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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: Band of Outsiders

Dear Mr. Carney,

I am a recent high school graduate and will be attending Rowan University in the fall for Radio/TV/Film. I will be coming up to Boston August 7 and 8, and my old Film Studies teacher, Damian Storey, told me I should contact you and see what the possibilities are of sitting in on a class, if you are holding any at that time.

- John Bradley

Subj: Band of Brothers

Dear John,

Thanks for the note. Unfortunately, I won't be in Boston at that time.I have a response to a similar request by Carsten Czarzecki, a German visitor to the sitewho is coming to the U.S. and wanted to meet with me, at the bottom of page 79 that explains the situation. Sorry that we won't meet. Please give my regards to Damian Storey.

All best wishes,


P.S. May I offer a tiny seed of advice for your four years at college? Work for truth. Sounds easy, sounds trite; but it's really a complex, demanding plan of attack. A course of action that will take years. Take all the brainpower you have. All your subtlety. Use your courses as a way of starting to tunnel out of the prison, to burrow through to the other side of our culture of unreality. There's a lot that is screened from view. A lot of dirty laundry. A lot of fake knowledge. A lot of falsehood. Punch through to the other side of the corporate, governmental, media-created masks -- layer after layer of them. Be forewarned though -- the propaganda, the self-serving bullshit, the rationalizations are EVERYWHERE. Question EVERYTHING. Dig, dig, dig toward reality. It will take years, but you can use your college years to start tunneling under the superstructure to see some of what holds the entire house of cards up. To paraphrase Emerson: "Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on the planet. Then all things are at risk." Make that your mantra.

Subject: Your Work

You are a shining light in the fog. I return to your work every so often to recharge my soul, just as I would when I had read Emerson in the past. I just want to say thanks for articulating with such grace what many of us can't.

Subj: Thanks from my heart

I'm bowled over by the kindness of your words. We all, no matter who we are or what our situations, need a little love, so thanks for your thoughtfulness.

Tell me about yourself. I'm always interested. Are you a student, an artist, a reader, a writer, a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker? What are your dreams -- for yourself or for the planet? How did you discover Emerson's work (so many have no idea who he is)? Anything at all will be of interest to me.

I'm on vacation right now -- up in Vermont -- spending most of the day crawling in the dark dampness of a spider-webby basement, stringing new phone and computer lines, painting walls, and doing other things to update a 200-year-old house. I'm sure most of the people who surf the site would be flabbergasted to see me in this mode. They probably think of me as a brain in a vat! (The old teacher-lives-in-the-broom-closet fantasy.) But nails need to be pounded and cracks spackled too. Tell me about your life and what you're doing.

And thanks again for the kind words.


The writer of the previous letter replied:

Hi Ray,

A brain in a vat? You? Ironic that you should say that, since I've always imagined you completely different than that. In fact, it was you that taught me how to be a brain and a person at the same time (“Mental Identities: When Being Replaces Doing" -- and others). A note from Ray Carney: Click here to read an excerpt from this essay on the site. So it's not difficult to imagine you running phone lines at all. I'd probably lose respect for you if you didn't do things like that. Haha!

As for my "story," I'm kind of between stories right now. I live in Boston. I came here about 6 years ago to take a masters in English from BC and I've been stuck here ever since. There's a longer story about being disillusioned by the academy, etc., etc., but I think you already know how that one begins and ends.

I can't even remember when I first found Emerson. It must have been as an undergraduate, when I went head first into every book I could take off the shelves and carry out of the library. However, I DO remember the feeling I got the first time I read him. I remember the hairs on my neck raising and the overwhelming feeling that he knew me as I knew me--personally and unconditionally. Like he knew the words I said to myself and only to myself. And there he was repeating them for everyone to see. I remember thinking how brave he was. It was strange and bewildering, since I never knew someone that personally without actually knowing him.

And then there's his beautiful writing! A true master.

I had a similar feeling when I first read your work. About 4 years ago, a roommate of mine was studying at UMass Boston. He took a film class and was having trouble with some of his homework, so he asked me to help him understand a few essays he was given. The first essay he gave me was "Modernism for the Millions." (A note from Ray Carney: Click here to read an excerpt from that essay posted on the site.) I remember reading it and being blown away. This was also at a time when I was involved in a lot of "academic gymnastics" (as you call it) at BC. You really showed me what great criticism could look like.

It was later, through your work, that I also learned of Charlotte Joko Beck. You made a passing reference to her once in an essay and I found her two books. She's changed my life. Interestingly, after studying her intensely for months, I understood your work more fully. I can't describe it.

Anyway, I'm rambling here and gushing, which is beginning to be a little embarrassing. Haha. I will say this, though. I feel honored that I've had a chance to encounter a thinker of your magnitude in my lifetime. It's a great feeling that people like Emerson are actually ALIVE and even down the street. It's a relief, even. You've helped me to trust in myself, even when the whole crazy world believes otherwise.

Thanks Ray,

Chris Zebo

Ray Carney responded:

Subject: the path of greatest resistance

Your Life is a Movie cover

Thanks for the good report. Emerson and Charlotte. Not bad company. Visionary company, as Harold Bloom calls it.

Would you mind if I posted your response on my site? I could remove the name or the last name, if you preferred anonymity, but on the other hand, there is nothing to be ashamed of in what you wrote. I think it would encourage students to "think for themselves" and "go their own way." Something I try to encourage my own students to do. But, as you know, it can be a lonely path. And an uphill one--against the vast forces the culture arrays to keep us in lockstep with each other.


Ray Carney

Subject: From the Philippines, an Introduction :)

Hi Ray,

I hope you don't mind me calling you Ray, but it seems you've been a very close friend ever since I discovered you in the mid-90's in the pages of MovieMaker magazine. I won't tell you in this e-mail message the impact of that discovery on my life and my views as an artist (a writer and an aspiring filmmaker), but will direct you instead to a blog post on one of my websites,, where I tell the whole story:

Ray Carney and Off-Off-Hollywood

I've always been meaning to write you, but have been putting it off, perhaps because I wanted the words to be perfect. But after writing the article above recently, I felt that the words I put down came close enough to what I wanted to say (our words, written and otherwise, always fall short, don't they?) -- thus, at long last, this letter.

Keep up the great work,

:)Dino Manrique

Empowering the Filipino Writer and Reader
The Filipino Filmmaking Portal

Subject: Love Streams


I saw Love Streams at the cinema yesterday. It is a great film. I loved the operatic dream sequence towards the end of the film. By the way, who was the man with the beard sitting in the chair Robert Harmon was speaking to on the other side of the room? He looked a bit like a character from D H Lawrence.

Peter Quinn

Subject: Caring for (and about) art


Yes, Love Streams is a very great film. It was John's farewell to filmmaking. What the French call a "testament film." Cassavetes works in allusions to his earlier movies throughout, and waves goodbye at the end. He was so sick when he made it, he thought he would not live to see it released in theaters.

The Hungarian edition of <i>American Dreaming</i>But it's been completely neglected by the Cassavetes estate (Al Ruban and Gena Rowlands) and is tough to catch. I'd put money on it that you saw the re-edited print that has been making the rounds of theaters and festivals lately. No one seems to care (or notice) that it is a mangled, changed version. In fact, I may be the only person alive who knows the movie well enough to recognize that it is not the same edit JC released. To my eye, it appears to be an "edited for television" version -- at least as far as I can tell. But, as I say, Al and Gena don't seem to mind (or themselves notice) the difference from the original. The original edit is only available in beat-up, scratched prints from the mid-1980s. Even the 1980s video release was re-edited without John's permission, and is different from the version John approved. Not a happy situation! But, again, no one seems to care -- or even notice.

To answer your question: The guy in the chair is played by Neil Bell. He's supposed to be (as John told me once) a "dog man" -- and you can think of him as the dog Jim re-imagined by Robert. That's why Cassavetes creates a "match" on Jim's face and Bell's face. Want to hear something wild? In Cassavetes' original conception of the scene, and as he actually filmed the scene, Robert and the dog-man (Cassavetes and Bell) danced together! Bet that wasn't in the print you saw!!!! : )

I have a long discussion of this scene, including the dancing with the dog moment, in a book I wrote about Cassavetes' revisionary process, which compares each of his script drafts and alternative versions of his films, and tries to get inside his mind as he worked on the writing, shooting, and editing, and changed things in the process of re-writing, shooting, and editing them. But, unfortunately, you'll have to wait 'til I die to read it, I think. The book is sitting on my hard drive and has never been published. Too specialized, too brilliant (dare I say it??!!!) for the world of film publishing. If it were Mozart or Milton, someone would be interested, but it's just about "a friggin' filmmaker, for God's sake!!!" : )

The D.H. Lawrence connection you urge doesn't seem particularly persuasive to me (but you might, of course, be able to persuade me if you mounted a powerful argument about it). I think you may just be remembering that, late in life, D.H. Lawrence had a beard that looks, ever so slightly, like the one Bell has in the movie.

All best wishes,


P.S. FYI: I have an essay on the site about the subject of caring for art, focusing on Cassavetes' work as an example. Click here to read it.

Subject: david ball's honey


david ball's honey was exceptionally great. i saw it on creative commons very recentely and although the picture was so small i almost had to squint to see it i was deeply affected by it, which must be some sort of a testament to the overall quality of the film. on one hand i think that it truly is a wonderful thing that a film of that calibre or a piece of peoples emotional lives is so readily available sitting there on a free website waiting patientely to be discovered by all who would just discover it (you figure into that equation also of course). it does make one wonder how many other masterpieces or gems are out there covered by dust waiting to be undusted and uncovered and that's a good feeling or a great feeling...that feeling of possibility, what a classy move too... but on the other hand it is a great
tragedy that seemingly so few have yet to even uncover this particular one. if it rocked you it certainly reached out through the screen of my boring computer grabbed me tightly by the shoulders and jostled me around. i'm left with hazy snapshots of a journey i was taken on or let into to.

it seems silly to me almost to point at isolated specific moments in the film because the effect or experience was definately a cumalative or a flowing one for me but there's a moment or a scene in the kitchen between ruth and the silent stranger that is one of the rightest but inexplicable things i've ever seen in a film. come to think of it there's tons more...the scene on the stairs after the whole paltry party has ended on the staircase between ruth and john (or is it tom? - great) and by the time ball cuts to the flashback and then to that guy sitting on the couch smoking and rocked while his girlfriend stands silentley by the door looking at him you really feel you've lived through something. you're moved on so many different levels in so many different least as many different ways as there are characters
if not more....and then you see the gated elevator door window that you saw at the very beginning and it's even stronger now and nothing is the same as it was. what a strong beautiful haunting film. i genuinely hope david ball is still making films. is he? cause i look forwards to seeing anything that guy ever makes...what an amazing filmmaker...

peace -
mike brett

p.s. - we saw you in a video on you tube. it made us smile...

i won't apologize for some of the e mails i've sent because i must have felt that way at the time i sent them...i'm sure i did in fact - but i will say, and i'd expect you'd understand, that i think i'm going through some very serious (to me) frustrations and doubts. i do think the whole young filmmaker thing has a certain resonance for me because well...i'm just not young anymore and i find myself surrounded constantly now by people who seem younger to me if not chronologically always then experientially at least. i was thinking about you the other day and your role (one of many) as a teacher...i don't go through that on quite as large of a many students in a many classes a many semesters a year...etc. but i feel that struggle somehow...we got to keep coming up with new curriculum don't we? for ourselves even if the administration and most of the students don't want it. we got to keep it fresh for ourselves so we can maintain our enthusiasm and zest for everything. in fact even more than our opinions or teachings that 's probably the most important thing we can pass on...

Subject: Free screening of Sundance winner ROCKET SCIENCE

We are having another free screening this coming Thursday night (7:30 P.M., July 26, in Boston). Read the email linked below to find out how to print a free pass for two and to find out about the film.


Adam Roffman
Program Director
Independent Film Festival of Boston

Subject: Love Streams

Hello, Professor Carney. Like someone said on page 80 of your mailbag, I too have been wanting to email you for a while, but couldn't find the right words.

I also saw Love Streams recently (who knows, perhaps Peter Quinn and I were in the same theater at the same time). Something I noticed that you or Quinn didn't mention was that the print that I saw was not in the correct aspect ratio. It should be 1.85:1 (or something close to that), but what we were shown was 1.33:1, which is more evidence that it could be an edited-for-television print, as you suggested. The curator, who claimed it was his favorite film, made no mention of this or any of the edits. The quality of the print itself was great, but I still fell a bit cheated.

As for who I am, as you'll no doubt ask, I am a budding filmmaker in San Francisco. I'm working on Caveh Zahedi's new film (and playing myself in it), which is very exciting and fun and stressful. We watched 30 minutes of completed footage yesterday, and it's turning out better than expected.

Watch out for Brown Recluses and Black Widows in that basement.

--Michael McWay

P.S. Any info on those books of yours that are to be published soon?


The Japanese edition of <i>American Dreaming</i>Thanks for the info about the Love Streams screening. (The response to the letter higher up on this page has more information about the re-edit, which includes removing some of the nudity and changing the dream sequence.) If you search the site (using the blue ticket icon in the left margin of most pages), you will find other comments I have made about the re-edited version.

Hi to good Caveh. Hope you make it through the final edit. He filmed a "fictional" interview with me five or six years ago, but, as far as I know, it never got into any of his released work. I think the cover of one of my books is also in one of his movies, but I leave that to trivia buffs. The same ones who study (and write essays mentioning) the license plate numbers in Hitchcock!

Never even heard of a Brown Recluse. By the end of the day, I'm a black one (filthy with dirt and spider web trailings) myself. But still finding some time every day to write, write, write. And listen to Bach and Mozart. They keep me sane.


A note from Ray Carney: Another response to the Harvard screenings, this time from a current film production student at Boston University who was deeply affected by Randy Walker and Jennifer Shainin's Apart from That.

Subject: Summer, Fall

Dear Professor Carney,

I hope you are well and enjoying the early sunrises and late sunsets.

I've been meaning to write to you to let you know how much I learned from the Apart From That screening. The structure, based on various moments rather than following a traditional arc, worked beautifully. The film set me down in the middle of a strange living room and left me to fend for myself. Before long I stopped searching for the road map and let the characters and their stories lead the way. I spent a lot of time thinking about the directors' comments too. It was interesting to hear about their style of directing- keeping information from the actors, allowing the actors freedom to further create the characters, one director suggesting one thing, the other director suggesting another, etc. It seemed like a wonderful, hodgepodge approach- one that would never be taught in film school.

(material omitted)

I'm off to jump in a pond and watch the minnows nibble my toes.

name withheld

RC replies: Yes, there are more things in heaven and earth than are taught in most film production courses -- or are understood by most faculty members. I always say I learned more from a few artists about art than from all my professors combined, and that's what I mean. Let the artists teach you. Steal Bresson's ideas about sound. Learn from Cassavetes' editing. Let Jenny and Randy show you new forms of narrative.....



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