Ray Carney Moment of the Day #17

July 28, 2011


Subject: Cassavetes.com site & brief question

Prof. Carney,

I like the site and your books, etc. But I’ll make this brief. Could you give me a list of films *within* the mainstream that you think have some value?

Before you start typing a “Lists are useless” sentence, I’ll explain why:

It seems to me that part of cinema’s advantage over other arts is its populism. But it’s also its downfall that many films, a number of the ones you champion, are very difficult to find. I’ve only been able to find the slightest number of them.

You champion Frank Capra as a “studio indie.” Surely he is not the only valuable studio filmmaker?

I doubt that you’d like Howard Hawks or people like that, but what about Samuel Fuller? Or Robert Wise? Or Robert Rossen?

You don’t talk very much about foreign directors. How do you feel about Kurosawa (who said Cassavetes was his favorite filmmaker), Kieslowski, Antonioni, Visconti, Truffaut (who Tarkovsky said was his favorite French filmmaker), Murnau, Vigo, Bela Tarr, Hou, Tsai, Makmahlbaf?

What about modern directors like the Dardenne brothers or Jan Svankmajer or Claire Denis or Maurice Pialat? Werner Herzog?

What about actors? Are the only good actors the unknowns that Robert Bresson uses, or can a trained thespian be any good? Is Derek Jacobi a good actor? Lili Taylor? Paul Newman in something like Nobody’s Fool? What about Robert Duvall? Didn’t Cassavetes send Duvall a letter telling him how much he admired him? (What about The Apostle? What about Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade?)

I don’t want you to give me some reason for why my thinking is wrong. I’m just asking for you to add to your list of recommendations, except taking into account films that are possible to be seen. Not all of us have the luxury of living in big American cities. I’ve been able to order some movies from Ebay, for instance (I’ve even bought pirated movies by the likes of Chantal Akerman), but Frank Capra is just about the only person you mention
who can be watched by everyone in the world. There must be some others, even if they’re not Shakespeare. Just honest, good, quality filmmakers. Right? Thanks. I appreciate your time.

Ray Carney replies:

If you call that a “brief question,” I’d run in terror from a long one from you!

You labor under a misunderstanding.

Many, many, many “mainstream films” are wonderful. I don’t put them down. I don’t denigrate them wholesale. I put down the cult of Hitchcock and Welles and Tarantino and the Coen brothers and a few others. First, because a director like Alfred H. is not really as interesting or deep as the critics say he is; second, because of the whole “cult” aspect of the following. It represents uncritical adulation and fosters the wrong sorts of critical values that end up misvaluing other works and directors. (E.g. do a search on the site for “cultural studies,” “pop culture,” “trash,” “metaphor,” “puzzle” or “mystery” or “suspense” or “clarity” or “sfumato” and you’ll see some of my analysis of the failures of these incorrect critical values.)

I’d rather bless than curse. I do bless more than curse. You just haven’t read my books I think. My web site is more of the polemical me. The books celebrate and love and adore many things, many actors, many directors. But I can’t write about them all. I’m only one person with one life.

I love many of the filmmakers you name. Yeah, Bela Tar. Yeah, Visconti. Yeah, Murnau. I love Jacques Rivette. I love Jean Renoir. I love DeSica. I love Jean Vigo. I love Harmony Korine. I love Chaplin. I love Keaton. I love Preston Stuges. I love Billy Wilder. I love Chantel Ackerman. I love Ingmar Bergman. I love Robert Bresson. I love Yasujiro Ozu. I love Federico Fellini. I love Roberto Rossellini. I love Carl Dreyer. And too many others. Etc. Etc.

I love the acting of Robert Duvall. I love Bette Davis. I love Joan Crawford. I love Crispin Glover. I love Nick Cage. I love Chris Walken. I love Gena Rowlands. I love Ben Gazzara. I love Philip Seymour Hoffmann. I love Humphrey Bogart. I love Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I love Gene Kelly. I love Sean Penn. I love Jerry Lewis. I love Ingrid Bergman. I love Marlene Deitrich. Etc. Etc. And too many others.

I love Rebel without a Cause. I love Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I love Casablanca. I love Now, Voyager. I love The Earrings of Madame D…. I love Dark Victory. I love Vincent, Francois, Paul, et les Autres. I love Place in the Sun. I love An American in Paris. I love Swingtime. I love Top Hat. I love Intermezzo. And too many others. Etc. Etc.

I teach many of these works in my courses. I tell students about them. I show clips from them when I want to expain things about indie films.

But most of these people and works have their champions. Why should I waste my life being a voice in the chorus? I’d rather point out what others don’t know, haven’t seen, don’t admire, or truly appreciate the genius of: Leigh’s Meantime and Bleak Moments, John Korty’s Crazy Quilt, Riverrun, and Funnyman, Barbara Loden’s Wanda, Elaine May’s Mikey and Nicky, Claudia Weil’s Girlfriends, Robert Kramer’s Ice and Milestones, Paul Morrissey’s Flesh and Trash, Milton Moses Ginsbergs’ Coming Apart, Peter Hall’s The Homecoming, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Olivier’s Uncle Vanya, Engels’ Weddings and Babies and Lovers and Lollipops, Shabib’s The Chicken Chronicles, Clarke’s Portrait of Jason, Penn’s Indian Runner, Vince Gallo’s Buffalo 66, and a thousand others – ranging all over, from the work of John Cassavetes to John Korty to Andrew Bujalski to Mark Rappaport to Jay Rosenblatt to Su Friedrich to Mike Leigh.

But who cares about my list or lists? Go exploring!!! Make your own list!!!! You already have!


P.S. And do you see that your difficulty getting the indie or alternative works proves the need for me to sing their praises? They are difficult to get because viewers, reviewers, and releasers haven’t heard of them or don’t think they will sell enough to justify a video release. So you can’t criticize me for trying to solve the very problem you describe: the unavailability of those works. I am trying to make them more available! And the only way I can do that is to sing, sing, sing (as Benny Goodman puts it) their praises from every rooftop I can. If I spent my time writing about the virtues of The Palm Beach Story, Bette Davis’s acting or Michaelangelo Antonioni’s directing, I would be wasting it. And wasting my life. People know those things already.


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