Matt, how about some of these extensive objections? They might actually be constructive.
One would be his presentation of material, Fraser—his obsession with deriding other critics whose opinions or theoretical approach differs from Carney’s own, the prescriptive aesthetics, the quasi-mysticism of “the pragmatic aesthetic,” the over-reliance on anti-“mainstream” polemics (Shakespeare, Capra, and other art that Carney values was “mainstream” in its day. How does that work?). His contempt seems to extend even to his students if one is to believe that he really holds the opinion stated in the well-publicized blog entry:
“The school ends up with an awful lot of third-rate grad. students… they have virtually NO artistic curiosity or intellectual passion. If they had, they wouldn’t have ended up here because they would have been admitted to, and given scholarships at, better schools.”
Could the same hold true for the faculty, I wonder?
Whoa, I think I just felt new brain cells grow while reading about this neuroscience phenom linked to by Bordwell in his fantastic Kuleshov blog entry.
Matt: Again, I’d encourage you to read his books before reaching an opinion, rather than just his Wikipedia entry.
Not sure where you get “obsession” from. Critics discuss each others work all the time in positive and negative ways, I don’t see Carney as much different.
There’s no mysticism at all. He very clearly highlights how some filmmakers use this aesthetic and how it compares to others. His writing is exceedingly tangible and down to earth. Here’s a bit about it: http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/acad/carneycrit.shtml
This has already been addressed in the thread.
This is aimed at graduate students. It’s pretty harsh, yes, but was taken from an email to a filmmaker who had screened a film at the University to a low student turnout. There’s something similar by another writer about grad students somewhere on his site, but it’ll take some searching.
Again, you haven’t provided evidence to support your hyperbole. If anyone has actually read his books and has issues with them, I’d love to hear it.
Put yourself on a diet of Cassavetes, Leigh or Capra and read one of Carney’s books about the filmmakers, and you’ll come back to your old DVD collection wondering how you could have wasted so much time.
Actually, I think you could pick any major director from a hat, limit yourself to watching their movies only, read a bunch of stuff from someone who really appreciates your chosen director, and get similar results. This happened to me last winter with John Ford. I decided to do some research on him for my own pleasure. I surrounded myself with his films, a biography of him, and tons of critical work on him. After about three months of this, I came away believing that Ford is one of the great artists of the 20th century. If I did this with Renoir or Ozu or Fassbinder, I’d probably come away with a similar experience.
Which writers or critics would you suggest as an adjunct to Carney? Are there any critics that Carney approves of that we should take note of?
“I think you could pick any major director from a hat, limit yourself to watching their movies only, read a bunch of stuff from someone who really appreciates your chosen director, and get similar results.”
Having seen all his films, I don’t think you can put Kubrick on this list. I’m making a video essay at the moment about this, actually. I probably couldn’t manage to grind through too many Hitchcocks either, though I do want to take another look at Vertigo. Anywho, try it with Cassavetes, Leigh or Capra and Carney’s work on them and see how you go.
“Which writers or critics would you suggest as an adjunct to Carney? Are there any critics that Carney approves of that we should take note of?”
Here’s a long-ass essay from the 80’s on a bunch of different critics, most of which he dislikes: http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/carncult/dark.shtml
As far as weekly reviewers these days go, I’m not sure. I can virtually guarantee you he’s not reading any bloggers. I think he’s friends with Paul Cronin, who did the super-awesome Herzog on Herzog. I remember reading Cronin lay into Johnathan Rosenbaum after Rosenbaum’s negative reviews of three Carney books.
Which writers or critics would you suggest as an adjunct to Carney?
Apparently no one can please Carney, so I’m interested in who else you might suggest reading.
I don’t read any other film writers with much regularity, but for an adjunct to Carney’s work, and a way to get a great understanding of where he’s coming from, there are a bunch of non-film writers you should check out. Emerson and William James are probably the big two, though I haven’t read much William James.
I’m reading “Phoenix” 1 and 2 by DH Lawrence at the moment, and they’re freakin great with a lot of critical and philosophical essays.
Bill Hicks is a thinker in a similar vain, as is Frank Zappa in my opinion.
I’d rather respond to an Art Carney thread
Unless you are an academic or a film studies major why would you waste your time reading him?
“So according to Carney 2001, Citizen Kane, Chinatown and Hitchcock are Pop?”
Well, compared to Marketa Lazarova, Ruiz, Akerman and Zulawski, I’d say they’re Pop (or pop culture if you want) alright…
“White light,white heat kicked off most music as you know it (unless you stopped at Bach).”
Never heard of a genre called Jazz then? I think you should stop writing about music because your knowledge is so poor that I feel embarrassed to respond.
For the record, I like the Velvet Underground. I even own a White Light, White Heat T-Shirt :)
I just recently discovered Carney and have only read a few selected interviews, letters, and essays on his website. In my limited experience with Carney’s criticism (if I misrepresent him, please correct me), I have found him to be both revelatory in his ideas and somewhat distasteful in his rhetoric (much more vitriolic than he gives himself credit for in the quote by the OP). I do agree with him on many things though: art for arts sake, disdain for cultural criticism turned into art criticism, the practice of analyzing the piece of art itself as oppose framing it within a particular theory, etc.
But I also feel that his vehement disregard for symbolism is somewhat misplaced. I understand that the metaphors in Citizen Kane were obvious and heavy handed and that the audience shouldn’t need rain to show that character is confused (Psycho) and sunshine to show that the character is happy (which I guess is Carney’s disdain for expressionism in film?). And while I think that the surface expression—if that is that right term—of Cassavetes is fantastic, I also believe that the symbolic expression of Kubrick is great as well. I also didn’t t feel that 2001 was a simple metaphor laden puzzle—for me, the film garnered an emotional response as well as an intellectual one. Whether or not the movie is realistic, or is merely a film essay, does not make it a lesser piece of art. Why can’t the film be both a metaphorical journey through space and a realistic one as well? ( On a side note, I find it odd that Carney likes Cormac McCarthy, who is a very allegorical writer. Most of McCarthy’s characters are extremely slim compared to Carney’s favorite ((?)) writer, Henry James).
Maybe I am just not as centered or secure in my relationship to art, but I love both the inward probing films Mike Leigh and the supposed outward cynicism of Robert Altman. While I appreciate Carney’s intentions, I also realize that there are many different mediums in which to find meaning and appreciation in any given text— I even find that the social-studies-as-art type of criticism, (which I think is slowly taking over the world in not so good ways), is important in its own right.
What I love most about Carney (and my favorite literary critic Harold Bloom), is his insistence that art be judged on an aesthetic basis. It is extremely difficult for me to do this considering all of my profs have been New-Historicists of one kind or another. I wish that more critics and academics would espouse the model of belief held by Carney, but I also hope that they will proselytize those beliefs in less dogmatic ways. I also don’t understand his infatuation in Joyce Carol Oates.
EDIT: But really, the most pretentious thing about Carney is not his writings, but the drippingly schmaltzy photos of himself that show a complete lack of self awareness or appreciation to the fine art of photography or fashion =).
EDIT: Actually, he looks so happy in that photo that we feel bad now for criticizing it.
@ Fraser-Orr (Peabody said Carney is a fascist, I’d love to understand how he came to that conclusion).
In your response to Matt you didn’t cover the most important critical element of Carney: the prescriptive aesthetics
prescriptive aesthetics = fascism
Re world view
Does it seem like Carney is saying the important thing about people is that they are too complex to be ‘read’?
Would it be counter-intuitive to say Carney can’t read people?
He was brought into a room at BU and berated by his peers – that was cruel, but one must ask what it took for people to feel the need to do something that cruel to a colleague.
I don’t understand the difference between 18th century POP and POP of today.
But the POP of yesteryear should stay? What about ancient POP?
When Carney says today’s POP is okay he is being condescending – geesh isn’t that obvious?
@ Matt thanks for the link – there is a lot of truth to what Carney says.
“He was brought into a room at BU and berated by his peers – that was cruel, but one must ask what it took for people to feel the need to do something that cruel to a colleague.”
Bravo Robert! You’ve certainly nailed Carney with that. It’s a good thing there isn’t some sort of historical precedent of ostracism for those who challenge the majority. If history shows us anything it’s that those who question preconceived notions are always treated justly.
Can someone propose a complete Carney article online that can be accessed and read for the purposes of a discussion? I don’t find anything of interest on his website and much of it is in fragments anyway.
“it’s just a fact that the more time you spend with, so-called, “high art” (listening to Bach, reading Shakespeare) does, exactly what Carney says, grows braincells,/// and create deeper connections in your mind making your understanding of your own intellectual capabilities even higher”
I put three slashes (///) between what I think to be fancy and what I think to be reality.
I am very interested in cognition, I love thinking of the mind as a muscle that can be exercised,and I do fullheartedly understand and agree that literacy is a higher intellectual capability than so-called “common sense” or “streetsmarts” as regards both enjoyment of “high art” and, more importantly, critical thinking. But I have never read anywhere that listening to BAch or reading Shakespeare actually grows more physical brain cells. Of course, I am sort of taking the sentence literally, but in the purpose to illustrate “it’s just a fact.” It is just a fact that that statement has not been proven, in a lab or otherwise, so it is probably better to stick to the conceptual arena of cognition via things like “deeper connections and understandings” and “intellectual capabilities” that are denotative of areas currently under debate. Brain cells are biology, I’d need a scientific experiment to convince me that listening to the correct art creates cells.
And no, developmental psychology re: kids hearing Mozart in the crib don’t count. The braincells are growing anyway, the cognitive differences still more relatable to sociological and conceptual concepts of intellectualism and critical thinking that are in their own terminologies developments of themselves (and also unproven, later turned out just to be a fad amongst many and various important ways to nurture a child’s development).
“Pop music in 1748 meant a patently different thing than it does today, that is just not something one can argue.”
and I didn’t feel like quoting some of the responses to this.
1748 was a patently different TIME than today. In fact, it’s actuality in our own perception and sense of it is merely historical, and thus unarguable from an experiential and objective framework. All 1748 is to us is the evidence of what survived and our impression of what we wanted to be. Arguing how people perceived art back then is a route down the wrong paths, particularly since, based off of historical documentation, the same proles that walk the street watching Michael Bay movies today didn’t even have access to all of the art that we admire and appreciate from that period today, much less did many of them know how to read. It is not that pop art meant something different—it is that pop art did not exist. The “popular culture” was too busy farming. What this sentence is is patently absurd.
Our modern pop culture is about two important things unachievable from a pre-Industrial framework: mass communication (radio, television, Internet, to a lesser degree cinema), and availability at the consumer level. Pop culture itself is much more a byproduct, or symptom, of media, than it is an actual meaningful attempt to create something (until Warhol came along). Arguing Shakespeare, for instance, as a pop artist is missing the point on how he was capable of attracting a wide variety of audience on the versatility of his own writing, not the shaving of content down to the lowest common denominator. Reading art history backwards takes it out of context.
“Pop music” did not exist in 1748. The word “Pop” was not used to describe popular culture until the 1960s, probably.
Not the point was it?
It makes an interesting read leading to the point, which is that he is unable to read people, which makes him somewhat of a criticism auteur.
What the administration did is meet his cowardice with some of their own in an attempt to get him to understand what it means to be part of a group – it had nothing to do with his type of film criticism. It was ridiculous for him to compare himself to those representing social or political movements – the exception there being Einstein.
Yes the guy referenced Einstein’s travails in comparison to his own !!!
@ Bobby Wise
Yes Matt’s link on previous page.
Joe and Karen – Carney is also a Hermann Melville fan. Melville’s “masterpiece” is nothing if not a long-winded allegory about a whale.
Frasser – I’d like to get back to some of the religious language that bothers me about Carney. He talks about the cult of Hitchcock, Kubrick and the Coens. Either he is totally abusing the word “cult” or he is totally misunderstanding it. To say that there is a cult of something suggests that there are people (followers, I guess) who pay exclusive attention to the directors mentioned. In this sense, Hitch or Kubrick become the leader of the cult. I don’t see this happening at all. I didn’t go to film school, so I don’t feel fully equipped to discuss what’s going on in the university classrooms, but among general film critics and writers I can say that I don’t think there is a cult around those directors. Are they well-liked? Yes. Are there an overabundance of writings on those directors? In the case of Hitchcock, probably. But even Robin Wood, one of the major players opening up serious readings of Hitchcock, doesn’t list any Hitchcock films in his deathbed top ten; instead, lists such things as Rio Bravo, Make Way for Tomorrow, Sansho the Bailiff, Tokyo Story, and The Rules of the Game. (Wood’s partner, Richard Lippe, suggested that if Wood had been fully lucid he might have included Notorious). Though Wood is only a single example, I don’t think there’s any nefarious cult of Hitch or Tarantino out there, attempting to dismantle the validity of every other director.
But even more bothersome have been some of Carney’s proponents. This is why I asked Frasser who else he reads. His basic answer – that he doesn’t read anyone else for understanding film – suggests that Carney himself operates a little like a cult leader. He’s done everything he can do discredit the work of his peers to the point where those who agree with Carney shun everyone else, in turn creating a very closed system of thought that must always point back to Carney any time a point must be made. Or, if you don’t point back to Carney, you must point back to one of Carney’s pet artists; Cassavetes, Henry James….
When my parents divorced, my mother remained an evangelical Christian and my father became a Jehovah’s Witness. JW’s are a closed circuit cult. You read their writings, you refer back to their writings, you only understand other writings or thought processes in terms of JW thought, and it is strongly suggested that you do not read any theological material that is not approved by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. This is how Carney’s writing and Carney’s followers seem to me. I know that I’m treading a fine line here, and I want to be clear that I don’t think Carney is telling his readers to literally shun other film writers, and commanding them to read only his books, but his utter and almost absolute dismissal of just about every film writer besides himself comes off as both condescending (to his peers) and ignorant (of the possibilities in their work). Which leads me back to Bordwell. As I said before, reading Bordwell exclusively would certainly give you a narrow view of film analysis and criticism, but why can’t Bordwell (or any other writer, for that matter) be used in conjunction with someone else. Bordwell’s approach offers us some very helpful insights into film history, construction, and interpretation. And, thankfully, Bordwell isn’t under the impression that he’s the only one who understands what he’s writing about; he is often full of praise for other writers and critics; he manages to point us to other sources that he finds engaging and noteworthy, which in turn expands our understanding of film and art criticism. Carney seems to close the door, while other critics and writers (I only use Bordwell as a relevant to this conversation example) seem to be willing to open doors.
These are only my impressions.
Sillies… The key to neurogenesis is not high art… it’s pot
Carney has never said that exposing oneself to good art makes one a better person. He’s saying that it facilitates intellectual and artistic edification.
It really isn’t that terribly difficult to understand his basic position.
Watching Dancing with the Stars starring the fat daughter of a retarded politician doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person, but it does indeed make you an idiot.
Watching Love Streams by John Cassavetes doesn’t necessarily make you a better person, but it does indeed make you a better thinker.
In the early 80’s I was the controller of a start-up company that was going to get venture capital and go public.. The name of the company was The Whole Brain Corporation and I still have my biz cards that say: Controller The Whole Brain Corporation
I see that it continues under new name/management:Herrmann
Check out their client list.
Just read the idealistic/pragmatic piece. I don’t have a problem with what he’s arguing for or trying to outline. Though maybe he underestimates the infusion of life into Hitchcock’s films and maybe he overestimates Cassavetes evasion of classical narrative principles.
Watching “Dancing with the Stars” doesn’t make you an idiot any more than watching Cassavetes makes you smart. One can learn from both experiences — indeed, from all experiences.
@ Blue K, Custodian of the Cinema Watching Love Streams by John Cassavetes doesn’t necessarily make you a better person, but it does indeed make you a better thinker.
I just watched Opening Night an equally self-reflexive and intertextual Cassavetes film.
The reason I ask is I am thinking these films are good to think about with some guidance – i.e. the intellectual stuff isn’t self-evident.
“What the administration did is meet his cowardice with some of their own in an attempt to get him to understand what it means to be part of a group – it had nothing to do with his type of film criticism.”
You’re correct when you say it had nothing to do with his type of film criticism. In fact, it was because of his criticism of academia. Here is a link to the interview that may well have been the tipping point for the rest of the administration at BU.
How dare Ray have the audacity to question the way film studies are taught at the institution where he teaches film? What a ludicrous idea. He should have understood that being a part of a group meant to never criticize other members and to always think the same (this model works fairly well for fox news). I have no idea where you read about this meeting of the administration to clarify his understanding of a group, but the account I read in his mailbag ( http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/aboutrc/letters101.shtml#box ) made the other members of BU’s communications department seem like the unreasonable ones.
Also, could you expand on the cowardice exhibited by Carney? I’ve been unable to find (see?) examples of such.
“It was ridiculous for him to compare himself to those representing social or political movements – the exception there being Einstein.”
Maybe this is merely a matter of opinion, but I don’t think he was, at any time, trying to compare his struggles with those of Einstein (or Frank Lentricchia/Cornell West). His goal was to point out that great institutions don’t censor people with dissenting opinions. They embrace them, or at the very least allow them to be heard in order to be a more diverse institution of thought.
I think this is made clear when he writes:
“He’s done everything he can do discredit the work of his peers to the point where those who agree with Carney shun everyone else, in turn creating a very closed system of thought that must always point back to Carney any time a point must be made. Or, if you don’t point back to Carney, you must point back to one of Carney’s pet artists; Cassavetes, Henry James…”
I agree. It seems to me that Carney is not attacked for his ideas (which i am fully sympathetic too), as much as he is for his self aggrandizement and general disregard for any opinion other than his own. In many ways, he reminds of a a certain character from one of Carney’s (and mine) favorite movies, Nuts in May:
(Via Wiki): Keith may have the full weight of the law on his side when he reprimands the other campers for their thoughtless, and sometimes reckless, behavior, but he lacks the compassion, communication skills and understanding of human nature required to have them willingly acknowledge their mistakes. Also, while Keith becomes irritated with almost every human contact others seem to be able to deal with others without these problems.
That is obviously too simplistic of a comparison, but in other words: Carney might be right, but he doesn’t have to be such a jerk about it.
@Adam Barth His goal was to point out that great institutions don’t censor people with dissenting opinions.
Yes, that was the comparison –
Those people were a part of a movement – Einstein, let’s say scientifc movement.
Carney? is Carney ultimately leading to a fundamental breakthrough?
He isn’t a part of anything – he is a rebel with a cause.
What BU did was astounding. They had his peers criticize him personally en masse. It was an intervention, the kind of thing done to addicts by people who care.