I’m going to be nice and set aside the obvious issue of Carney claiming someone else’s work is bombastic, melodramatic mumbo-jumbo, or scenery chewing under the unlikely chance he uses these tactics himself ironically, which is a little hard to believe given how often he uses them and in which circumstances, but even with that aside, it does point to something Michael raised above and that I addressed earlier. Carney talks about and celebrates films where life is messy and where people’s actions are uncertain, tentative, or in flux but at the same time his own writing denies that tendency and suggests his preferred way of films to behave doesn’t always fit “life” as he narrowly conceives it. One of the main issues I have with Carney is his claims for or against films are inconsistent and often don’t seem to fit his prescriptive demands or the philosophy he seems to lay out
His demands aren’t as prescriptive as you think. As I’ve said before, if you’re applying a narrow framework to his thinking and trying to predict what he will like about a film and why, that’s not his problem. However, I do think there’s occasions when Carney is deliberately provocative, with the above article being an example. When almost every film critic seems to agree on the greatness of Citizen Kane, maybe he feels that such a response is required — not that I entirely agree that he needs to go down that path. His more measured critique of films such as Citizen Kane in his books are far more worthwhile than polemic articles such as the one quoted above.
To me, Carney is like a repairman who knows how to wield a single tool or has a single skill, one which he is very adept with. Anything machine which that tool fits he can take apart and explain the workings of most admirably, but any machine that tool doesn’t fit he damns as a poor object rather than wonder if perhaps there are other tools that could be used to open it up. For Carney, his tools seem quite a good fit for films where the complexities lie on the level of the performance, the surface actions and emotions, they seem completely unsuited for going much beyond that however. His criticism here of Kane completely misses the way the film works and generates its complexity, artistry, and, yes, profundity simply because he doesn’t seem to be able to open the case and look inside if these things aren’t directly signalled on the surface of the narrative and actions
I can’t agree with that. He knows that there’s more to the works of directors such as Andrei Tarkovsky than the surface of the narrative and actions, and he’s even written a book about Frank Capra that isn’t dedicated solely to the surface of the narrative and actions either. We discussed this earlier! Carney will describe metaphors if he finds them; he doesn’t deny their existence and he doesn’t think that a great film can’t contain metaphors. If he was of that opinion, he wouldn’t enjoy poetry.
He clearly thinks that below the surface, there isn’t much to Citizen Kane. That’s his opinion. He’s backed it up in his books so I don’t know what else you expect from him. There’s no doubt that he’s read critical articles on Kane because he isn’t the type to express opinions when he’s made no effort to understand what he’s criticising. I’d like to think that’s pretty clear. If you disagree with him, that’s fine, but people are allowed to think that Citizen Kane isn’t as complex and profound as the majority do. It’s good to see someone challenge the majority of critics for once. It doesn’t happen enough.
If one spends any time really looking at Kane and thinking about it in a serious way, one should be able to see that Kane is clearly much more complex than Carney’s limited reading allows. Should any given person like the film or want to look at it closely? No, that’s up to each of them of course, but to deny what others have said and is clearly evident is simply not an acceptable way for a scholar or good critic to behave. If one wants to deny a noted artwork, with a long history of writing about it, it’s place in art history or cultural value then one actually must engage with the arguments that have been made. A simple wave of the hand saying this isn’t the film you are looking for and wishing it away simply doesn’t do anything except make you come across as a crank.
Has he denied what others have said? Maybe he doesn’t think much of most critical articles written about Kane but you don’t think much of his so I don’t see the problem there. Anyway, I don’t want to clog up the thread discussing the film, so I’d appreciate it if you sent me a few articles about Kane that you consider to be enlightening, or even your own considerations.
As I alluded to earlier, I have no problem with people taking the things Carney is good at and valuing them and using them for opening up artworks where those tools apply. Carney does have some valuable, but limited, ways to look at certain filmmakers and films, but to take his prescriptive viewpoint too seriously or to accept his limitations as ones own is, to me, a horrible and limiting mistake.
Is it prescriptive to tell people to stay open to new experiences? His entire philosophy promotes the virtues of not enclosing yourself in prescriptive theories and viewpoints, and while he may contradict himself sometimes, you’ll be hard pushed to find a scholar who doesn’t.
This is not an appreciation thread – from the OP:Anyway, to anyone who hates the guy, post away your reasons for distaste, with perhaps some evidence for your viewpoint (Peabody said Carney is a fascist, I’d love to understand how he came to that conclusion).
Maybe he doesn’t think much of most critical articles written about Kane but you don’t think much of his so I don’t see the problem there.
It shouldn’t be about dismissing tit for tat. Despite the OP, or maybe because of it, there are many insights on the thread.
If the acolytes want to start an appreciation thread, I will gladly come bye only to appreciate Carney’s work.
To fully understand Carney and his bias you have to understand not only his love for Cassavetes. His admiration of the man reaches a level of idolatry that far exceeds anything I’ve seen in the Hitchcock, Kubrick, or Tarantino cults. He revers the man and understandably so. He owes his fame to Cassavetes and formed a friendship with the man. His dismissal of other greats is a form of mourning, and that’s why I have some sympathy for his rather obtuse remarks. So essential is it to his memory of Cassavetes that the director is depicted as having no rivals, that any other acknowledged “great” filmmaker must be shot out of the limelight. His golden bull Cassavetes was the best and there will be no one better, that is the root of his blinding obsession with the director and the zealotry with which he defends his work. Case in point. Early in his career, he wrote in admiration of critic David Thomson, author of “The New Biographical Dictionary of Film”. After Thomson wrote a dismissive entry on Cassavetes (in particular, “Shadows”) and stated that he couldn’t understand what “sees in his films”, Carney’s opinion of Thomson and his book suddenly shifted. Yes, he praises other filmmakers and, I must admit, with great prose and verve. But what mars the work of this interesting man is that his work is of very limited interesting. I want to know about Cassavetes as I admire the man, and to that end you won’t do better than read Carney’s website (I do so weekly, essay by essay). But beyond that very narrow scope, Carney is of little use to film scholars. Some are perplexed by his love of Capra. It’s no mystery. He was Cassavetes’s idol, and that’s as good a recommendation as Carney needs. I guess some people “must like being told what to think”.
Sorry Dan, but Carney will be of great use to anyone who reads his work carefully and acknowledges what he actually writes as opposed to simply looking to back up specious theories why he dislikes certain works and critics. it would also help if people didn’t hold the ridiculous belief that changing ones opinion on something is a sign either a conspiracy or a flaw in one’s ‘method." This letter from page 9 of his site along with like a million other examples makes your statements sound foolish. I would look up the other examples but if you’re to lazy or too committed to your silly theories to do the homework I’m not going to do it all for you.
As I know you’re a busy man, I will keep it quite brief. I am taking classes at the New School University and enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College.
I have just been introduced to John Cassavetes. I read your book on " Shadows", and some of your essays about how and why film is taught the way it is taught. In short, I find your message uplifting and as an aspiring filmmaker, absolutely necessary. Cassavetes was a genius, and his films have completely changed the way I look at American Cinema, and Cinema in general. I feel, very strongly, that my exposure to John Cassavetes has in some way changed my overall vision and outlook on my life in film, and having your writings supplementing my new discovery, I am climbing onward and upward. Thank you so much, for everything that you do. I greatly appreciate it, and feel in debt to you. Thank you for your time.
Marcus M. Silverman
Ray Carney replies:
Thanx for the good words. But you must broaden your reading and viewing. Cassavetes is only one figure. Mike Leigh is the great contemporary Cassavetes. Look at his work. Read my book on him for starters. Then look at his work again. Then look at his work again. Then glance at the book again. But keep in mind the work is the real teacher, not the book. The book is just a traveller’s guide to tell you what peak to look for, what colors it can show in the light. Mike Leigh is the real teacher. Artists are the deepest critics of their own work and of other work. Not critics. After you’ve mastered the book, throw it out and let the art and artist teach you the rest that you need to know.
Leigh is a good place to start, but you have to do a lot more of course. Conquer the rest of the world. Study at the feet of all of the great geniuses. Let them teach you what they knew. Master the other great artists. Skip the junk, the pop culture, the trendy stupid “hot news” in Time Out and Sight and Sound and Film Culture, and work through all of the major figures in film:Tarkovsky, Bresson, Ozu, Kiarostami, Dreyer, Chaplin, Rossellini, Jay Rosenblatt, Tom Noonan, Su Friedrich, Jean Renoir, and fifty more…. !!!
Then go beyond film and master Bach, Beethoven, Corelli, Albinoni, Vivaldi and a couple dozen others. Study inside-out the structure of the Goldberg Variations, of BWV 1042, of the double violin concerto in D-minor, of the B-minor Mass. Eat, sleep, breathe, master them.
Do the other arts: dance, opera, sculpture, painting, stand-up comedy…. See my “Recommendations for Entering Students” letter on the About Ray Carney: Boston University page of my site for more ideas.
Didn’t mean to offend you Mike, so sorry if I did. Let me clarify my point. Carney likes who he likes and admires who he likes for whatever reason. Fine. But, my problem with him is his tendency to attack those of an opposite view. And yes he does. I’ve been reading his website essay by essay since January of 2010.
I didn’t mean to imply that his website is limited to those interested in Cassavetes. But rather, it is limited to those interested in a handful of filmmakers. I acknowledged that he praises other filmmakers and for my research into Cassavetes, Capra, and Mike Leigh (one of my favorite directors), there is no other resource I trust better than Carney’s site. But your own selected quote actually proves my point. He tells the writer to skip “the junk”. But junk to who? His definition of non-junk is a very narrow stream and if one were to follow it without deviation they would truly miss out on a lot of great artists. To many people as intelligent as Carney, much of Cassavetes’s work was junk (Thomson, Kael, and Leslie Halliwell to name a few).
Listen, I am not without admiration for Carney and I’m in no way responding negatively to his opinions. I agree with much of what he writes, my one issue is that he makes his opinions dogma and his dismisal of other critics confirms this. I love reading his work and I think that “Modernism for the Masses” was one of the most stimulating pieces I ever read on Woody Allen (and this from an Allen enthusiast). But, I always leave his site with a mixed blessing. Too bad that such a genuiswith so many brilliant ideas and a prose that as an amateur film critic I envy, is crippled by such a narrow vision of what constitutes greatness.
His definition of non-junk is a very narrow stream and if one were to follow it without deviation they would truly miss out on a lot of great artists.
The question is, great to who? Life is short, you have your list of things you like and recommend and to a lot of people out there your list might seem pretty narrow. It’s Carney’s detractors who seem to hold the elitist opinion that everyone knows that Jersey Shore is trash but to call Hitchcock or some other acclaimed artist trash is a sign that you’ve “gone too far” or have lost perspective. Is this about the narrowness of his list or the list itself.
Sorry if I came off as harsh but I thoroughly support narrowness, even if I disagree with the choices. When I hear say, Jerry Johnson say that the only two filmmakers with near perfect records are Ford and Rosselini (I think I’m quoting correctly, if not, forgive me JJ) I applaud those standards even though I disagree with the conclusions.
I suppose another place we disagree is this notion of missing out. There are far too many film lovers, myself included, who are missing out on the great literary/fine art/dance/etc works while we obsess over seeing every new critics darling in the film world. If the people who read his site are only familiar with the monumental works of Leigh, Dreyer, Capra and Cassavetes, or another four masters he likes, they’ll be okay.
Fair enough Mike, thanks for the thoughtful response. I’m actually with you in supporting narrowness. My only caveat is that there shouldn’t be a preemptive classification of “trash” and “art” simply by who the filmmaker is, and that is something Carney tends to forget. For me as well there are few filmmakers with perfect records. De Sica is one. Spike Lee comes close. I’m one of the few here who actually liked “Bamboozled” and appreciated (“liked” is too strong a word) “Girl 6”, but I thought “Jungle Fever” fell far short of its ambition and considering its potential, it’s almost painful to watch. There are others for me, Miyazaki, Fellini, and Godard (though, please, don’t ask me to sit through “Alphaville” again).
We’ll have to agree to disagree on narrowness but I am all for elitism. You need it to recognize great art and if that were Carney’s only approach I would consider him a champion. But I ask you the same question, the filmmakers he loves are great to who? He seems to think that if you don’t consider them geniuses, then you are shallow, a “moron”, or who knows what else. Some examples. He tried to controvert Pauline Kael’s assertion that she didn’t need to see a film more than once to determine its worth. I disagree with her there, of course, but Carney’s only evidence to her erroneous dictum is her negative review of “Shadows” (it may have been “Faces”, not to sure). In other words, she was wrong in her approach simply because she didn’t like his pet filmmaker. In an interview in which he was giving advice to aspiring filmmakers, he told them not to copy any of the filmmakers he championed. Be original. Undoubtedly this is sound advice, but who told him that they looked up to those particular filmmakers as role models anyway? Because he thinks they are great? I guess my problem with him is similar to the one Jonathan Rosenbaum has expressed. If he considers a filmmaker great or trashy, that is the final word. If you think otherwise, you are a member of the duped masses. He’s too black-or-white in taking his stance.
Dan, I’ll concede to you and others that he is human and therefore, over the course of hundreds of interviews and random comments made in letter replies he may have made mistakes in judgment, shown inconsistencies, or occasionally displayed rude behavior. All I have to do to forgive him his humanity is look at the work of his peers.
As long as guys like Rosenbaum are taking Femme Fatale seriously I’ll forgive Carney any minor transgression he may commit against the world of cinephilia. Every time a critic champions a DePalma film an angel loses it’s wings:)
Lol, ok my formidable opponent, thanks for a stimulating and engaging debate. Always a pleasure to discuss a medium I love so much with someone as passionate and articulate. By the way, let’s end this on a note I’m sure we can agree on…I don’t like DePalma’s films at all and their appeal has always been lost on me.
Rosenbaum is correct, Femme Fatale is fucking brilliant.
Rosenbaum is annoying. When I went back and looked at the list of movies I submitted to the site and some of my other favorites I keep finding out a huge amount of them are already on Rosenbaum’s list of his 1000 favorite films. It’s kind of suffocating.
I love Carney and De Palma… truly a cinephile without a home…
I’m with you. I’m a freaking wandering Jew.
Y’all can crash at my place. I have whiskey.
Done. I got the mota. Just sayin’.
Just don’t open any closet door’s at Zampano’s.
Hate to beat a dead horse—such a contentious subject as Dr. Carney (or should I say the Rev. Carney), is—but I thought this was interesting. I have looked up my own professors before on this site, but have never thought to look up famous people:
Rate My Professor—Ray Carney
His overall quality rating from students who participated was a 2.8 and the comments from his students are predictable: they either loved him or hated him. Classes broke off into factions of teacher pets and dissenters.
On the other hand, our own Dr. Frank Tomasulu got an overall quality rating of 3.2 with some rather nice comments.
Neither of them, however, got a hotness rating.
(hope this wasn’t mentioned before—18 pages is a lot to trudge through. Also, I have learned a lot from reading this thread—thanks to people on both sides of the debate).
Neither got a hotness rating, but one comment did give props to Tomasulu’s beard. That counts for something.
Intriguing, Joe and Karen; thanks for posting this length. From perusing Carney’s syllabi and course descriptions, I might observe that Carney, like so many “big name” academics places an inordinate amount of his instruction and assessment in the hands of his TAs. In a way, his “Rate My Professor” profile is the result of how charismatic and cool and authoritative (or objectionable) he was in class and how fair, just, and kind his TAs were in the semester in which evaluators took their Carney course.
“Rosenbaum is correct, Femme Fatale is fucking brilliant.”
Yes, yes, yes.
As long as guys like Robert W. Peabody III and Matt Parks are taking Femme Fatale seriously I’ll forgive Carney any minor transgression he may commit against the world of cinephilia. Every time a mubi member champions a DePalma film an angel loses it’s wings:)
Was there something specific about Femme Fatale?
Oh, it’s brilliant, brilliant like a diamond and just as hard to digest.
Wait, is Femme Fatale the 2002 Brian DePalma flick? It’s streaming on netflix, so I might check it out.
The film looks sort of, uh, not good, but I’m going to trust you and Robert. In any event, if I don’t like it, I’m sure it’ll lead to some stimulating and enjoyable conversation (for me, anyway. :)
What’s you’re overall impression of De Palma? . . . can’t remember.
The film looks sort of, uh, not good
That’s part of the brilliance of it – I almost stopped watching it !
Yeah, “um, not good” is a crucial element De Palma’s style, and Femme Fatale is a supreme elevation of it.