Wednesday, 29 October 2008


To access Ray Carney's complete website, go to

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

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

For my suggestions for the list:* (the film titles are just off the top of my head, most of the stuff they do is GREAT), I'd like to suggest you add the Taiwanese three,Edward Yang: A One and a Two, A Brighter Summer Day
Hou Hsiao-Hsien: City of Sadness, Goodbye South, Goodbye, Cafe Lumiere, etc.
Tsai Ming-Liang: Rebels of a Neon God, Vive L'Amour, The Hole, The River, What Time is it There?, The Wayward Cloud, Goodbye Dragon InnFrom Belgium,Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Dardenne Brothers: La Promesse, Rosetta, The Son, The Child
From France,Jean Vigo: L'AtalanteJacques Rivette: La Belle Noiseuse is all I've seen, but Donal and you yourself have said he's EXCELLENT, and based on that one film I have seen, yes he is.Maurice Pialat: Van Gogh and some other stuff I can't recallFrom Hungary,Bela Tarr: Satantango, Weickmeister HarmoniesFrom Finland,Aki Kaurismaki: The Man without a PastAnd these new young guys I've been hearing good things about:From Turkey,Nuri Bilge Ceylan: Distant, Climates
From Mexico,Carlos Reygadas: Japon, Battle in HeavenAnd you should really check out stuff coming from South East Asia. Especially stuff from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and of course, ahem, where I live the Philippines:Some names and films to look out for from my own country,Lav Diaz: Batang Westside, Evolution of a Filipino FamilyJeffrey Jeturian: Kubrador (The Bet Collector)Raya Martin: Indio NacionalJohn Torres: Todos Todos Terros

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

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

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

A lot of joyfully insane people creating. =)

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

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

It's a posting anyone can view.

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

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

I forwarded it to my two leads and sole crew member in Palangga (the beloved), and my girlfriend.
I told them I'm hoping and aiming for a similar reaction with our film.

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

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

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

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

A Heart in Winter is my personal favorite.

That painful scene where Emmanuel Beart's character goes after Stephan (I forgot the actor's
name) at the restaurant to get back at him for playing with her feelings was just so ... so ...
TRIVIA: I've learned that the actor who played the heart in winter violin craftsman was also the live-in partner/boyfriend of Emmanuelle Beart at the time.

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

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

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

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

She loved the three other films.

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

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

But after seeing it with Yve (the last time I saw it was with my actress last year), man was I wrong.
New layers in it opened up to me that I hadn't noticed before. It was hitting me in a personal way that it hadn't hit me before.

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

It's a great work.

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

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

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

Thanks again for everything Professor. trying to stay true


RC replies:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ray Carney

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

Hi Ray,

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

--------------------------------* MORVERN CALLAR, Lynne Ramsay.* A PERFECT COUPLE, Nobuhiro Suwa.* KEANE, Lodge Kerrigan.* ALL THE REAL GIRLS, David Gordon Greene. (Occasionally verges on preciousness, but when it's good, it's good---and the guys who made it are fans of Cassavetes on Cassavetes too.)* THE RETURN, Andrei Zvyagintsev.* FIVE FEET HIGH AND RISING, Peter Sollett. (A half-hour short later adapted into the not-as-brilliant feature RAISING VICTOR VARGAS.)* More Kiarostami: TEN, THE WIND WILL CARRY US, THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES, WHERE IS MY FRIEND'S HOUSE?, CLOSE UP. Maybe some Mohsen Makmahlbaf and Samira Makmahlbaf too. Iran is a happening place.* More Hou Hsiao-Hsien: MILLENIUM MAMBO, THE PUPPETMASTER, A TIME TO LIVE AND A TIME TO DIE....THREE TIMES is a good introduction but not his best.* More Tarkovsky: MIRROR, his best in my opinion. And let's not forget ANDREI RUBLEV.* Also one more Leigh: FOUR DAYS IN JULY---simply because it's one of the best Irish-set movies ever made.
From many, many years ago...--------------------------------------* THE COLOUR OF POMENGRANATES, Sergei Paradjanov* SUNRISE, Murnau.* ACCATONE, MAMMA ROMA, and possibly others by Pier Paolo Pasolini.* REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, Nicolas Ray----and probably more by him.* QUERELLE, FEAR EATS THE SOUL and VERONIKA VOSS, Rainer Werner Fassbinder---and probably more.* AGUIRRE WRATH OF GOD, Werner Herzog---and probably more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


RC replies:

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

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


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

Dear Ray Carney,

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

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

Reagan Molina

RC replies:


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

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

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


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

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

Jane C.

RC responded:

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


A note from Ray Carney:

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

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

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

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

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

Reagan Molina

RC replies:

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



To access Ray Carney's complete website, go to

Dear Mr. Carney,

I have emailed you already and i know you have a lot of emails to answer. I just want to thank you for your inspiring webpage. It helps to know there are so many others just like me. I was in L.A for 12 years trying to work as an actress ( if thats what you call it) and got so fed up and discouraged with the industry and how people try to suck money from actors. The worst thing was the casting director workshops where they ask actors to pay for a workshop and maybe they will call them in for a reading. I had done some plays and worked as an extra on a lot of sets before I left. Recently i am doing theatre again and have found some wonderful things here(NC) like the documentry center. They encourage people to make their own films and it is not terribly expensive like in L.A. Thanks again for your wonderful site I have read it many times.

Mame Cotter

RC replies:


I wish you well. Good work is always in the minority. Excellence is always a struggle. Even just today, I am "fighting the good fight" in my own program. Struggling to hold the line on excellence against the forces of mediocrity. But that is what life is. We make all values that matter. Nothing is automatic. Nothing is a gift (well, a few things are gifts from heaven: the friendships, love, and kindness of friends and strangers, but most good things take unceasing work, work, work). Keep going. It matters.


Subject: The Art And Politics Of Film

A discussion between film critic David Walsh and John Steppling about the contemporary state of film. Have you read this before? If so, what did you think?


RC replies:

Thanks for the link. I recommend the conversation between Steppling and Walsh to my readers.You ask for my response.It would be an interesting exercise to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their critique of the mainstream media. But I don't really have time to write the essay your question deserves, so I'll have to give a fearfully brief answer:

Of course, I share Walsh and Steppling's disgust with television and most movies; but I disagree with them both about the nature of the artistic problem and the nature of the artistic solution. In other words, their hearts are in the right place, but their understanding of the possible functions of film and television and other media is a bit too simple, in my view.

I don't have time to say much more, unfortunately: One quick point would be that a political view of art (or a sociological or ideological view of it, the view taken in most university film programs) is far too limited. The imagination is the most radical force for change in the world. Political understandings of and agendas for art are too small, too limited, too narrow. The world that politics and sociology survey (and exert power over) is a tiny, unimportant, marginal one. Most of life takes place elsewhere. Most of what matters in our lives has nothing to do with politics or sociology.
The world of the imagination is the real world and it is a million times larger and more important than the world defined by sociology, ideology, and politics. If people's imaginations were really free, the other problems Steppling and Walsh decry --the political problems -- would be solved as side issues. We must aim higher than aspiring for political change in the world, political relevance in our art, and political truth from the media. We need imaginative change, imaginative relevance, and imaginative truth. We must change more than our social institutions. We must change more than a few ideas. We must free our minds, our hearts, our souls from various forms of enslavement. And once we do that, the political problems will solve themselves.

Only works of the imagination can work on our hearts and emotions at the deepest levels. Political works are not enough. Shakespeare and Rembrandt and Johann Sebastian Bach and William Wordsworth and Henry James are more radical in their implications than the writing of C. Wright Mills, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn (as great as the work of these three is). Midsummer Night's Dream, The Brandenburg Concertos, Gulliver's Travels, The Prelude, and Emerson's Essays are more explosively, world-changingly, radical, dangerous, and liberating than Das Kapital.

End of sermon. That's the best I can do in two hundred words or less. This subject -- the power of the imagination to free us -- deserves a book, but I can't think of anyone who is likely to write it. It so goes against the grain of current intellectual fashion. But, alas, there is not world enough and time......

Professor Carney -

How are you? I believe it has been a couple of years since I last wrote you. I wanted to check-in and let you know what was going on. First, and foremost, I completed my first film earlier this Spring, The film, WORKING TITLE, is a 54-minute doc that explores what it means to be an artist in contemporary America, where you so much of your identity is placed on "what you do" for a living. You know when you've become a doctor. You know when you've become a lawyer. But how do you know when you've become an artist?

Thus far, WORKING TITLE ( has screened at the San Francisco MOMA, the
Montclair Art Museum in NJ, and just recently had its festival premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival. The film has been received tremendously and the Q&A discussions that ensue afterward have been extremely rewarding.

A co-worker/ fellow BU COM grad (I still have a day-gig working with Film Arts Foundation and other non-profit arts media groups in San Francisco) and I were comparing notes yesterday. I was telling her how much "Carney" had influenced me while I was in school. She asked me if you knew what I had been up to with regards to the film - which prompted this e-mail. Besides the completion of WORKING TITLE, I also wanted to let you know that when my partner and I were in pre-production for the film, and getting together for regular weekly meetings, we would read your essays on film and art as inspiration.

Thank you again, for everything. I hope all is well. Have a wonderful day!

Your former student,

Phil Lane

Subject: Advice for writers

Dear Professor Carney,

I've often thought as I've read through these pages that for an artist in any medium, there are some really sage words of advice at every turn. Naturally, since so much of the site is dedicated to film, I understand a good chunk of the material will address the concerns of filmmakers. But I'm willing to wager a shiny new dime that others who aren't filmmakers tune in for some inspiration/correctives. As one person who writes to another who writes: don't you think it's time to put up something geared specifically for those of us mired in the written word? Just one thing? Throw us poor saps a much-desired bone...


Jonathan Dixon

RC replies:

Thanks for the kind words, Jonathan. I take your point but have to say that I didn't really think of my advice on the site as being so compartmentalized. Much of what I say about filmmaking and other forms of artistic creativity also applies to writing. And if you need more, I'm not sure I'm up to the challenge right now. Things are pretty hectic (read: awful) in my department right now. So a few apercus/apothegms will have to suffice:

1. Somewhere I quote Cassavetes as saying there's "no such thing as an actor, how you are in life is how you are in art." Well, I'd say the same about writing. All good writing is is being yourself, your full and undiluted and uncompromised self, on the page. (Of course you have to have a self to be; a lot of people think, feel, and act with someone else's mind and identity.)

2. Then there's what Eric Clapton said about playing the guitar: "It's not hard. I just play what I hear." That goes for writing too. Of course it takes years to learn HOW to play what you hear. It takes a lot of knowledge to know "where to throw that paint pot" (to switch to Whistler's metaphor). In other words: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice."

3. Then how about John Kenneth Galbraith's point? "There's an amazing spontaneity and freshness that come in around the thirteenth draft." I agree with that for sure. None of my real work (these quickie replies don't count) takes less than twenty revisions. But once you've written your way there, it seems so spontaneous.

4. Then there is Paul Taylor's (or is it George Balanchine's?): "I can't think dance. I have to move bodies." Writing is created in the process of doing it. You can't think an essay or book out in advance. You have to put the words down and let the sentences and paragraphs show you where they want to go and where they resist you, as you push them around and tease them into new places.

In desperate need of help, hell-bent for catastrophe. The melting of the polar ice cap, the change in oceanic salinity, the slowing, then cessation of the Atlantic current, the unbelieveable rapidity of a new Ice Age, accompanied by famine then extermination.

So, based on all of the above (which itself has taken me down a path I hadn't foreseen when I started and has taught me something just in the process of throwing those things out there like that for you to read), I guess the main thing I'd say is that writing is a machine for thinking and that, for me, the work, work, work of doing it--the hours, weeks, months, and years--the revisions, changes of mind, and discoveries, are always about trying to find out what I think and feel about something. Not what I think I think, or feel I feel, but what I really think and feel--when all the clichés and stupidity of which I am capable have been wrung out of the sentences. It's impossible to know that in advance. Writing (like all acts of artistic creation) is a process of discovery and the writer must hold him or herself delicately, sensitively open to whatever comes up during that process of exploration, continuously willing to change paths to pursue new material, to go off in a new direction. That's how I wrote this response to you and it's how I write everything.

(And, for my money, you can change the word "writing" in every sentence above to "making art" and everythingwould be equally true--which is to say that the other advice on the site is no different from this advice. It's all the same process. All art, all expression, all deep thinking and feeling work this same way.)

Cheers and best wishes. Tell me something about your own work, if you're a writer.

Ray Carney

Subject: How to save a nation

Hello Mr. Ray Carney

I'll try to keep this brief, but I have many important feelings on this: My family has always stressed a spiritual life far above the trivial pursuits of most people. As such, I've had a very different take on movies, books, etc. I discovered Carl Dreyer and Tarkovsky through various books and such, and amazingly I saw Ordet, Day of Wrath, Passion of Jeanne, and Vampyr on the channel TCM and found Andrei Rublev, Mirror, and Solaris at our local Hollywood Video! Jumping ahead: One of my best friends and I had a similar conversation over the human soul which you reference in your Mailbag section. I've always felt strongly in the existence of the soul, God, and Eternity. This is why I've been attracted to Dreyer and Tarkovsky's work (as well as Bresson's, though I've only seen A Man Escaped and Au Hazard Balthazar.)

My father and I, among many others we talk to, all feel like America is going down the tubes in a truly 'spiritual' sense. Not a religious sense (since religion got us into this war as well as many other problems), but a spiritual sense. Movies can't save the world, and I feel I'm off to a good start, but what other films could you recommend to start the 'rebirth of the spirit'? Maybe books, music? Thank you, from the like minded artist of Reagan Molina P.S. I've also been writing since I was 3, aspired to become the next Hitchcock, turned 19, realized my stupidity, now am completely changing my perspective on art and its connection to life. I do make short films and have been talking to my mom about a film idea she had set in our living room and starring me and her, but I doubt anyone outside my family will ever see it. I'm also constantly writing a script on the last year my Grandpa was alive. His suffering was so intense that I'm fascinated. He was full of so much shame, and yet had more strength and poise than spoiled people who's air-conditioning broke.


Reagan Molina

RC replies:


Thanks for the thoughtful words.

My site is full of recommendations of films to view and books to read. I have added a new ticket icon in the left menu of most of the inner pages that lists some of the viewing recommendations in one place. I will soon be adding books and other art works to the list. (Click here to go to that page.)

I agree with your words above. Works of art only matter if they help to purify and strengthen our souls, our hearts, our minds, our perceptions That's what art is. Anything else is just stupid, wasteful "entertainment."

Life is not long enough to waste it with that--though, of course, I don't mean that all art has to be dour or grave to matter. Soulful, spiritual work can be wonderfully joyous and affirmative -- and even hilarious. Laughter is not the enemy of spirit -- taking ourselves and our ideas too seriously, too narrowly, too selfishly is. If terrorists and ideologues of all stripes (including right-wing politicians and occupants of the White House, who resemble terrorists in the rigidity of their beliefs and the seriousness with which they take themselves) could laugh at themselves and their beliefs, they wouldn't be such enemies of the spirit.

But here are two specific recommendations: Look at the work of Andrei Tarkovsky and Robert Bresson. Two of the most spiritual artists in all of film. They show us what religious filmmaking in a post-religious age looks like. They show us the power of the soul to change the world.

Oh, and if you are willing to move beyond the realm of film, you might also listen to Puccini and Verdi. If the whole world could listen to their work with real openness and receptivity, it might begin to understand what compassion and love can do to transform all of life. But unfortunately, in America, "entertainment" and "entertainment journalism" fills all the column inches in our newspapers and gets all the attention on television. The spiritual is squeezed out of people's lives in terms of art as much as it is squeezed out of their lives in every other aspect of culture.

Best wishes,

Ray Carney

A note from Ray Carney:

Two of my dearest friends and great filmmaker/actresses Dena DeCola and Karin Wandner wrote me the following note about a screening of their film, Five More Minutes in the Zagreb Film Festival recently. With their note to me, they included a note from Matija Kluck about the screening, which they were not able to attend. (Five More Minutes was screened along with another great film that is well worth viewing: Apart From That.) I include both their note to me and the screening report below. The screening report is a scream.

Read Matija Kluk's email to see what great art does. It messes with our minds. It rocks our world. It kicks our butts. In other words, it drives people nuts and makes them run for the exits. Ain't that great? Ain't that grand? What else could do that to our blasé, apathetic lives? To quote Thatcher Hurd and Baby Mouse: "I love it, I love it, I love it, I do."

--Ray Carney

hey ray,

our short screened in zagreb on october 30th in front of apart from that. we wanted to share an email from the filmmaker who organized this screening.

love and more love,

d & k

matija kluk wrote:

Greetings, my dears.

Five More Minutes and Apart From That were screened yesterday in Zagreb.

I don't know if people were ready for your films, but it was a great feeling of victory in some way. For the first few minutes of Five More Minutes people were laughing and checking each other - Where did we come? What is this shit?- and then, of course, the crazy cut came and the theatre went silent.

I think you blow those minds, but on the other hand, I had a sense that nobody was willing to acknowledge what just happened to them. It's easier for them to dismiss the experience, because the experience itself tricked them. After saying to your girl or a friend how "dumb" it all begun, it's hard to swallow your pride and change your "judging" in the end. That's why I think Five More Minutes is something special. I felt the same way the first time I watched it, but it proved me wrong. I think that's what I'm looking in films anyway- to prove me wrong, 'cause I'm constantly getting in trouble for thinking I know everything.

With not more than few seconds after the closing credits of Five More Minutes: Lost & Brave, Apart From That started. Myself, Luka, my girl, and a few of our friends that already saw your film (a couple of times) went out in the lobby for a smoke. After 15 minutes or so, few people walked out saying: "What the hell this picture is about? A hubbub? I don't know which character want my
attention? Stupid." - Ha ha.

I told Igor (a friend who managed the screening) to lock the doors so people must stay inside and see something different. He told me you can't force people to care. Otherwise they would hate it even more. Few more people went out right after that. At the start there was closely to 70 people at screening, but at the end only 20 of them stayed. And absolutely loved Apart From That. An actress from my film Asja (who played the Actress) and her daughter said they want to go home to think things over. All they did after I asked them what they felt was just a head nod and a smile. Some guy told to his girl - "Those were the best two films I've seen this year." His girl didn't say anything.
Must I say that the poster for your films was a still from Apart From That. A still of cows starring at the camera. Igor did it. Title was: NEW AMERICAN FILMS. So you got few more fans here in Zagreb. And a few people that want to kick your ass. If you ever find a way to come and visit us we'll screened them again and watch your backs.

Fuck 'em and feed 'em.


Ray Carney was so taken by Matija's screening report that he wrote him and asked:

Tell me about yourself: Student? Teacher? Worker-filmmaker (sounds Communist or Socialist, eh)? Old? Young? Male? Female? (Don't know the name genders.....sorry.) How many other films? Titles? Aspirations? Loves? Goals? Fears? Dreams?

And remember to keep kicking against the pricks. It's the only way to go. And keep making crazy work. In our crazy world, the only real craziness is sanity,


Matija replied:

Dear Ray,

I'm 24 years old, a male (a boy), Slow Days is my first feature. I did couple of shorts (Instrumentals; Vedran's Short Sick-Leave) that I consider my only film school, since film schools here are pure evil and teachers are worse than the government itself--all drunks who don't have any strength to care for any opinions other than their own. What they need to realize is they don't have any opinions of their own. It's nothing but fear and justification that comes out of them.

My only teachers are basketball coaches I've had in my childhood years. I learned a lot from them and then changed my discipline. Directors I love, hm--Wong Kar Wai, Jean Eustache, Goddard, Cassavetes, Renoir, Leigh, Branko Bauer (late Croatian director), Kiarostami, Majidi, Bergman, Tarkovsky, etc. Too many to mention.

I've worked on Slow Days for more than three years outside the system with no interest to get in. There's a lot of influences I've been struglin' with through all this years (including names above, your book on Cassavetes, Charles Mingus, Public Enemy and thousands more) and refused to finish my film until it's mine, all mine, and from all the creative people I've worked with.

Sometimes I hate people, sometimes I love them, sometimes I hate myself, sometimes I adore myself, sometimes I see a person, sometimes I only see a mass--so I make films with all these feelings.

My dream is to keep on dreaming, keep on loving my work, keep on working, keep seeing values straight, keep seeking for motivation- all that young and old stuff.

My coach once told me - With freedom you have a giant responsibility not to be stupid.
I try.


A followup from filmmakers Dena DeCola and Karin Wandner about the preceding posting with Ray Carney's reply:

love it! thank you!!!!! just got off the phone with randy and jenny (makers of apart from that). we are all so happy you put up matija's kick ass email!

love to you

d & k

RC replies:

Subject: levitation, mediums, ectoplasm, staying crazy

D and K,

You go girls.

Once, a few years ago, Harmony Korine and I cooked up a plan where he would get himself invited onto Charlie Rose and then get me invited along with him as "the critic." The plan was that we would wait until the taping started and then flip over Charlie Rose's ugly big round table and see if they'd broadcast THAT! But... we never got on..... Alas and alack. But I'm still up for table-tipping--in life and in art!


A note from Ray Carney:

Regular reader Jan Philippe Carpio sent the following url to me after searching for "John Cassavetes" on YouTube. Be sure to view both pages that the url brings up.

From: Jan Philippe Carpio

Subject: can it be true?

Did someone upload the whole HUSBANDS film on YouTube?


To access Ray Carney's complete website, go to

Dear Mr. Carney,

Over the last few days I have been reviewing your website and the many letters people have written you, and I am absolutely stunned at how personally and relationally you have answered each one. Reading your thoughtful insights has made me want to investigate the work of those you most admire, particularly that of John Cassavetes. I know I have seen a few of his movies over the years, but I must sheepishly admit that he made the greatest impression on me when I saw some episodes of Johnny Staccato that were shown by an offbeat television network called “Trio” that briefly existed in the 1990s.I may have less in common with you than most of the people who have asked for your advice, but I find there are some parallels. I am as fascinated by and as familiar with the works of Fred Astaire as you are with those of Cassavetes (though I have produced no books as yet). You may know that Astaire's widow often makes it a difficult and litigious thing to preserve his legacy, and when I was reading about the strife you endured as a result of Gena Rowlands' shortsightedness, I was reminded of this.Though I feel I am getting a very late start (I'm 45), I would like to teach film history, and I have made some modest progress toward this (atop a full-time technical editing job) by creating a course on Astaire that I've presented at community centers and retirement homes. At the request of one continuing education program I approached, I'm just beginning to create a broader series on musicals (though all these activities have been oriented toward musicals, I'm fairly well-versed in movies in general, particularly those of the studio era). I've done some writing for pop culture websites and for The Brattle in Cambridge, and introduced musicals at the AFI Silver Theatre, but none of these activities brings in enough income for me to quit the primary job.I have wondered if I could eventually teach film studies at the college level if I were to pursue advanced degrees in film history (I was a good ol' English major), but my chief problem now is that I'm in the Washington, D.C. area and cannot relocate. I find that all the universities in my area offer filmmaking within graduate study, but not film studies, and I've been surprised to find that there are almost no distance learning programs set up at major universities in the U.S., just at the business schools. From a financial standpoint, the most likely place for me to study would be George Mason University, whence I earned my bachelor's degree, but I was disheartened to read the following on their website:“It's obvious that movies, television, and the Internet have become an importantpart of everyday life. However, we don't think of them as 'serious' in the waytraditional academic subjects are, though ironically they have much greaterimpact on our lives. If you want to know how these media really work, how theymove and inspire us, and how they purvey certain ideas of race, class, gender,and sexuality, or if you're just fascinated by them and want to understand thebasis of your fascination, consider a minor in film and media studies. It's agreat adjunct to virtually any major, especially for students contemplatingcareers in education or communication.”I'm reasonably sure I do not wish to earn a master's in education, but perhaps a communications or interdisciplinary degree of some sort might be the way to go. I wanted to ask some people who teach film what they think. That is how I found your name and came to read about you.I know I should get on the phone and start interviewing professors for information, but for reasons not quite clear to me, I detest talking on telephones. So I'm starting with a person who understands the instinct to write a letter instead, and hoping you will have the time to respond.


Christine Bamberger

RC replies:


What's that old Groucho Marx line: "You said the magic word." Fred and Ginger. Astaire and Rogers. Once upon a time I memorized Arlene Croce's book (assume you know it) and adore all of their films., esp. Gay Divorcee, Swingtime, Top Hat, ah, ah, ah, "Night and Day, you are the one....." Stop me.

To cut to the chase: As I read your email, I was just about to say "George Mason" when I tripped over the clunky catalog copy you kindly forwarded. Thus the world. My own program (pretty much taken out of my hands by a hostile university administrator a year or so ago) is going this way too. Media studies. Film and TV combo platter. Race, class, gender, ideology. Feminism versus male chauvinism. Blah, blah, blah. It all strikes me as so fuddy-duddy. So old fashioned. All these 1970s understandings. You'd expect the classes to be playing disco music in the background and the professors to have mustaches and mullets. Sorry, went a bit overboard there. But what the hey?
All I am trying to say is: Yes, yes, yes, I feel your pain. I personally find the above tendencies not only dated but very discouraging. Sociology replaces aesthetics. Cultural studies takes the place of appreciating style and form. Promulgating and deconstructing ideological stances replaces feeling something. In short, you lose the movie. Fred and Ginger would become archetypal man and woman of the 1930s and depictions of wealth and power in the Depression. Is that what you love about those movies? Sure ain't why I watch them. I watch Fred's wrists and hands while he dances. I watch Ginger's boa float as he dips her backward. I hear the operatic extremity of emotion in their songs and the Musetta-like attempts to resist it. I don't see race, class, and gender. I don't see sociology. I see my life. I see love affairs I have been involved in. I see my own doomed infatuations. Perhaps you disagree. That's ok too.

But maybe there is some way you could go through the George Mason program and emerge with your heart and soul intact. If you hold onto them very very tight. For the reason above, I'm not sure my own program would be any better for your immortal soul. (Though my own classes and approach will never change, of course.)

But I have bad news on the job front. It is extremely hard to get a job in the field after you graduate. And the Ph.D. (not the Masters) is the thing most schools insist on. Ah, I hate myself for being so discouraging about this. I just don't know what to tell you, and I don't want to lie to you. Isn't there a way to "build out" your evening courses to get satisfaction from doing them? Or is that too discouraging for you to contemplate?

Let me think a bit more, OK?

All best wishes,

Ray Carney

Dear Ray,

Somehow your letter is not discouraging (in fact your riff on the '70s had me laughing); I've had the feeling that the Ph.D. was necessary, and also that there is limited demand for the subject matter, at least the way we agree we would prefer to teach it.My next plan of action is to talk to someone at Mason who teaches film, and see what interdisciplinary plan might be worked out, but I'm going to admit to her up front that I don't care for the philosophy of the clunky copy... I just want to study films as one would study literature, for their beauty and poetry and what they tell us about the time in which they were made.I've wondered about the viability of simply expanding the evening courses, whether I might ever be able to cobble together enough opportunities here and there to make it add up. To be truthful, I'd rather go that route. Maybe I should drum up a greater marketing campaign and just try to get more gigs...I absolutely agree with what you say about Astaire and Rogers. I found this marvelous paragraph in your article on Woody Allen:“Even if we stay strictly within the realm of popular film, the romance comparison doesn't hold up. I take the two great bodies of classic romance in Hollywood film to be the Thirties films of Frank Capra, and the musicals in which Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced together. Yet in that work too one finds not expressive slackness and escapism, but the contrary: demands that the individual romantic rigorously negotiate the obstacle course of social expression and dramatic relationship. These are tough films. Only a sentimental misreading of Capra's or Astaire's and Rogers' work turns it into swoony, dreamy, unrealistic 'romancing' in the sense in which Allen's defenders invoke the term to rally round Radio Days or any of the 'masterpieces' preceding it.”The title of my three-part course is “Fred Astaire: Beyond the Clichés,” because I get so tired of the series of assumptions that have grown up around this performer. The idea that he is purely aristocratic while Gene Kelly is the everyman (I love Gene, though). The idea that Rogers did everything he did backwards and in high heels. The idea that Astaire and Rogers were all wealth and escapism and art deco (there's actually very little art deco design in their films). And above all, the idea that Astaire is asexual, because I've been intensely attracted to his incredibly competent image for more than 30 years, and have found that I am far from the only one.I find the Astaire-Rogers movies romantic, but in ironic contrast to what is constantly said of them, often realistic (and that overused word, timeless) in the way that they portray egalitarian love affairs, longing and pain. They are integrated musicals, pre-Oklahoma (but post-Show Boat, if I may get in a jab the musical historians who always conveniently forget that show). And unlike so many films made under the Code, they are clearly about sexual romantic involvements. Astaire made such a dramatic break from the years of dancing with sis, and Rogers was the perfect partner for him in evoking such eroticism, because (as Croce and John Mueller have pointed out) she was such a fine actor in those dances.Ah, so you see? When you get me going...Thanks so very much for your prompt and thoughtful reply. It does help.

Warm regards,


A note from Ray Carney:

The following letter was written in response to my listening recommendations to a reader on a previous Mailbag page (click here to go there):

Subject: Speaking of Bach...

... Since we're on the subject, I have a question for you. Do you know of the BEST recordings of Bach's music currently available on CD, either current or out of print? I've tried several different CDs and I've loved some and abominated others, mostly due to sound recording quality. Any CDs you personally recommend with the best conductors, soloists, sound recording, etc.? I like all of Bach but I'm particularly interested in 1) the cello suites, 2) the Brandenburg Concertos, 3) St. Matthew's Passion. Only respond if you have spare time.


RC replies:


I'm not sure I really understand the problem, but let me take a few shots at an answer. I don't know exactly what the "sound recording" issues you have are. I don't have problems like this. In fact, I find that almost everything I own on CD is fascinatingly performed and well-recorded. But here are a few questions, random thoughts, and rules of thumb that might be of some use to you:

1) Are you playing the material on a good enough system? Ipods just don't cut it for real high-fidelity sound. The compression algorithms that get it into the Ipod and the earbuds that get it out aren't real CD quality. So the first thing to do is to check your equipment. For portable play, a CD player still is the state of the art. And you need to have decent headphones to listen through. Don't let the style system rule you! Just because earbuds are everywhere doesn't mean that they are any good. They have a very limited frequency response. I use Grado SR 80 ("open") headphones when I am at home and use several different models of "closed" Bose or Kloss headphones when I am out. (The over-the-ear Bose QuietComfort 2 headphones are pitifully weak in frequency response compared to my Grados, but they save your hearing by allowing you to keep the volume level low in noisy environments.) The physics of sound dictates that open phones are always superior to closed ones (since low frequency standing waves form in closed ones, including all earbuds, which cancel many of the low frequency signals) but the open ones, being open, bleed sound into the environment, and bleed environmental sound into the headphone, so are not suitable to use in public places. If the above is not clear, all I can say is go to the Grado web site or someone else who sells Grado to buy open phones that you can use at home and check out the the work of Henry Kloss (Cambridge Sound Works, I think his company is called) to find a good pair of closed headphones. (Bose's QuietComforts are prohibitively expensive.) If you are playing the sound in a room, speakers matter, of course, but I'll assume you have a great set. (Many recent speakers are over-tuned to the bass frequencies because of the popularity of rock-music, so be sure you have decent speakers for classical listening. And your ears will thank you thirty years from now.)

2) The next issue is the miking and other recording methods used on the CD. Generally, any CD recorded in a properly equipped studio after 2001 has state of the art frequency recording, everything that the human ear is capable of hearing has been encoded; but I'd emphasize that you need not limit yourself to CDs produced in the past six or seven years. The microphone placement and recording conditions are generally good on everything made in the past thirty years, with the exception of some live recordings. I personally stay away from most "live" opera recordings and many "live" symphony recordings since it is just too hard to mike the sound adequately, but on the other hand "live" piano or chamber music recordings can be just as good technically, and often much more thrilling than studio recordings. (And of course I am assuming you are not buying any of the "super cheapie" disks issued by companies like Naxos or Laserlight or any of the other knock-off or super discount labels, many of which are recorded in eastern Europe or are cheap reissues of live recordings with no name performers, or are re-issues of old bad-quality recordings that have fallen into the public domain.)

3. A separate note about microphone placement: The tendency in the past twenty years has been to move the mike closer and closer to the performer. This is not always a great idea, and it creates a very unnatural sound at times, but I have gotten used to it and don't mind it much. Maybe this is what you are having problems with. The mike is almost touching the instrument. In clarinet concertos in my collection, I can hear the felt pads hitting the stops, the cork hitting the valve openings, the fingers being placed on or removed from the keys. In piano recordings, I can often hear the click, click, click of the performer's fingernails on the plastic of the keys or the sounds of the pianist shifting his weight from the right to left leg (and the bench very slightly groaning in response). In oboe or bassoon recordings, I can often hear the inhaling of the soloist at breath points or the breathing of the soloist in passages where he or she is not playing. In Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations performance of the mid-1970s (the second time he recorded this piece), I can hear him humming to himself underneath his playing. Etc. Etc.

None of this is the way music was meant to be heard. And it creates a completely unnatural sound, like nothing you hear when you are really in a concert hall listening to a symphony orchestra play or at someone's home listening to a chamber work being performed live, but, as I say, I have gotten used to it. It reminds me of what it sounds like when you are actually playing an instrument in an orchestra or conducting one. These are sounds that, prior to the CD, only performers knew about. But again, I don't really mind them. If that's your problem, I'd say just get used to it and it won't bother you after a while.

The other analogy to hearing these things is to say that I generally sit in the first row at a ballet or modern dance performance if I can and when you are that unnaturally close to the stage you see things (sweat being spun off a performers face) and hear things (the crunch of toe shoes, the stretching of tendons, the pounding of landings) that are not meant to be heard and seen, and that generally are not heard and seen by anyone but the performers and the choreographer. I don't mind that in dance and I don't mind hearing the felt and cork and fingernails in the performance.

While I'm on the subject: The other thing about super-close microphone placement is that it acoustically "separates" the instruments in a way that a live performance doesn't. The Bach Brandenburgs sound completely different on a CD than they do in a concert hall, because the microphones and mixing methods create a group of soloists out of what Bach intended to be an ensemble sound. You hear each separate instrument with an intensity that you don't in an actual performance. But I have gotten used to that also and it is really fine with me. Is either of the above things what you are talking about in terms of "sound recording quality"? If they are the problems, I'd say you just need to get used to the fact that all recorded music creates a different sound (and adds sounds like the ones I have mentioned) from a live performance. It's just one more reason that live performances will never be superseded. You have to keep going to them to have that experience. All recorded music creates a different sound. It's why live operas should not be amplified. All amplified sound is different from all live sound, no matter how good the amps and the speakers.

4. But, more directly, to get to your request. I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you. It is obviously impossible to give you a "listening list." There are just too many good things, by Bach and so many others, to list them. There are hundreds of superb recordings in the past thirty years alone, and several thousand more from the LP era, before the era of CD quality super high fidelity. The fundamental fact, the best advice I can give you, after all of the preceding tech talk, is to say that the performer matters much more than the technology. It's really the same as in film or drama or dance or any other art. Have The Passion of Joan or Arc, The General, Last Laugh, and Blue Angel been superseded because of technological advances? Of course not. The idea is laughable.

There are dozens of amazing performers and performances who predated the CD era: Wanda Landowski in the 1920s, Arturo Toscanini in the 1930s, Vladimir Horowitz in the 1940s, Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer in the 1950s, Maria Callas in the 1960s, and on and on will never be superseded, no matter how many bits and cycles we build into new CDs and no matter where the microphone is placed in the future. Can Cassavetes' performance in Mikey and Nicky ever be superseded because of a technological advance? Can Laurence Olivier's Uncle Vanya ever be made obsolete because of a new translation of Chekhov? Can Suzanne Farrell's dancing in Balanchine's Emeralds movement of Jewels ever be improved upon because of some improvement in the way dancers are trained? The questions answer themselves. And what that means is that the newest, hottest, most technologically advanced is not necessarily the best. The highest-fidelity sound recording is not necessary as good as something that was recorded fifty years ago in low fidelity. What matters is not the technical side of the recording, but the "argument," the depth of perception, the statements made by the performer, the drama he or she stages. (And a performance of Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven is just like being both the director and the actors in a play. To perform the work properly, the performer has to stage an entire drama, shaping its trajectory, casting its players, and playing ALL of the characters, all of the voices, faces, gestures himself or herself.) That interpretation, that act of shaping, that dramatic performance is what you want to listen for in music. Ultimately, finally, conclusively, it doesn't matter how the piece was created or recorded, it's what the particular performer is able to show us. Some people can show a lot; and others, with the best miking and recording facilities in the world don't show anything memorable or important.

But I am sure I am wearing out your patience. You are waiting for a recommendation or two! I won't limit myself to Bach, though. Here are a few based on my current passions. I am, right now, working through most of Alfred Brendel's, Murray Perahia's, and Daniel Barenboim's piano pieces (mainly the Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart concertos). I recommend all three performers. Murray Perahia's Bach Keyboard Concertos with the Academy of St. Martin's in the Fields (Sony SK 89245) strikes me, as of right now, as the greatest keyboard performance of three of the greatest keyboard works in history (always excepting Mozart's late concertos of course). An overstatement, I know, but it kills me every time I listen to it, particularly Perahia's performance of Bach's Clavier Concertos Numbers 1 and 4. I'm wearing out my disk listening to them over and over again. : ) But ask me next month and I'll undoubtedly have another favorite!

In terms of another CD recommendation, I also adore the recording of the Mozart Concertos for two and three pianos Murray Perahia did with Radu Lupu a few years ago. It's Sony SK 92735. The duet between Perahia and Lupu in the Allegro of K. 365, with Mozart growling and Nanerl giggling in response, and the sheer bouncy, playful joy of the Rondo (seasoned with the momentary scudding of minor key clouds across the sun) is my idea of heaven. So there's another brilliant performance, brilliantly recorded (even if I can hear Perahia's finger pads hitting the keys and the felt of the stops dampening the strings and a few squeaks of the bench and the pedals!). Those are two of the CDs I have in front of me so I can give you the details.

Again the moral is that it is the performer and the performances that matter, not the high fidelity of the recording. Perhaia and Lupu "get" Mozart's jokes. They understand what he was was doing by writing this piece for him and his sister to play together. That is what makes this a brilliant and "heavenly" performance. Not the high fidelity of the recording. Daniel Barenboim has a marvelous Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, out with Warner Classics (2564 61553 2). And, if I remember correctly, he has a great live recording of The Goldbergs done in Argentina. Oh, I almost forgot Christophe Rousset has a terrific box set of Bach keyboard pieces, including the Goldberg Variations, out on Decca 4757079. But, to say it for the hundredth time, the moral of all of this is that I buy disks based on the performer. Not the label. Not the piece. Not the sound engineer (though that is important). The performer. Some simply have what it takes, and some don't. Just like in acting, in dance, in trapeze artistry, in stand-up comedy, in a magic show. The performer is everything.

I'll give you a negative and a positive example of that: There is a violinist named Hillary Hahn who has recorded with the best orchestras and using the best recording engineers and studios, but she simply is not a deep interpreter of the music she plays. So the high-fidelity is wasted. As a positive example, Glenn Gould's second version of the Goldberg Variations (which I mentioned the way, skip his first version, it's a travesty, a young man's showoff piece cut to fit onto an LP) was recorded in the mid-1970s (I forget the exact year), but is absolutely brilliant in the "argument" it mounts. Now, this recording (Gould's second recording of the Goldbergs) isn't really Bach; it is Gould, pure Gould, and, as I said above, you can hear Gould humming throughout the performance, but none of that matters. Gould's playing, his vision of the piece, his crazy, eccentric bending of it to his purposes, is brilliant, insightful, shocking, and original. And the word "shocking" reminds me of one other recording I'll mention by name, though I don't have the release information about it since I don't personally own the disk. Here's the story behind my recommendation: A few months ago I was driving in my car late late at night, around 3 AM, headed back home from my office, and by sheer chance (or the grace of God), I flipped on the local FM radio station. I wanted to make sure I didn't fall asleep at the wheel. Gil Shaham and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra were playing Vivaldi's Winter section of The Four Seasons, one of the most tired, worn out, over-played pieces in the repertoire (right after Pachabel's Canon in the "please give it a rest" category!). I was about to switch the station, but, but, but .... I listened and tears came to my eyes. The performance was one of the greatest I have ever heard in my life. Really. Life-changing in fact. Shaham went over-the-top to find something on the other side of this worn-out war horse. And, to my complete amazement, he succeeded! That's ultimately what I am looking for, I should say listening for, in every CD I buy. A mind behind the music that reveals the music in a new and exciting way, that shows me how it was put together, that reveals structures I've missed, ideas I've overlooked. Shahom cleared away the cobwebs of familiarity and made the music new. He revved up Vivaldi's beat-up, rusty old junker as if it were being tried out for the first time in the history of the world. (Balanchine used to do this in every ballet he choreographed. He would be your teacher and show you new things about what the composer was getting at. He would give you a blueprint that would reveal secret chambers in an otherwise familiar mansion.)

And that's ultimately why your journey through CDs should be a great adventure, and is ultimately not reducible to questions about super high fidelity or microphone placement. Go back to the old Pablo recordings of Art Tatum. Go back to the late 1920s recordings of the hot sevens and hot fives with Louis Armstrong ("West End Blues," "Ski-dat-di-dat"), go back to Billie Holiday's work with Lester Young, or Coleman Hawkins's recordings, and you will find things that wax and shellac were enough to capture. That's real music and it doesn't matter what headphones or speakers you hear it on.

Happy listening!


A note from Ray Carney:

A frequent visitor to the site suggested that I post a list of "Viewing Recommendations" and sent me a table containing the directors and titles of films that I have mentioned or discussed on the site as well as a list of sources for obtaining the titles on video. (I offered to give her personal credit for her contribution, but she modestly declined to have her name included in the table.) With thanks to this anonymous reader, I have accordingly added a link in the left menu that goes to the list she sent me. Click here to access it.

Note that this "Viewing Recommendations" list is a work in progress. There are many other
directors and films that deserve acknowledgment but which have undoubtedly been overlooked in the list. I would ask visitors to the site to send me names of directors or titles that they would like to see added to the master list. I will post the most interesting responses in the Mailbag section of the site and update the master list after I have reviewed the responses. Thanks to one and all.

Hello Ray,

I've read everything you've ever written about John Cassavetes and am a big fan. I admire your work very much. You offer insights that avoid the wishy-washy as well as the standard fare of tinny commercialism.

Because of your willingness (on your website) to offer people advice, I feel that perhaps it would not
be too awkward for you to address a few questions from me.

I believe this is a bad time for artists of any sort. You say a few times on your website that many
people who want to be artists are too familiar with TV, commercial movies, and newspapers and not familiar enough with real, chancy, flesh and blood art.

I graduated from the Mason Gross School of the Arts several years ago with my MFA (playwriting) and my time there was miserable. It was a completely soulless place with arrogant professors and mindless students hoping to make it big someday on TV. Studying real art was discouraged, although we did get our share of Shakespeare and Moliere. But no one knew Cassavetes or, believe it or not, even Samuel Beckett. We were encouraged to study sitcoms, soap operas, made-for-TV crap.

Ambition was King. We were encouraged to do ANYTHING to MAKE IT. For instance -- We were told that in times of a national tragedy (911 or Katrina-esque) smart writers would get to their computers and belt out a script right away in order to be the first to sell a script to some production company. While I am no saint, this callousness to the world around me depresses me as a writer. And of course, with the political system in this country dangerously out of whack, it is sometimes hard to imagine much of a future to live in anyway.

Before I entered graduate school I wrote plays, directed them and produced them in a small theatre company I helped form in upstate New York. While it was a seat of our pants type of thing, it also seemed like I was growing as an artist. I then went to graduate school to become a better writer and artist. To become a real writer. But since graduating I have been unable to write a play at all. It is as if a "what's the use" cloud has overtaken me.

Now I am married and have a small son who I am determined to raise healthfully and wisely. (My family growing up was, at best, badly dysfunctional. I don't want to pass that on to my son.) How does art fit into a world like this?

Was Cassavetes' life really worth it? Did the money he made make it worth it? How hard it is to see commercial crap held up to be the pinnacle of artistic achievement when the artist, the sainted artist, sits home unable to pay his bills. John's films are wonderful. "Opening Night" "Love Streams" are beautiful films. But maybe John should have stayed more with his family and he would have been a better father? He was certainly an alcoholic and that alone says that he was not a healthy man. Did he have doubts about his worth as an artist? How did he keep going in the face of vile criticism? Was it worth it for him? For us as fans?

Thank you,

Jack Florek, New Jersey USA

A note from Ray Carney:

I shall post a response in the next few days,but I would encourage readers to write in with their own responses on the subject of "Is making art worth it?" I will post the most interesting.

Dear Prof. Carney:

Here's a great quote for you I heard the other day by Marianne Williamson. I thought you might like it. We should all be like the fall leaves at their richest, most intense hues before we go down to earth... the glory of God fully alive...

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There isnothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Have a beautiful day teaching. I'll be watching, at your recommendation, Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice.

Jane Cochinski

RC replies:

A great great quote. There is a titanic combat. God loves extremity. God wants us to dare to love passionately, to live totally, to laugh boisterously. The world tries to force us to moderate our desires and expressions. The world tries to make us small. And too often we let the world convince us. Read Meister Eckhart. Read William Blake. Listen to Bach or Mozart. Our laughter is the twinkle in God's eyes. Our cheers and shouts of enthusiasm are the sounds of God's breathing. We are infinite and imagine ourselves caged and bounded. It's the tragedy of selling our souls to the values the world believes in.

Subject: The power of urgency

Dear RC,

I just saw the posting about Meister Eckhart on your site (see the letter preceding this one) and wanted to write you about it. What you say is so important. After I read what you wrote, the call of the autumn leaves propelled me out the door.

I cast everything else to the side so as not to miss the the glory of the leaves before they fell. Alas, most had fallen, but a few were still in full color and not yet nipped by the frost's chill. And I loved the "late bloomers" to the last leaf, and laughed that I had gone out to greet them, to capture them in full glory so that they were noticed and not forgotten. Cherished and not ignored.What is passion without a sense of urgency? A call to grasp the fleeting gold before it vanishes in a twinkling, gone forever. Who knows if the sparkling leaves would be there tomorrow? I might miss them. Or they might have turned dull and brown like the dragonfly I sent you, the life fled out of them. If we can learn to live passionately, urgently, in each moment as if running to greet an elusive lover before they disappear, giving up everything for one moment, think what energy we would release.
I'm reminded of a moment my daughter told me about when she sat with the father of a friend who had a few days left to live. They set out some lawn chairs at his request, and he listened to the birds chirp. He said there was not a sweeter sound in the world... Passion, urgency and attention to the moment, nothing else exists. All else is an illusion. The trick is to have all these things through God's eyes, hands, ears, feet and lips in each moment before it's gone.

With passion, with urgency, with attention. We must live each moment as though it's our last, as though there is no tomorrow. Our life depends on it, otherwise we're not living--every golden moment marked, not missed--new moments all within reach.

Thank you,

Margaret (last name suppressed at the writer's request)

RC replies:

Thank you. You say it better than I ever could. Our lives are so short. It always shocks me that some people waste so much of them on silly pursuits--like making money, trying to outfox someone else, competing with each other for promotion or recognition. The only valuable way to live our lives is to cherish each other and love our mother the earth, and give as much as we can to help and preserve both, in the limited time available. And, yes, when we laugh we see things for a moment though God's eyes, which is why when things go against us, the only remedy is to laugh.

Prof. Carney,

I'm an aspiring independent filmmaker, and a great fan of your work. You have the guts to really tell it like it is. Although I have the fire in my belly, I don't have the funds to attend your BU classes. Anything you can offer to point me in the right direction for personal studies? I want to make artistic films, not commercial crap. Specifically, these are my questions:

1) What makes a film great? (This is asking a lot, I know.)

2) What is the best way to learn how to make great films?

3) Do you have any plans to ever post a "master course" of your recommendations for those of us who can't attend your classes?

4) Your Cassavetes on Cassavetes is my current bible and inspiration. Do you have anything new coming out on him or his work? He really rocks.

5) Any other materials you can recommend or refer me to that might be worthy substitutes for your lectures? Any plans for ever videotaping your lectures?

Thanks, and keep fighting the good fight on behalf of the film artists of the world.


James Colt

RC replies:

As I did with the letter from Jack Florek several screens above this one on this page (click here to read it), I shall turn questions 1 and 2 over to readers of the site. How would you answer them? With respect to question 1, what excites you about the greatest films you have ever seen? What do they do? How are they different from mainstream movies? What makes them great? With respect to question 2, how important do you think going to film school is (both from those who did and those who didn't). Can you become a filmmaker without spending tens of thousands of dollars getting a degree in film? What do you need to know to be an artist? What kind of person do you need to be? Can such things be learned or taught or are some people simply born that way?

I'll post the most interesting responses on the Mailbag pages.