in print (reporters generally shy away from my words, which are considered too "provocative" and "incendiary" to put into their articles), I thought my email to her might be worth sharing with site visitors:

To Jenny Brown:

.... I'm at a bit of a loss on how to respond. I don't have a television that is hooked up to a cable system or an antenna. I cancelled my cable subscription ten years ago. It felt like having an open sewage pipe draining into my living room and I couldn't stand the smell. And I always seemed to miss the first ten minutes of everything anyway. I switched to viewing tapes and disks, where I am always there for the beginning.

So I haven't seen the series and don't even know if Hilary is still part of it.

The Japanese Edition of <em>Cassavetes on Cassavetes</em>But my independent film web site ( brings in thousands of emails a week about this and other matters and, based on what site visitors have written me about the show and the press releases I've read about it, "On the Lot" seems to fall into a well-established genre in which the rich, the powerful, and the famous attempt to make artists -- and artist wannabes -- their toys, puppets, and servants. The practice goes back thousands of years. The Roman Emperors did it. The Popes did it. The Kings of France did it. The merchant tycoons of Amsterdam did it. The Doges of Venice did it. Hitler and Stalin did it. I guess you could say Mark Burnett and Steven Spielberg take their place in a long, though not entirely distinguished, tradition -- a system of competition for financial support and "royal" patronage that Raphael, Michaelangelo, Rembrandt, Leni Reifenstahl, and Dimitri Shostakovich all participated in with varying degrees of success. Artists need support. God knows they do. So it's always a question of how and where they are going to get it. The important thing, of course, is to hold onto your soul throughout the whole draining -- and potentially demeaning -- process. I wish Hilary luck. She was a deep, thoughtful student and artist. That's not always a recipe for success in prime-time television.

Hope that's of use to you. I give you permission to use any or all of it.... -- Ray Carney

To complete the record, only a few minutes after sending the above, I received the following response and wrote my own brief response:

Subject: writing a profile of Hilary Weisman Graham

Thank you so much, Professor Carney, for such a thoughtful answer. I
appreciate your taking the time to craft a reply. Unfortunately, Hilary was
voted off just this week, but I'm sure she'll bounce back.

Jenny Brown

I replied:

Thanks for the info. Losing might make an even better story than winning. At least that's the lesson of life as I understand it. More truth there, since most of life is about that. -- 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.