1. The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism and the Movies – Ray Carney
- Carney is the red pill of cinema, to use a silly movie as a metaphor. He has written books on Cassavetes, Leigh, Dreyer and Capra, as well as self-distributed manuscripts such as Why Art Matters and Necessary Experiences. In each books he expands upon his primary objective: to raise awareness of a kind of cinema and art that is truly independent from the visionary status quo Hollywood and it’s adherents have celebrated for the past hundred years. Carney does not believe in formula’s for art but his general term for the alternative to the much praised visionary cinema of the Hollywood mode is “pragmatic modernism.” Many of his ideas were directly inspired by the writings of the last 3 authors on my list as well as William James and others. He has traced a neglected tradition of art’s capacity to bring us back to ourselves as we are, and based on what we do rather than the beloved fantasy almost all film (and many book) critics trumpet wherein and artists greatest power is to show us secret visionary truths and take us to a higher plane than ordinary perception will allow. You will fight with every word he says until you are ready to let go of some of your childhood heros and delusions and see how much of what we value is simple flattery. If you’re not sure you want to start with a book a good place to start with Carney is on his website at http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/indievision/pa1.shtml
2. The Films of Mike Leigh: Embracing the World: Ray Carney
- In his books on Cassavetes ( a new one coming soon), Carney did the world a service by being among the first to rescue the filmmaker’s work from the shortsighted critics who condemned it without understanding it. In his book on Leigh, he does the world an even greater service by attempting to rescue the filmmaker’s work from shortsighted critics who praise it without understanding it. Despite the filmmaker’s constant irritation with facile notions of his films being about showing the working class’ plight or making fun of the middle classes indulgence, idiot critics insist on only approaching his work from a specific cultural standpoint rather than a universal one. Critics repeat the same nonsense about Leigh being influenced by Tony Richardson and the angry young brits and in linking his agenda with that of Ken Loach. Carney looks deeply into the films and finds proof that Leigh is exploring, in much of his early pre-Naked work, what happens when we insist on holding fast to culturally received ideas and refuse to flow and improvise with those around us. He avoids the trap of looking for easy psychological or status based reasons for Leigh’s character’s bad behavior and finds the most original dissections of man’s unfortunate capacity for frozen logic this side of Cassavetes. Essential reading.
3. Essays: Ralph Waldo Emerson – Emerson (especially The Poet)
4. Phoenix – D. H. Lawrence ( especially Why The Novel Matters)
5. The Sacred Fount: Henry James (any film that comes close to capturing life in this way is great)
The books that have nothing to do with film culture have everything to do with art. Avoid most theory obsessed professional sales-critics and look to the geniuses of old for guidance.Read less