Thursday, 6 November 2008


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"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child" Department:
I've been re-reading my way through Shakespeare recently, and remembering back a long time ago -- to the day I first learned to read. Of course, I don't mean I really learned to read in a single day. It took something like a year or two to master the skill. I've been thinking how amazing learning to read was. How important it was. How it changed my life. How it changed everything. How it made me what I am today. I was in my early twenties, in the first year of graduate school, majoring in English literature, taking a course with a professor named Richard Poirier. An astonishing teacher. And a totally amazing reader in his own right. We were doing Shakespeare in the class. I'm pretty sure we were reading Antony and Cleopatra -- one of his greatest plays, but we might have been reading Othello or King Lear or Hamlet. But whichever play it was, I remember how Poirier was trying, ever so patiently but firmly, to teach us how to read. He had to be firm because it wasn't easy. Many of the students, I remember, were resisting, digging in their heels. They thought they already knew how to read. Most of them had favorite little methods, ways of reading they had been taught by other teachers years before, from first grade through high school. But, for whatever reason, I was ready to learn something new that year. I was wide open and focused on every word Poirier said. I was listening to his tone of voice as he read the lines in the play we were discussing. I was awed and mystified. I had never heard anyone talk about Shakespeare the way he was doing it. He was reading passages in a totally different way from the way I did, from anything I had ever even thought of doing to them. He was, in effect, reading different passages from the ones I thought were there. I was mesmerized. After each class, I would go home and see if I could do what he was doing on my own, without his voice or hints to help me. It was crazy, frustrating work. And then one day I suddenly understood how to read in a different way. I suddenly understood how to read in a way I had never dreamed of before.

It's hard to explain the difference, the shift that took place (and if it could be explained in a paragraph or two, it wouldn't have taken me months in Poirier's class to begin, and additional years after that to master it, of course); but one way of explaining this different way of reading is to say that up till then I had been treating words as if they were windows you looked through to see what was on the other side of the language. As if words and sentences and paragraphs referred to things outside of themselves: ideas, emotions, concepts that were just sitting out there waiting to be named like Adam and Eve named the animals. And what Dick Poirier showed me (though he never of course explained it this way) was that words weren't a bunch of tiny, transparent windows, but were closer to being course after course of dense, opaque bricks. Taken together, they made a wall -- a thick decorated, bejeweled, dazzling wall of language. In other words, language didn't open up a view of a world "out there" -- a world of objects, emotions, thoughts, and concepts on the other side of language -- but opened itself to view. Language was, in itself, the delightful green, bosky intellectual and emotional world that the work presented. There was nothing on the other side. There was no other side. Language, when it was understood with the degree of complexity and mobility that Poirier presented it, contained everything. And that was enough. In fact, what made it so fascinating was that the world of language was a heck of a lot more interesting than the world beyond language. DIck showed me that reading involved understanding, enjoying, appreciating the wall of language -- not seeing past it or through it or getting to some space on the other side of it. Words and sentences didn't refer to something outside themselves. The words were something in themselves -- and the reason that mattered is that the words that were on the page were MUCH more interesting, much more complex, much deeper in their implications than anything that they referred to, anything that was on the other side of words, beyond the page.

I thought of the story Helen Keller told about discovering language. I realized that up to that moment I had been Helen Keller making the connection between "water" and WATER. In other words, up till that moment, like her, I had been deaf and blind. I thought "water" referred to what came out of a faucet, to what you drank, to what you washed your hands in. Poirier turned Helen Keller upside down. He showed me that the word "water" didn't refer to anything outside itself. It was even more complex if it just was the word "water." He showed me how to make the word be enough in itself -- to hear its Teutonic, low Dutch origins, to see how it syntactically functioned within a particular sentence, to note what other liquidy words it related to in adjoining sentences, to respond to where it occurred in the verbal flow of the work. And, just as Helen Keller says her discovery was for her, my Helen Keller inside-out discovery was a miracle for me. I could finally read Shakespeare's language, by staying INSIDE Shakespeare's language, and not translating it into MY language, MY ideas, MY references. (Though, as I say, it took a lot more work over the next months and years to deepen and broaden my understanding--and, ultimately to take what Poirier taught me beyond literary language and into the languages of film, dance, music, and other art.)

Poirier's teaching me to read in this way set me afloat in a world of water. It launched me tacking my way on an intricate voyage through a tempestuous, flowing kingdom of shifting, adjusted, compared, contrasted diction, suspended syntax, and whirling emotional and intellectual eddies. Shakespeare's plays finally came to life. They weren't reducible to the boring stuff that I had previously tried to fit them into: plot events and character psychology. They were no longer translatable into childish symbols and metaphors. They weren't ideas anymore. Those were the ways of reading that so many of my classmates didn't want to let go of. They were committed to all those rigid, mechanical, dead, frozen formulations from all those chapter books they had read in grade school and middle school: "Lear is taken in by flattery ...." "Cleopatra confuses Antony ...." "Othello is jealous....." "Edmund is a natural man...." "The storm is a realm outside of society...." What many of my classmates didn't understand was that their ways of reading froze the turbulent, zig-zaggy, on-rushing white water of Shakespeare's streaming linguistic flow into heavy, static, hulking white icebergs. Their conventional psychological descriptions, their attributions of conventional motives and trite goals to characters, their clanging symbols and metaphors translated the richness, strangeness, mystery, and slipperiness of Shakespeare's language into something boring and banal. The way of reading Poirier taught me was always on the move, incredibly exciting and shifting, far beyond anything that references to categories and events outside Shakespeare's language could hold on to. The way of reading he taught me was electric with shivering, unresolved energies. It was the most exciting way of living imaginable.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I have been incredibly fortunate in my teachers. Thank you, Dick Poirier. You gave me a great gift. -- R.C.

"What's wrong with this picture?" department -- By coincidence the following notice for a conference on the Tango arrived in my mailbox only minutes after I had written the preceding note. Can you tell which kind of "reading" this conference is devoted to and which kind of readers it was organized by? Will Tango be understood as a darting, dancing, swirling expression of flowing energies or will it be turned into a series of blockish, block-headed political and sociological "points." (Hint: read the last twenty-one words of the conference description, beginning with "this conference will consider tango as....") The old ways of reading clearly live on--and flourish--at Harvard University. -- R.C.

Tango! Dance the World Around:Global Transformations of Latin American Culture
October 26-27, 2007Agassiz Theatre, Radcliffe YardHarvard UniversityCambridge, Massachusetts

Tango! engages with the history and aesthetics of a vital dance form in order to explore traditions of culture and politics in Latin America and across the world. Through performance and conversation, this conference will consider tango as a global metaphor with deeply embedded connections to urban poverty, social marginalization, and masculine authority.

MUSICIANS:Yo-Yo Ma, cellistPablo Aslan, bassist and composerOsvaldo Golijov, composer
SPEAKERS:Homi Bhabha, Harvard UniversityAlicia Borinsky, Boston UniversityJuan E. Corradi, New York UniversityDeborah Foster, Harvard UniversityFlorencia Garramuño, Universidad de San AndrésMerilee Grindle, Harvard UniversityBarbara J. Grosz, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced StudyMatthew B. Karush, George Mason UniversitySylvia Molloy, New York UniversityFederico Miguel Monjeau, Universidad de Buenos AiresMarta Elena Savigliano, University of California at Los AngelesMariano Siskind, Harvard UniversityDiana Sorensen, Harvard UniversityJulie Taylor, Rice University

Tango! is cosponsored by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, the Humanities Center at Harvard, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, with the generous support of the Consulate General and Promotion Center of Argentina in New York.
I print the following remarks from Noam Chomsky (sent to me by Darren Pardee) to stimulate thought about moral responsibility. Chomsky's initial points are profound and important: Namely, that NO ONE ever, in any situation, at any moment in history, has felt that he or she is behaving "immorally," "evilly," "unethically," "wrongly." As Jean Renoir says in The Rules of the Game: "Everyone has his reasons." We all have ways of justifying what we do. And, as Chomsky suggests, while we judge others by their actions, we judge ourselves by our intentions. And everyone always has "good intentions." (I have written at length about this in my books.)
I would ask my readers: What does this recognition that even Hitler had "good intentions" do to concepts of intentionality? What does this recognition that even Mao and Pol Pot believed they were acting in the cause of good do to our belief in concepts of "moral responsibility"? If you want to read a deep consideration of this issue, I would recommend Jonathan Glover's Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press, 2000). And, if you are interested, I have a discussion of Glover's book on page 79 of the Mailbag (accessible via the blue page number menus at the top and bottom of the Mailbag pages). Be good--or be as good as you can imagine being! --R.C.

Subject: concept of universality
From: Darren Pardee

Noam Chomsky wrote:

"You almost never find anyone, whether it's in a weapons plant, or planning agency, or in corporate management, or almost anywhere, who says, 'I'm really a bad guy, and I just want to do things that benefit myself and my friends.' Almost invariably you get noble rhetoric like: 'We're working for the benefit of the people.' The corporate executive who is slaving for the benefit of the workers and community; the friendly banker who just wants to help everybody start their business; the political leader who's trying to bring freedom and justice to the world-and they probably all believe it. I'm not suggesting that they're lying. There's an array of routine justifications for whatever you're doing. And it's easy to believe them. It's very hard to look into the mirror and say, 'Yeah, that guy looking at me is a vicious criminal.' It's much easier to say, 'That guy looking at me is really very benign, self-sacrificing, and he has to do these things because it's for the benefit of everyone.'

"Or you get respected moralists like Reinhold Niebuhr, who was once called 'the theologian of the establishment'. And the reason is because he presented a framework which, essentially, justified just about anything they wanted to do. His thesis is dressed up in long words and so on (it's what you do if you're an intellectual). But what it came down to is that, 'Even if you try to do good, evil's going to come out of it; that's the paradox of grace'. -And that's wonderful for war criminals. 'We try to do good but evil necessarily comes out of it.' And it's influential. So, I don't think that people in decision-making positions are lying when they describe themselves as benevolent. -Or people working on more advanced nuclear weapons. Ask them what they're doing, they'll say: 'We're trying to preserve the peace of the world.' People who are devising military strategies that are massacring people, they'll say, 'Well, that's the cost you have to pay for freedom and justice', and so on.

"But, we don't take those sentiments seriously when we hear them from enemies, say, from Stalinist commissars. They'll give you the same answers. But, we don't take that seriously because they can know what they're doing if they choose to. If they choose not to, that's their choice. If they choose to believe self-satisfying propaganda, that's their choice. But it doesn't change the moral responsibility. We understand that perfectly well with regard to others. It's very hard to apply the same reasoning to ourselves.

"In fact, one of the-maybe the most-elementary of moral principles is that of universality, that is, If something's right for me, it's right for you; if it's wrong for you, it's wrong for me. Any moral code that is even worth looking at has that at its core somehow. But that principle is overwhelmingly disregarded all the time. If you want to run through examples we can easily do it. Take, say, George W. Bush, since he happens to be president. If you apply the standards that we applied to Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, he'd be hanged. Is it an even conceivable possibility? It's not even discussable. Because we don't apply to ourselves the principles we apply to others.

"There's a lot of talk about 'terror' and how awful it is. Whose terror? Our terror against them? I mean, is that considered reprehensible? No, it's considered highly moral; it's considered self-defense, and so on. Now, their terror against us, that's awful, and terrible, and so on.

"But, to try to rise to the level of becoming a minimal moral agent, and just enter in the domain of moral discourse is very difficult. Because that means accepting the principle of universality. And you can experiment for yourself and see how often that's accepted, either in personal or political life. Very rarely." -- Noam Chomsky

A thought from Ray Carney: For what it is worth, I have my own definition of being a "minimal moral agent" and it doesn't have to do with "universality." It is that someone is willing to pay something for their act, something significant, to incur a cost for it, to suffer for it. In other words, if it doesn't cost you something, it's not really a moral act. If you don't lose friends and make enemies, have to quit your job (or get fired), make others mad, or lose something important to you because of your words or actions, then you may still be behaving morally, of course, but I give you little or no credit for being an independent agent of morality. You're just doing what everybody else is doing, swimming in the same direction they are, marching along in the parade. That's easy. That's nothing. That's not being a moral agent. It's being a moral follower. You have to suffer or pay a significant price, by being different from others and opposing them in some way for your act to count as a moral act. Christianity understands (or used to understand) this. It is the Christ story. The apostle story. The evangelist story. The great artists, thinkers, and religious leaders of Western civilization have taken this for granted for the last thousand years. But America's current shop-till-you-drop culture of celebrity and popularity, with its belief that the majority-is-right has forgotten the basic truth that taking a moral stand (as opposed to merely acting correctly) represents opposing, diverging from, questioning the values of the world. Moral agency has to be that or it is nothing--at least in the state the world is today (and has been for the past three millennia). -- R.C.

Arthur Vibert reponded to the letter Margaret wrote that I posted on page 90 about the difference between art and commerce, personal expression and manufacturing a product to sell:

Dear Ray,

This is in response to Margaret's letter on Page 90.

In my view, an artist has a truth that needs to be communicated. It may be a small truth or a big truth - it doesn't matter. It probably isn't something that can be easily articulated in an "elevator pitch." What matters is the need to get it out - give it form and life.

A product is something that exists to be sold. It has no utility to the creator unless money is exchanged for the use of it. It is created to make money and for no other purpose. This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. There are a lot of products that are very useful indeed. It is not, however, to be confused with art.

Things do get confused when the artist starts making decisions that are swayed by how "salable" the artist thinks they will make the work. The truth is a fragile thing. It can't tolerate much manipulation before it ceases to be true. So when decisions are made to "have a happy ending because that's what audiences like," for example, that kernel of truth quickly vanishes. All decisions must be made in the service of the truth of the work - no matter how painful and seemingly "audience unfriendly."

Art is not about audiences. It's about expression. This may seem contradictory in a medium designed to be seen by many people but that can't be the artist's concern. It may be that a film that contains a genuine truth will be seen by only a handful of people. And the Hollywood blockbuster will be seen by tens of millions.

The difference is that no one person in all those tens of millions will have been any more deeply affected by the blockbuster than they would have by the purchase of a new toothbrush. But of the handful that see the other film some will walk away deeply affected. They'll work it over in their minds - see if the artist's truth has resonance for them. They may go back and see it several times. It will become a part of their life.

For an artist, there can be no choice. Taking any other path means that, whatever else you may become, you have ceased to be an artist.

Arthur Vibert

A few days later, in a note to me about a film he recently saw, he incidentally illlustrated his own point, probably without intending to:

Dear Ray -

...I'm currently recovering from "The Valley of Elah," a film I saw with a friend last night. It had what you'd expect in a contemporary Hollywood film - histrionic performances, gratuitous scenes of torture and dismembered body parts, and Charlize Theron in the role of a single-mom police detective, mysteriously glamorous in a crowd of overweight character actors. You'll be pleased to know that I learned that war is bad.



Subject: Tokyo Twilight

I just wanted to make sure that you have seen Ozu's "Tokyo Twilight" (1957), which is available through Netflix. I watched it friday night and could not believe how incredible it was. By far his darkest film and I definitely put it into the top three of his. You can also get "End of summer" his penultimate film. Another gem. But, "Tokyo Twilight" is devastating and the main girl, Setsuko Hara's younger sister in the film, gives one of the greatest performances I have ever seen put on film. It is Falconettiesque. As you like to say, walk over glass to see this one. It was a weird night too because I tried listening to the Brandenburgs and couldn't connect, tried reading James, "The Outcry" couldn't connect, so I said alright, put on this Ozu movie and wham I was taken in from frame 1. Funny how that all works out. I wen't from supreme frustration to one of the great moments I have had with a film in a matter of hours.

All the best,


Subject: love streams plays BAM in NYC


I see that Love Streams is playing coming up at BAM on November 19th, as part of its "Jonathan Lethem Selects" series, its of course listed at 144 minutes. Thought you'd like to know if you don't already.

Love Streams (1984) 141minMonday, November 19 at 6, 9pm

Anyway, hope you are well and enjoying the fall.


Matthew Weiss

RC replies:


Great to hear from you! Thanks for the heads-up. Here is something to look for to see if it's the "re-edited" (or "TV-edited?") print: Look to see if there is nudity in the early shower scene in Robert's house near the start of the film. When Robert walks into the bathroom one of the girls in the shower should be visible rising from a squatting position and you should see her breast. (Several seconds of footage at the start of this shot was apparently taken out of the edited print so that you only see the girls from the shoulders up.) That is an easy litmus test to spot and go by.

Hope Lenthem's intro (assuming he gives one) is smarter than the essay he wrote about Cassavetes' work a few years ago and that (if memory serves) Criterion included in their DVD set. It was completely worthless. All jargon and navel-staring at himself watching Cassavetes. May he have thought more about the films since then, and learned to express himself more deeply. -- R.C.
P.S. The series looks pretty banal and predictable, beyond Love Streams. Why do these places get people who don't really know much about film to curate such events? Guess it's our celebrity culture striking again. If a film professor put a listing together, nobody would come.

This from the AAUP. Worth attending to:

In 2005—after several colleges and universities withdrew valid invitations to speakers during the 2004 election cycle—the American Association of University Professors published the statement Academic Freedom and Outside Speakers. Now that another election cycle is upon us, it is important to reiterate our policy’s key points:

1. Many colleges and universities permit student and faculty groups to issue their own invitations to outside speakers. That practice is an important part of academic freedom and institutions should respect it.

2. When an authorized faculty or student group invites an outside speaker, this does not mean the institution approves or disapproves of the speaker or what the speaker says, has said, or will say.

3. Colleges are free to announce that they do not officially endorse a speaker or the views a
speaker expresses, but they should not cancel a speech because people on campus or in the community either disagree with its content or disapprove of the speaker.

4. Institutions should ensure that all legitimately invited speakers can express their views and that open discussion can take place.

We believe education is best served by the free pursuit of all ideas, including controversial ones.
Nor should the university compel a student group to invite an opposing speaker to ensure “balance” or create a debate format. It would be improper for a university administration to require the College Republicans to invite Barack Obama in order to “balance” Dick Cheney. Campus groups should not be compelled to invite someone they do not want to hear as a condition for inviting someone they do want to hear. A different student group can invite Obama, or the university can create its own event and add it to the campus schedule.

This reasoning holds true even when virtually everyone disagrees with an invited speaker. Students might at one time have invited an American Nazi Party representative to speak. The invitation might have sought to give the campus direct experience of a position all considered abhorrent. Once again, we should not assume that invitations represent endorsements. We should also give some credit to our student audiences. They do not need to be protected from outlandish ideas. They do not believe everything they hear, and they are on campus to learn to think critically.
Revulsion at ideas or fear of them is understandable, but ideas are best answered with thought and conversation, not with censorship. That is nowhere more true than at a college or university. Education will not be well served if only bland speakers with uncontroversial views are invited to campus. The costs—to education, to academic freedom, to the social good—are virtually always higher when an invited speaker is silenced rather than allowed to speak.

A note from Ray Carney: I print the following letter from a "seeker" in Eastern Europe as an illustration that we are all on the same path. No one can make the journey for us. We must go every step of the way on our own. But sometimes it is good to know that we are not alone. I give the writer all of my best wishes. May his future spiritual adventures continue to be as revelatory as his past ones have been. That's all we can ask of life. And it's enough.

I invite site readers to respond to any of the questions and issues in his letter. Can you say anything to him that you have learned that might help him? That's, after all, the mission of the site: to share our common knowledge and experiences to help each other. Thanks in advance for anything you can tell him. I will publish the best responses. Or pass along any confidential ones to him directly. -- R.C.

Dear Prof. Carney,

First, please excuse my not best English.

I wanted to write you again many times, but I was always find some reason to give up because I don't know what and how to really say it. I'll try to do it as things comes to me...

At the moment I am very uncertain and confused about my life, not sure what exactly I want or should do - again, I am very sure about what I don't want and that I want to change it.
Since I remember I see myself as observer. I like to observe, think, reflect world around me and I really enjoy it. It is something like illness. I cannot stop thinking and complicating my life . I think that's why I was always attracted to music, literature, poetry, painting, photography. In that way, not only I try to explore and feel more but I have this feeling of communicating with artists. If I like some piece of art, I can feel their spirit, soul... as I get to know them in person. Because of that many of them are my closest friends and sometimes the only ones! I gave up going in art school (and I always wanted that) because I did succeed to enroll in gymnasium. In gymnasium read a lot and I enjoyed it. But I never read what I was supposed to, but what I found myself interesting. In literature class I wasn't really successful, because I hated the way how (and why) literature was analyzed... I really hated it. I always wanted to study literature, painting or sculpturing. But, in gymnasium I came up to one theory: that if I study what I really love - I will probably start to hate it. I didn't even liked people who was in art stuff. I think I just had bad teachers. So until the end of high school I decided to go to study medicine on university - I wanted something totally different. Exact. I wanted to learn about science, genetics, molecules, human life. I thought I will understand secret of life and purpose of human existence. I wanted to know everything...and more... I became different person. For next 6 years I was reading only science books...I didn't have time or will to read anything else. During first years of studies I became pretty disappointed. It was more about passing exams than exploring the world of "unknown". On 4th year I admitted to myself I made a mistake studying medicine. I felt I wasn't made for that job. I felt lost again and it seemed to me that my life and all around me was getting more complicated. Much changed soon: at that time I discovered and fell in love with film. I was delighted with "auteur movies", like Carpenter, Cronenberg, Kubrick, Lynch.... I was impressed!!! Little by little a became interested in more alternative films, obscure cinema, non-narrative films etc. (these directors were good way to start a journey). That was find and explore new world of cinema... I felt I was born again... In 2 next years I watched more than 1500 films. I still had to read a lots of science books and film was perfect media for that time. I decided to finish medicine. When I did, I got for present my first (digital) camera. I fell in love with photography. Even today, I am soooo self-critic - I hate most of my photographs! It's same with paintings and drawings.

I ran into movie called "Husbands" ( which I found about on :) ) . Thank God for internet or I couldn't get to watch these movies ever! ...I don't know what exactly struck me so strong, but it was huge and important to me. In short... the freedom of human spirit, is what I felt in this movie, was a launcher for so different and new way of looking on life, love, people, arts, film... What I found mesmerizing in movies before, it started to unimportant and waste of time. 'Husbands' really changed my life.

I finally started to read again. I fell in love with Chekhov! He is my hero and real inspiration! Soon I fell in love ( I do this often :) ) with Cassavetes and his films. Naturally, it led me to Your site and l started to read Your books, letters, texts - it was so good to learn that there are nice, smart, inspirational people with spirit and heart who inspire me like You do! I started to love people again... but I didn't love my life anymore.....

I had nice opportunity to work on university of medicine on department for social sciences (field bioethics). I thought it is good compromise between what I studied and what I am interested in in my private life. And that is where I work now, for last 14 months... All these months I was thinking a lot about what I want with my life. The job is interesting but I feel like I am loosing my time here. I have enormous need to do something creative in field of arts... painting, photography, film (I even have need to write, and I never did it... ) I feel I lost myself in one point of my life and now am again on the beginning - where I was once, before studying medicine. I feel I can do anything and I really believe in myself and I never felt more self esteemed. When I think about doing something in art and when I am actually doing it I feel released and free. I enjoy it. It fulfills me. I believe that is what I should do. Film attracts me most, because it involves everything: photography, narration, poetry... Recently I considered buying some 3CCD Sony DV-cam. (What do You suggest?) All the time I have real problems with my self-criticism: I don't like anything what I film or paint or photograph. (I also don't like how this letter looks like!). But I want and I need to do it! Should I do it? I decided to leave this job and go and do where I feel home. I don't have time to do both. My mind is occupied with thinking about too many things apart from that job. I'm thinking about post-graduate program (Video) in Slovenia. I need some connections and directions. I feel alone with my thoughts, but I feel stronger. I don't want success. I want to feel alive. But how and where to start?

I wanted to share this with you. You helped me to believe in myself.

Warmest regards,

(name withheld)

A note from Ray Carney: I have no first-hand knowledge of the following book, but am glad to pass along a recommendation from Christopher Batty. For information about the book by Derrick Jensen that Batty refers to, see pages 55 and 41 of the Mailbag (accessible via the blue page numbers at the top and bottom of all Mailbag pages). For a discussion of "mental emotions" in art, another thing Batty mentions, click here.

Dear Prof. Carney,

I read an amazingly great book recently, The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein. You and your readers are going to want to check it out because it deals with many of the same themes you write about ("fuzzy logic", fluid knowledge vs. fixed forms, etc.), but with more of a scientific, mathematical emphasis. Eisenstein writes like a less despairing, more polymathic Derrick Jensen.Here's his website's description of his book:"The Ascent of Humanity is about the history and future of civilization from a unique perspective: the evolution of the human sense of self. This book describes how all the expressions of our civilization?its miraculous technology as well as the pillage of earth, culture, goodness, and beauty?arise from our identity, our way of being, "the discrete and separate self". The gathering crises of our age demonstrate that this way of being is on the verge of collapse. And this collapse is setting the stage for a revolution in human beingness whose stirrings we already begin to feel."This theory that our belief in, our over-emphasis on "the discrete and separate self" is leading our civilization to the brink of disaster reminded me of your criticisms of "mental emotions" in Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Titanic, etc. He's made his whole text available online, with the option of the reader either using Paypal, or buying the hardcover at full price. I think you and your readers will find his book very, very compelling.

Christopher Batty


To access Ray Carney's complete website, go to

A note from Ray Carney: The Mailbag is full of announcements of events and screenings other people are having. I wanted to include a brief announcement of two events I will be involved with.

The official notice follows:

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation masterwork On the Road, Ray Carney, Prof. of Film and American Studies at Boston University, will be re-creating one of the major artistic events of the Beat period. John Cassavetes' Shadows and Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie's Pull My Daisy were originally given their world premiere screenings on a double bill at Amos Vogel's Cinema 16 in New York City on November 11, 1959. The two films have seldom or perhaps never been played together on the same program since then. Now, almost a half century later, they will be brought together again. Prof. Carney will introduce the double screening and briefly discuss the Beat Movement.

Prof. Carney co-curated the Whitney Museum of American Art's Beat Culture and the New America 1950-1965 show, is the author of more than ten books on film and other art, and manages the largest non-commercial web site in the world devoted to the art of film (at

Dates and locations:Boston University - College of CommunicationOctober 12 - 7:00pm York College of PennsylvaniaOctober 25 - 7:00pm

Hi Professor Carney,

I'd like to order a number of your books for myself and a couple of friends and would like to confirm the address/pricing/availability posted on the web from awhile back.

I'm finishing up an alternate cut of 'Busgirl' and am beginning pre-production on my second feature, 'Golden State'. While I am very proud of 'Busgirl' as a feature debut, I've decided that on the next one I want to evolve the film using a sort of homegrown variation of the process Mike Leigh has vaguely outlined in a number of forums. I want to get the whole notion of a pre-cooked screenplay out of the way of the performances.

Haven't run into too many great films recently, although I did enjoy Steve Buscemi's new one --'Interview'-- a good deal and can recommend. Other relatively recent goodies are two Japanese films, 'Linda Linda Linda' and 'Nobody Knows'. Semi-recent domestics 'Old Joy' and 'The Puffy Chair' rate. Director Susanne Bier I do not trust but she made a good film in 'Open Hearts'. Chris D'Elia's 'Almost' is very good if you can find a copy. Kiarostami's 'Ten' also much better than has been indicated, critical backlash predictable and unfair. Being still youngish, saw 'Mouchette', 'Wanda' and 'Forbidden Games' for the first time; excellent stuff thanks for various hints and recommendations leading me their way.

Not sure what the latest is on your front as I kinda lost track a bit after the release of 'Cassavetes on Cassavetes' and the Gena battles. In any event hope all is well!


Steven Schuldt
Santa Rosa, CA

RC replies:

Steven, great to hear from you! It's always good to receive recommendations from someone who is as knowledgeable as you are about film, and someone involved in making their own things. I'm sure my readers will appreciate your tips and recs.

It should be very exciting to work in Leigh's way. My book on his work has some interesting quotes from his actors about his methods. He's one of the certifiable living geniuses of English-language feature-filmmaking. One of the greatest contemporary artists. Not much competition there--in film at least. Artists are pretty rare.

Re: whether the web site sale books are still available: The answer is yes. I get a surprising number of inquires about this and am always puzzled. Maybe it's because I haven't raised my prices! People assume the listings can't be current since the prices don't go up every year!! Anyway, anything listed in the "Bookstore" (or on other pages) is available at the price and from the address given there.

Concerning Rowlands, the situation is more or less unchanged. The brief version is that she's a millionaire movie star who is able to pay high-priced lawyers to do her bidding -- and I'm not. That about sums it up. And the fact that American journalists and film critics are too star-struck to even hint that she might be in the wrong. The worst part, in my view, has nothing to do with controlling --or bankrupting -- me though. It's that she and other people she has appointed to manage the estate are not very good caretakers of her husband's art. There's ample documentation of that on the site, and, in fact, I just added a few more thoughts about it on a couple other site pages. Click here to read about Rowlands's attempts to control what I write about Cassavetes and to read about her retaliation against me (getting me fired from jobs or removed from film festivals or other events and projects) when I have attempted to tell the truth about his life and their marriage.

Best wishes,


P.S. Hope we meet some day. Let me know if you are ever East.

A note from Ray Carney: I continue to receive a stream of questions about Gena Rowlands's treatment of me. I have added several new items to the site to try to clarify the issues. Click here to read about her attempts to control what is written about Cassavetes, and her retaliation against scholars who have attempted to tell the truth. And click here to see the effect of her control of information on two recent "authorized" accounts of her husband's life and work. Both are written just the way Gena wants everything to be written. Their narratives are sanitized, sentimental, hero-worshipping -- and useless. They avoid the hard, demanding realities of creating art, and substitute in their place a Hollywood-ized "let's-put-on-a-show" version of the creative process.

Prof. Carney,If you don't mind I would like to ask you another question. On page 53 you say that you have more books and exercises on music. I feel like am ready to go further than the Kamien book goes. While I still have many facts to learn about musical structures I feel that my senses are ready to move on. Are there any books similar to your first recomendations or is sheet music the way to go?I also bought a camcorder rather recently. HDV, 24p (not that I have any urgent plans to get my amateur videos on film) and some other stuff for less than $1000. While learning about cameras I discovered many forums full of knowledgeable people. What actually surprised me was how mediocre most of the indie-films seem and how much they try to live up to Hollywood film structures and morals. I think that I'm so used to watching almost only masterpieces that I forgot how difficult they are to make. Trying to make small home movies remind me of that even more. It's basically a one man band with no real idea of how to use the instruments creatively.I've also tried taking up drawing. Despite being horrible with my hands I consider myself pretty good for someone with no training. What annoys me is that my drawings mostly look the same. I guess I shouldn't expect immediate results in either art. As Darren Pardee points out in your mailbox; we have to try many different things to find out where we can best give our gifts.

Magnus Eik

RC replies:

Subject: new forms of experience


If you have really mastered all that is in Kamien et alia (the others I mention on page 53), the next small step upward would be to go to all of the books Antony Hopkins wrote about specific pieces and genres. (That is to say: skip his general "intro to music" writing and read, while you listen to the piece, his "Concertgoers Companion" series, his "Talking About...." guides to Concertos, Symphonies, and Sonatas, and his specific studies (e.g. the guides to Beethoven's Concertos and Symphonies). That would take you to the next level. After that (but much harder), is the step to Donald Tovey's books. The entire "Essays on Musical Analysis" series, six volumes I think. Of course, scores will be helpful all along the way, but much of Hopkins and Tovey quote the score passages to make their points, so you can hold off on the scores for a while. (Of course, I am assuming you read scores. They are of no use unless you have a sound foundation in harmony and rhythm already.)Hope that helps.Your complaint about the "conventionality" of most recent indie works is mine also. These filmmakers, even the most highly respected ones in the group, really are not finding/making new forms of expression and feeling possible. They are just making "slacker/Gen X/Gen Y" versions of conventional films. Cotton underwear on the women in place of Hollywood's silk, as a friend of mine puts it. Twenty-two-year-old slackers sleepwalking through the same occupational and romantic crises that thirty- and forty-year-olds have in Hollywood movies. That's not what art is about. Bresson, Tarkovsky, Cassavetes invented new forms of experience and expression. Shakespeare, Proust, James invented new forms of experience and expression. Anything else is just treading water. Cotton underwear in place of silk.....Re: painting. Try to paint like no one else. Try to paint like yourself -- only yourself. How would you do that? First, you have to think and feel like no one else, or at least like no one else has ever done in a painting, and then you have to forget every painting you ever saw. Then you have to find a way to say YOUR truth, to express YOUR reality, to turn YOUR experience and way of moving through life into images. That's what the American indie filmmakers have not done in film. When their work looks like other movies, it shows that they are thinking with other people's brains, feeling with other people's hearts. That's what non-artists do. That's nothing. It's just recycling. Of course, seeing the world freshly, being original, being YOURSELF (and not someone else) is not easy. It's the hardest thing in the world, in fact. It's a very challenging challenge, in painting and in every other art, but it's the only challenge worth devoting your life to.

By the way, this process of learning how to use the tools "creatively" and "originally," this imperative of "being yourself," is EXACTLY WHAT IS NOT COMMUNICATED to young film students -- in my film program or any other that I am aware of. In fact, American film students are taught (by example and implication, every day of their university training) PRECISELY THE OPPOSITE OF BEING ORIGINAL, OF BEING THEMSELVES, OF SEEING WITH THEIR OWN EYES AND THINKING WITH THEIR OWN BRAINS. They are taught the virtues of "sharp focus," and "three-point lighting," and "balanced frame composition," and "clean sound," and a ton of other ridiculous, imitative, Hollywood look-alike structure. No wonder their movies are, with the very fewest of exceptions, stupid, boring, and banal. Imagine a creative writing program where the students read (and were taught to imitate and write like) Steven King and James Clavell and other best-selling authors. Imagine an art department where the students learned to paint like Norman Rockwell and Thomas Kinkade, the "painter of light." Well, that's what showing and studying Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg and David Cronenberg and Alfred Hitchcock movies amounts to in film programs. No wonder American independent filmmaking, even at its best, is emotionally shallow and intellectually light-weight. My "Auto Mechanics" piece (which I'm sure you've already read) has more than you want to know on this subject.


This in from the creator of Lowell Blues: The Words of Jack Kerouac, Henry Ferrini. Polis is This: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place will be showing at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts on September 20 and 22. See the poster below for details. (I admit to not having seen the film, but anything with John Malkovich in it is always worth watching, for that reason alone.) -- R.C.

Dear Ray,

I thought you or some of your students may be interested in this film. Olson was a poet-historian with a multi-disciplinary approach to his work. I hope you get a chance to see it.

Could you please Post this. Thanks so much.


Henry Ferrini

My short film REMOVAL will be screening in Los Angeles in a Filmmakers Alliance ( showcase on Monday and I thought you might have a few friends in the area who would be interested in coming along. I'd love to hear a few eye witness accounts of how the film goes down...

The screening is Monday evening, September 24th at 7:30pm at the Echo Park Film Center.
I'm told it's at 1200 N. Alvarado, just north of Sunset, and about five bucks in. FA are a good organisation so there should be some other interesting films in the lineup too.

----Donal Foreman

Received this from a recent graduate of Boston University's grad Film Studies program who has just started a new teaching job. His comments about how both teachers and students hide behind jargon and specialized terminology are particularly worth pondering. Many senior faculty members teaching jargon-laden courses in "critical theory" (the term says it all) could learn a thing or two from his remarks. And his viewing recommendation is one I endorse.-- R.C.

Subject: Hello from a friend...

Dear Ray,

The first week of classes at **** is already over and I am now into my second week. I love the job. Teaching is a wonderful profession, a wonderful way to spend one's time. It is never boring, always exciting. The interactions I have with students are so enriching and positive. I feel like I genuinely have something beneficial to share with them, like I can help them open up their hearts and minds to more sensitive ways of thinking about film, even their own lives. That is a wonderful feeling. And I'm learning new things all the time-from discussions with students, from my preparation of lectures/notes, from screening and readings. I am so thankful to be able to do what I'm doing, and I wanted to let you know again how much I appreciate your help.

I also wanted you to know that I am trying my hardest not to promote the same jargon-filled, self-indulgent film school rhetoric that is so prevalent in courses devoted to media theory and criticism (that's the title of the course I am currently teaching by the way). It's a challenge, not only on my end. I sometimes notice how desirous my students are for the quick and easy knowledge of definitions and categories (the stuff so readily provided by theories). They feel so proud and accomplished for knowing about the French New Wave or Rudolf Arnheim. A lot of that probably comes with their age and the false sense of elitism that a college education often breeds. That is why I am constantly looking for ways to promote a humble approach to any kind of criticism and scholarship. I'm looking for ways to challenge the categories we read about and the definitions we consider. I hope at the very least to introduce them to some good films. In fact, I showed one of the episodes from Nine Lives last class. Several students were extremely taken with the film, and a few of them went out and rented it immediately after class.

I recently saw a remarkable film at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Tsai Ming Liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone. What a beautiful film. So much pain and tragedy, so much that is unsettled in the lives of the characters. Liang's characters are so frustrating to watch. They get into the same trouble, and make the same mistakes in their personal relationships. But the frustration is extremely interesting and insightful, if we allow it to be. We must disown the notion that we are better or smarter than they are at making decisions, wiser at overcoming our flaws. We're not. Liang's characters teach us to be modest. His characters are also remarkably familiar with one another. That is, they grow close and establish bonds-not in the sugary sentimental way of Hollywood films. Liang takes his time developing the connections that grow between his characters. He keeps most of the scenes silent, without dialogue, allowing us time to really pay attention to facial expressions and gestures. We spend time with the actors. What a different experience from most films. But he doesn't overdo it.

At moments, his characters appear to be so uninhibited, free from the self-consciousness that is promoted by the myriad social codes of propriety and courtesy we follow. They are also extremely weighed down. They suffer constant disappointment. But they are never trapped. Liang has his characters live in extremely pitiable states, but offers us glimmers of hope at every turn. It was so refreshing to watch a film that depicted complications in the lives of its characters that went beyond the service of some goal-oriented narrative. If you haven't seen the film, I highly recommend it. That's all from me. I just wanted to keep in touch and let you know how I was doing.


Andre Puca

Subject: Art vs. product

Prof. Carney,Even though I've been tied up doing other things all day, here are a few thoughts for you re: art vs. commerce. Probably unanswerable. Just thinking out loud!I wanted to look up some info on Caveh Zahedi (after viewing his film), and found an interview he did. He said something to the effect that he had shot several scenes and showed them to audiences during the creation process. Some he liked better the original way, but changed them to what the audiences liked better, since after all, he wanted his work to be seen.Arthur Vibert's letter (on page 88 of the Mailbag, accessible through the blue page number menus at the top and bottom of the page) still resonates regarding the tension between art and commerce. When does the process of creating art give way to creating product for commerce? I'm recalling a Picasso quote I sent you a while back:

"From the moment that art ceases to be food that feeds the best minds, the artist can use his talents to perform all the tricks of the intellectual charlatan. Most people can today no longer expect to receive consolation and exaltation from art. The 'refined,' the rich, the professional 'do-nothings', the distillers of quintessence desire only the peculiar, the sensational, the eccentric, the scandalous in today's art. I myself, since the advent of Cubism, have fed these fellows what they wanted and satisfied these critics with all the ridiculous ideas that have passed through my mind. The less they understood them, the more they admired me. Through amusing myself with all these absurd farces, I became celebrated, and very rapidly. For a painter, celebrity means sales and consequent affluence. Today, as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone, I do not have the effrontery to consider myself an artist at all, not in the grand old meaning of the word: Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, Goya were great painters. I am only a public clown - a mountebank. I have understood my time and have exploited the imbecility, the vanity, the greed of my contemporaries. It is a bitter confession, this confession of mine, more painful than it may seem. But at least and at last it does have the merit of being honest." (Pablo Picasso, 1952)How does an artist know when they are beginning to cross the line over to commerce? It's sad to me of the compromises that are evidently being made in order to make a living, although that may not be the only reason revision of the original artistic occurs. People want their truth not to be a bitter pill to be swallowed, but sugar-coated to make it easier to swallow. As Oscar Wilde once said (I love this quote!), "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh." Where does this cross over the line from art to product as useless entertainment?I feel fortunate that I'm free to pursue my understanding of creating "art" without the pressures of having to make a living. And those pressures are certainly not new to civilization. I treasure the freedom to create what I want when I want to share with whoever I wish. Blessed are those who are free to create without having to earn their bread... Why oh why can't some of the super-billionaires of the world be patrons of some of our best artists and allow them to create their art without restriction? (If I was a billionaire, I would certainly publish ALL of your works, and keep them from being lost to the world.)


Subject: film student comments

Professor Carney,

As a film student and aspiring independent filmmaker myself, I felt obliged to send off a quick letter to you, although I'm sure that you're up to your neck in work for the new school year.I am a tremendous admirer of John Cassavetes, and am reading your "C on C" right now; excellent work, and from my personal perspective, a real source of inspiration and ideas. Although up until only recently a true biography of the man didn't exist, knowledge of the circumstances surrounding his works is crucial information for any young filmmaker. I consider your book a definitive text.Sorry to read about your Ur Shadows debacle that is on-going. I hope to one day get a chance to see that version of the film; I congratulate you on your principles regarding the fight and offer my very best wishes in your bold crusade to keep it in existence. Remember: Citizen Kane was very nearly burned at the hands of William Randolph Hearst himself, and at least one offer was made to have The Last Temptation of Christ and its original negative destroyed. And yet those works have thrived, as, I suspect, will Cassavetes' first film.Incidentally -- although I know your controversial feelings regarding Citizen Kane and its importance -- I am a also a tremendous fan of Welles. Have you followed the pushes to get his later, independent works available to the public? Unfortunately, his works have different and various copyright holders and both his daughter, Beatrice, and his longtime significant other/collaborator, Oja Kodar, have failed to come to any mutual agreements to get his total body of work available. It is always both the fans and the academics who suffer.As both an aspiring filmmaker and teacher of theory, thank you for your important work.

Very sincerely,

Chad Kushins

RC replies: Thanks, Chad, for the good words. I have a link higher up on this page that has an overview of Gena Rowlands's attempts to control and censor what is written about Cassavetes and attempts to suppress his unpublished writing and keep his undistributed films from being screened. Yes, it's a sad situation -- for film and for lovers of film. But let me make one thing very, very clear: There's no need whatsoever to feel sorry for me. The fact is that I feel incredibly lucky. Incredibly fortunate. Not to be immodest, but what if I hadn't been born, what if I hadn't been around to fight these battles, what if I weren't here to save the first version of Shadows from destruction, to lobby to have the alternate versions of other Cassavetes films released on DVD, to work behind the scenes to make other unreleased works by him available for viewing in the future, to work to preserve his work and honor his life and art? You see what I mean? What a gift I've been given to be able to fight these battles. What a lucky life I've had, to have been able to do the things I am doing. To have been given these opportunities. It has been a great gift from God. I feel so fortunate. So blessed. --
George Bailey

Subject: Krishnamurti and Lenny Bruce

Hey Ray- How are you? I was reading Krishnamurti today and thought about that Lenny Bruce quote you like so much, the "Truth is" one. Well here is the quote: "So long as you are unwilling to be nothing, which in fact you are, you must inevitably breed sorrow and antagonism. The willingness to be nothing is not a matter of renunciation, of enforcement, inner or outer, but seeing the truth of WHAT IS. Seeing the truth of WHAT IS brings freedom from the fear of insecurity, the fear which breeds attachment and leads to the illusion of detachment, renunciation. The love of WHAT IS is the beginning of wisdom. Love alone shares, it alone can commune." Have you read him before? I'm re-reading "The Book of Life" for the third or fourth time. He is really great writing about the nature of thought. As good as any Zen book I have come across. Well, I'm taking the plunge. I'm off to Zen Mountain Monastery for a month. Thanks for mentioning Daido Lori to me, otherwise I probably wouldn't be going. I'm a little bit scared, but I guess it is a good thing. Never thought I'd end up at a Monastery in my life, but... I got to see some of Rosenblatt's later films this past month. I love his films with Ella, his daughter. I guess he is finishing a new one with her. They are such different tones than his other films. What a magical child/father combo. Hope you are well and thanks for your ongoing thrust to purify. It encourages me to be at my best. By the way, what do you make of 2012 and a 10th planet/pole shift in our solar system. Is that stuff real or just crazy end of times philosophy?

Lucas Sabean

RC replies:

Subject: The nothing that is not, and the nothing that isThanks, Lucas. Great soul-thoughts to ponder.Of course. Krishnamurti is a long-time fave. He got me started down the path in my salad days. High school and college, I mean.Good luck at ZMM! Hope your knees make it in one piece. You're very daring and brave. A lot of things can crawl out from under the carpet. Or the tatami, I guess I should say. John Daido Loori is one of the enlightened masters. Along with Charlotte Beck and Steve Hagen and a few others.A stay in a monastery can be very useful, of course, but (as you know) mindfulness can be practiced everywhere, all the time, with every breath. A monastery is not required.I agree with you about Jay's recent things. Did you see "I Like It A Lot" (if I'm not misremembering the title) and "I Used To Be a Filmmaker?" Good good stuff. When she comes into it, she brings a new gentleness, sweetness, generosity, and humor to his work. Try to find his "A Pregnant Moment" if you can. It's not about Ella, but very deep.Let me know how the ZMM experience goes. And remember the important thing is not to pressure yourself while you're there--not to try to do anything, to attain anything, to achieve something, to get anywhere. The point is just to be willing to be how you are, where you are, while you are. Easier said than done, of course. We always prefer the pressure, the drama, the endless, pointless hamster track of thinking we're achieving something. In a word, we prefer delusion. It's very hard to just be. Yours,YodaP.S. Don't worry about 2012. There are better things to worry about. Much bigger things. (How's that for cold consolation?) Or I should say: not to worry about. Worry does nothing but waste your emotions. As Wallace Stevens says, one must have a mind of winter. (If site readers don't know what I am alluding to, a starter course can be found in the first reply on the top of Mailbag page 55).


To access Ray Carney's complete website, go to

A note from Ray Carney: One of the three or four major cinematic "discoveries" of the past year for me was Randy Walker and Jennifer Shainin's Apart from That -- a film so original and different that its brilliance almost resists categorization. Randy and Jenny have recently informed me that they are now selling an Apart from That special edition DVD/CD/Art/Photo package. I highly recommend going to this link and checking out their offer. It's a terrific film and the entire package of material they are offering is almost irresistible. (To read an exchange between the filmmakers and Ray Carney on page 69 of the Mailbag, click here. To read the program note Ray Carney wrote for the screening of Apart From That at the Harvard University Film Archive, click here. -- R.C
A note from Ray Carney: Reluctant as I am to revisit old wounds and court opportunities to shed new blood (especially when it's my own!), I have to print this brief note from Mitch Hampton picking up the "Bad Babies/Original Sin/Twenty-percent" thread from a previous discussion. See the middle of Mailbag page 85 (accessible via the blue page number menus at the top and bottom of this page), if you don't know what he is referring to. And thanks, Mitch. I agree with you! The "twenty percent" are born that way! And the rest of us are born our ways, too! Even Baby Cha-Cha. Beauty may be skin deep, but DNA goes to the bone -- and is there from the start. Anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear, doesn't need to read Steven Pinker to know that. -- R.C.

Subject: no inborn innocence

Hey Ray:

Stumbling upon the Mailbag, I was so happy to see you defend the truth of how compromised, divided, and otherwise conflicted is the status of the newborn. You don't need the Catholic church to see that (one of the few things they got right): the most thoroughgoing evolutionary biologist and neuroscientist in all of their "materialism" sees that. Their research reveals what the poets (even Wordsworth, but not as much as Coleridge) always knew in their texts: how stubborn and ancient are our flaws. What's bred in the bone. Things like jealousy and attraction to fat and sugar in diet and homicidal aggression actually have roots prior to our socialization and experience. In a sense we have to grow into goodness. I think the reason why this is hard to swallow is that people think about how a newborn baby appears to them: it's kind of cute and doesn't really have a lot of agency in the world. thus they commit the non sequitur of "innocence". Also they falsely conclude that learned things are easier to change than "natural" things. I think we can change many things in ourselves, learned or not. But, when one considers its overwhelming neediness and how that carries over into adulthood....

Mitch Hampton

I received a 15-minute short film in the mail from someone I don't know and never heard of: Michael Duffey. The film is called "The New Math," and it is absurdly simple and small. A two-person love story. More or less just a conversation between a boy and girl. I wrote Mr. Duffey the following response, which may be of use to other young filmmakers, which is why I reprint it here:

RC replies:


I loved your "The New Math." It's really strong work. It's so simple but so complex emotionally. It kept me on the edge of my seat with the constant shifts and slides of tone and mood. Thanks for sending it to me.

But you realize, of course, that nothing will happen in your life or career until you make a feature (a feature as good as this short, I mean).

It's like the difference between writing a film review for a newspaper and a film book. A thousand reviews, the entire career of Tony Scott or Elvis Mitchell or Vincent Canby at the Times before them, equals nothing, nothing, nothing. One book can be everything. It can change film history or at least make a difference in the world. A zillion shorts later you'll just still be a guy no one has ever heard of and no one really cares about. A good strong feature under your belt and that may still be true (sorry--there are lots of neglected geniuses out there and you still might be one of them!), but at least there is a chance you'll be discovered by viewers and critcs and be appreciated -- a chance that you'll be Caveh Zahedi after A Little Stiff, Andrew Bujalski after Funny Ha Ha, or Mark and Jay Duplass after Puffy Chair. It's not necessarily heaven, but it's something. Something real. A chance to build an audience and to make more movies. But it will take a feature to make it happen. No number of shorts will do it for you.

So go for it, man! Shoot in digital and edit on Final Cut Pro and it won't really cost that much more than a short. Except in emotion and thought and love and caring and time. A feature takes your heart and soul and life. But that's why it matters. Just be sure you don't compromise. Any more than you did on this short. You have talent. You can do great work. If you put your whole soul and heart into it.

Sincere best wishes,

Ray Carney

The Boston University Newsletter, BU Today, recently printed an article about how the Medical School has adopted a policy of distancing itself from corporate pressures and influences in the education of doctors. I reprint excerpts below since they provide food for thought for almost all film programs in America (including my own). American film departments not only routinely accept but actively court corporate sponsorship and allow corporate influence to affect their course offerings and the projects their students get credit for doing. (See page 54 of the Mailbag where I give a few examples of how the corporate tail wags the educational dog in film programs.) Why is that less ethically questionable than the influence of drug companies on medical education? Why is this issue never discussed? (In fact, on the contrary: distinguished visitors come to the Boston University campus and tell the faculty that students should consider "product placement" in their films. Click here to read about that.) -- R.C.

BU TodaySeptember 10, 2007

Med Campus to Big Pharma: Keep Your DistanceNew policy aims to thwart influence of
pharmaceutical industryBy Art Jahnke

Boston Medical Center and the Boston University School of Medicine have adopted a strict new policy to prevent conflicts of interest between doctors and pharmaceutical companies. The policy, one of the most stringent in use at academic medical centers, bans all gifts from pharmaceutical companies, prohibits interactions between sales representatives and medical students, internists, and residents, and enjoins the industry from directly supporting the continuing medical education of individual physicians.

"The new policy promotes the independence of our clinicians," says Elaine Ullian, president and CEO of Boston Medical Center. "It establishes the highest professional standard of rigor and integrity in the care of our patients."... The policy, which is effective immediately, bans meals paid for by medical companies from the Medical Campus, and it prohibits financial relationships between drug companies and physicians who serve on committees that select drugs for hospital use.

Frances Miller, a professor at the BU School of Law, who is married to a physician, says recent studies have documented the influence of medical marketing on patient care. "If you ask doctors if they are affected by this, 90 percent will say no," Miller says. "But if you track what they do versus what they say, it tracks very closely with the interactions they have with pharmaceutical marketing."
Jim Post, a School of Management professor of strategy and policy, teaches a course in corporate governance, accountability, and ethics; he describes the relationship between drug companies and physicians as "an insidious system that affects choices and patient care."

Change that last phrase to: "the relationship between the rich, powerful, and famous and the teaching of film in our universities is an insidious system that affects courses and student education" -- and you have my point. But the difference is that while the Medical School realizes the dangers of letting corporate agendas affect academic inquiries, the film department is falling all over itself to make deals to get funding and corporate involvement in the curriculum from MTV, HBO, and the Turner Broadcasting System. What is wrong with this picture? (Click here to read more by Ray Carney about the lamentable effect of the university jumping into bed with big media outlets and Hollywood superstars, inviting their representatives to speak on campus, and making them faculty members -- even as it neglects the real artists of the medium.)

A note from Ray Carney: I received an exceptional independent film in the mail from a young filmmaker named Matthew Porterfield. The title of the film is Hamilton. I wrote him the following response, which I am sharing with readers not only to indicate my enthusiasm for his work, but in case it may be of interest to other young indie filmmakers:


I received Hamilton on Thursday and looked at it last night (Saturday). I like it VERY MUCH! Thank you.

But can I share some thoughts and reactions.

I love:

1. The avoidance of the artificial shapings of stupid plot.

2. The way you depict a reality beneath, beyond, separate from words, thoughts, dialogue. Your
characters hardly talk at all, and when they do talk, they don't say anything that matters. That's wonderful! That's like life.

3. The way you make events without building them around conflicts, struggles, fights, arguments.

4. How scenes are not organized around question-answer formats.

5. How we get to know the characters the way we get to know people in life -- with slow knowledge, partial knowledge, tentative, provisional knowledge.

6. The patience, the lack of artificial drama, the slow living-into-lives ways of relating to the characters by the viewer, and of the characters with each other.

In other words, I am NOT one of those people who want you to change your movie so that it "explains" more things. Or wants you to make the characters more like movie "characters" by giving them "characters" and "telling us who they are" and "what they want." And I don't want you to have ACTIONS and EVENTS. Ugh. All of that would be just terrible. In fact, it would actually destroy all that is interesting about your movie. In other words, I like your movie just the way it is. As strange and unusual as it is. I like it vague and loose and relaxed and slow and puzzling and opaque and unexplained. Don't change any of that.


I also have a reservation, a problem, a critique--if you don't mind me saying so:

Scenes are strong, but all of the same sort. There isn't enough variety, enough changeability, enough surprise or shifting.

Scene after scene seems to be the same "color." The same mood and feeling again and again. It's like music written all in the same key. It doesn't surprise me or delight me enough with unexpectedness. It doesn't shift and shimmer and elude me. It stands still. It's like eating a meal made of only one food. No matter how good the food is, you want other foods to contrast with it (or a swig of wine or beer to cut the taste and allow in contrasting tastes).

As I watched your movie, I thought of works like Wanda and Killer of Sheep which have many of the same virtues as Hamilton does. They are slow and uneventful and have freed themselves from fake drama and stupid crises and confrontations. But they also have whole spectrums of different colors and tones and moods. They keep jumping around, surprizing us, shifting tonally and emotionally from scene to scene. There is a comic moment followed by a grave moment. A silliness and then a seriousness. A hot moment followed by a cool moment. A talky moment followed by a quiet moment. A kinetic moment followed by a meditative moment. A sadness buried inside a happiness. A goofiness layered on top of a tragedy. A puzzlement inside a comfort. In other words, they have changing tastes. Different colors. Tones and moods that keep shifting within scenes and from scene to scene. Your film stands still too much. Your painting is a beautiful painting, but it is all in yellow. Your music is melodious, but it is all in the key of F minor. Or like rap music, it's all one tone, all played by one instrument, with one sound and voice. This stasis, this constancy limits what you can do and say.

Don't get me wrong: I still like your movie a lot, but I think if you had more colors in your palette, you could paint an even more amazing painting..... If you had more ingredients, you could make an even more fabulous meal. If you had more key changes, more tempo changes, more shifts of texture, your music could destroy the viewer and wring his or her heart even more. Does that make any sense?

To put it in a single phrase (stolen from Wallace Stevens): Life is motion.

Sincere best wishes,

Ray Carney

Matt Porterfied replied:


Thanks for taking the time to watch Hamilton and for sharing your critique. I think you're spot-on. I'm working on the second draft of screenplay now that we hope to shoot next summer, trying to maintain somewhat the same approach to narrative, while allowing for more diversity of scene and mood and the presence of finer, more precise detail. Don't know if you enjoy reading screenplays, but if you have any interest, I'd be happy to send it along after another draft or two.

Kind regards,


Subject: Some Recent films...

Hello Professor Carney,

I just watched one of the most interestingly devastating films, "two of us" by Claude Berri. The suspense was never outwardly expressed, it was only there through the uncomfortableness of some dialogue. There was also a great relationship caught on film. Anyway, I just finished the film and felt it all over. The most fascinating thing about it was how up until the last shot we are feeling the life and suspense of the little boy, but suddenly on an edit to a close up, we are brought full swing into the mind of the old man losing his best friend. The smile on the kids face is not what we feel (normally the case would have it this way) instead we feel the sorry and loss of this old man. The ending is reversed, we aim for a happy ending and family reunion but instead we feel an emotion that comes totally unexpected. The rain adds to the sadness. What's more, the shot from the bus is technically from the boy's point of view but as the old man gets smaller his emotional mindset gets much larger, Berri made me feel deeply for two people, the latter being so strong that I felt it in reality. Aye, it was pretty taxing and sad to say the least -- but what a film. I hope that this email finds you well.Benny SafdieP.S I also saw Fat City in New York at the moving images museum and was reminded of your story regarding (how a film festival audience laughed at Robert Bresson's) Lancelot. The scene where Tully is cooking for Faye is so dramatic and heightened that people laughed, also the last shot is held for moments longer than any one wants it to be held and I saw people motioning for the credits. Seeing this made me upset at first but I realized that the film had successfully challenged the emotions these people where expecting to feel. Of course they shouldn't have acted the way they did, but it clued me in on what to look for.Alright a second farewell.


RC replies:

Great art gives us new emotions, emotions we don't expect to feel, emotions for events and situations we haven't felt things about before, different emotions that we haven't experienced before. That's what art is and does. That's its essence. Bresson gives us experiences so unformulaic that audiences don't know what the hell to think or feel about them. That's not something weird and unusal and "Bressonian." That's art. Anything else is just a giving us clichés -- the same-old same-old, been-there done-that, déjà vu all over again. But because we are used to the clichés of non-art, because we live in the middle of our own set of emotional and intellectual clichés, we prefer the clichés, the formulas, the stupid death march of predictability to the end of life. That what art exists to break us free of. Break your own work free. Break your heart and feelings free. Break your mind free. And keep going against all odds. The world will try to grind you down. Don't let it. -- R.C.

This just came in from a current Boston University student, commenting on two recent Mailbag postings.

I was just going through the "mailbag" on your site and found the "Freep, Drive-in Movie", question and response, which is really funny. (See Mailbag page 88, accessible through the blue page number menus at the top and bottom of each page.) What kind of an idiot would even write such ridiculous "film" questions to somebody they've never met or heard of, all in the name of a front-page story?......the reporters of the Freep, that's who. Working for them for a semester permanently turned me off to the journalism program (why I planned on that major in the first place is another good question altogether).

The film program, with all its problems, at least carries a smidgeon of intellectual content within it (mainly thanks to the studies aspect). Isn't a good film or book a much better example of "journaling" or documenting real life than an "objective" article about the war in Iraq (or even something as simple as an on-campus movie drive-in), completely devoid of any human touch?
Well, that is me ranting and going off on tangent. Anyway, the comment about Tarkovsky on YouTube was pretty spot-on too. (See Mailbag page 87, accessible through the blue page number menus at the top and bottom of each page.) As embarrassing as it is, since I come from a Russian family and my mom knows his work, I only watched my first Tarkovsky film (The Sacrifice) over the summer. (Next up is Andrei Rublev) It was challenging and crazy enough as it is, but the idea of anybody watching it online with all the distractions? Completely goes against everything the film encompasses and is totally weird.

Wow, this already too long. Hope to see you around sometime.

(Name withheld)

RC replies:

Thanks for the good words. Glad the Mailbag gave you a chuckle. I am just trying to get people to think and not to just "accept everything the way it is." A university is about learning to question everything, everywhere, all the time. The world would be a better place if more people did that. That's called thinking. There are too many lemmings. We need more thinkers! -- R.C.

The Luce Program in Scripture and Literary Arts and the Humanities Foundationat Boston University are pleased to present:

Filming Religion:The Documentary Art of Helen Whitney
Tuesday, September 18, 2007, 5:30pmBoston University Kenmore Classroom Building565 Commonwealth Ave., room 101

Helen Whitney has spent a long and award-winning career making films. Her credits include Youth Terror: The View from behind the Gun for ABC, The Choice '96 for Frontline, and Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light for American Masters on PBS. Primarily, however, Whitney's work has focused on religion and personal experiences of faith. Such documentaries include Monastery, John Paul II: Millennial Pope (which won an Emmy), Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero, and, most recently, The Mormons, which aired on PBS in April and May of 2007. In her current project, she explores the theme of forgiveness.

In this presentation, illustrated with clips from a number of her films, Whitney will give a retrospective of her life's explorations of religious faith. She will consider the allure as well as the challenges of capturing religion and spirituality on film, especially as she confronted these issues in her recent documentary The Mormons.The talk will be followed by a light reception in the BU School of Management, room 426, located at 595 Commonwealth Avenue. This event is free and open to the public.For more information, go to: contact:Professor Bryan StoneBoston University School of Theologyor Cristine Hutchison-JonesThe Luce Program in Scripture and Literary Arts at Boston University