SolPix Interviews
   An Interview with Ray Carney
   by Shelley Friedman

Ray Carney is Professor of Film and American Studies at Boston University. He is the author of more than fifteen books in seven languages-most recently: a book he calls "the autobiography Cassavetes never lived to write": Cassavetes on Cassavetes (Faber and Faber/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux); a study of Cassavetes' first film, Shadows (British Film Institute/University of California Press) based on a "Rosebud" conversation with Cassavetes shortly before his death; and The Films of Mike Leigh: Embracing the World (Cambridge University Press), the first extended critical examination of the British filmmaker's work in any language. He is one of the world's leading authorities on American film and culture and a popular speaker at film festivals around the world. He manages a web site devoted to independent film and other art at:

Friedman: You seem to be a proponent of filmmakers commenting on the political and social landscape (Mike Leigh being an example). Why do you think this is important?

Carney: Hollywood separates personal and social issues because the producers are afraid of alienating anyone. They are salesmen and every salesman knows better than to discuss religion or politics. You might lose a customer if you actually took a stand on anything that mattered. Remember Antonioni's description of Hollywood? "Being nowhere, saying nothing, about no one."

But that doesn't mean that movies like Oliver Stone's that puff themselves up with a lot of political and sociological heavy-breathing are any better. Politics can be a form of escapism. Stone's social critiques let us run away from our own lives, our personal problems, and blame the system. His hell has other people in it. The problems in his movies are always caused by someone else. Not you and me. That can't be true since the world is made up of yous and mes. There's no one else. The greatest movies ask people to examine their own lives, not point their fingers at someone else.

If you want an example of how a movie can be political without blaming the system or victimizing its characters, look at Todd Haynes's Safe. It never preaches. It never attitudinizes about social problems. But it reveals that the way the world is organized and understood affects the smallest individual act. It makes us think deeply about the connections between society and personal life -- about where we live and how, about our felt need for order and clarity and safety, about our fears of what we can't control. Haynes's movie shows that the personal is political, and that's what makes it the most subversive and radical American film of the past ten years.

Friedman: Why do you think film critics don't usually put films within a political or social or even economic context? Would it be helpful for them to do so?

Carney: American film reviewing is a form of advertising and advertisements are never political for fear someone might disagree with them. All of the important film reviewers are extensions of the Hollywood publicity machine. If that sounds too harsh, ask yourself why they spend months covering the Academy Awards -- which is just a big, self-congratulatory Hollywood company picnic. When was the last time a work of art even got nominated? The reviewers are flacks for the studios. The publicists create phony behind-the-scenes drama for them to report, feed them celebrity gossip in press releases, and fly them out to LA on all-expense-paid interview junkets. No one dares to tell the truth about the system for fear that they will be expelled from the club and denied the next big interview with the next big nobody.

Friedman: What is your biggest gripe with most film criticism today? Do you see any indications of an alternative critical community evolving to counter what you see in the mainstream press?

Carney: As my secretary says, "Don't get me started!" Since we haven't got a week, I'll have to give you a short list of some of the most obvious lunacy:

-Let's begin with the fact that Hollywood movies get reviewed in the first place. You know, only about one book out of a hundred that is published ever gets even a single-sentence mention in The New York Times, but every Hollywood movie that plays in Manhattan is guaranteed a review -- and often more than that: a review, a feature piece, and an interview or two with the star on top of everything else. What does that tell you about the power of the advertising tail to wag the editorial dog?

-On the other hand, if the reviewers are going to let the advertisers dictate what they cover, why not at least call a spade a spade? Why don't they tell the truth? Why don't they say: "This movie was planned and produced to cash in on a trendy social issue to generate publicity; it features a big name star to suck in viewers and generate media interviews; and it pushes a few non-threatening emotional buttons but leaves everything unchanged in the end, in order to give people a feel-good experience that will encourage them to recommend it to their friends." Why not call the garbage garbage? When was the last time a movie reviewer wrote what is obvious about ninety-nine out of a hundred movies? That they were made for morons.

-Then there is the shameless sucking up to celebrities. Are we all still star-struck teenagers? Isn't it time for an adult reality-check? Why interview Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg about the art of film, as if they were thinkers, and knew anything about the subject? Why do Charlie Rose and James Lipton fawn on Harrison Ford and Julia Roberts, treating them as if they were great actors? Why are movie stars never asked a single hard question by an interviewer -- like why they are wasting their lives making junky Hollywood movies? But since I'm a film professor, I'll give you two academic pet peeves:

-I'm fed up with professors who try to redeem crummy movies by finding grandiose cultural metaphors and themes in them. You know, the ones that argue that Showgirls is profound because it depicts "the commodification of American life," or that no matter how boring and trite A.I. is, we have to take it seriously since it is freighted with "Metaphoric Significance." Give me a break. They pitch their tents in some Joseph Campbell heaven of symbolic references, thirty thousand feet above the actual experience of the work. There is something profoundly wrong with a critic who cares more about archetypal themes than individual feelings and experiences (just as there was something fundamentally wrong about Joseph Campbell's understanding of life). Orwell put it more simply: There are some ideas so stupid only a professor could believe them.

-And I'm exasperated with professors who justify their interest in trash with theories about how the works they show in class represent intricate reworkings of genre conventions or are profound expressions of popular culture. They conveniently ignore the fact that movies are not expressions of popular but of corporate culture. They are calculated, manufactured, mass-produced products created by multinational corporations to make as much money as possible. That's a little different from nineteenth-century patchwork quilts and whaling voyage scrimshaw.

Anyway, something both the reviewers and the professors forget is that Americans over the age of 40 don't go to the movies, and if they do, they certainly don't take them seriously as expressions of anything. It's easy to forget this if you are in the movie biz, but you get a reminder every once in a while when you discover that your aunt and uncle and cousins have never heard of the Coen brothers and have no interest in finding out. The parents of most of my students think they are wasting their time majoring in film. That's a good corrective when we start waxing poetic about cinema as the twentieth-century art form. Not to these realtor mothers and businessman fathers!

It's no accident that the demographic for Hollywood movies is so young. They are not made for adults, but for teenagers and others in various states of arrested development, like film reviewers.

As to the formation of an alternative critical community, I just don't know. Most journalists are hopeless. Jonathan Rosenbaum used to be intermittently interesting thirty years ago, but lately he's become an embarrassment: a testy, whiney, complaining old man. Academics like David Bordwell and David James are hog-tied by their own limiting academic ideologies, methods, and terminology. Professional reviewers like David Denby, Anthony Lane, and Elvis Mitchell just aren't smart enough about art and are too compromised by their job descriptions. The artists are the only critics I really trust. If Caveh Zahedi or John Gianvito or Gordon Erikson tell me something is worth seeing, I'll walk barefoot over broken glass to get to it. I guess my hope is that some of my own students will change the history of film criticism in the next fifteen years. But I'll have to wait and see if that happens.

Friedman: What qualities must a filmmaker embody to be an artist?

Carney: All that matters is that they tell their own personal truths. The beauty is that that can take a trillion unpredictable, unknown forms. Reminding us how strange and miraculous our lives really are. How weirdly and artificially structured society is. How mixed-up things are. How extraordinary ordinary people are. Reminding us of the love and kindness that never make the news. Showing us the heroism of everyday life.

One thing we know for sure is that the next great artist won't look like the last. I don't want a filmmaker who makes Cassavetes or Leigh or Ozu movies. Those filmmakers didn't become who they were by imitating anyone else, but by telling the truth in their own unique ways.

Friedman: What directors in Hollywood are making films that transcend the studio mindset?

I would be the last to know. Or care. As far as I'm concerned, it's like asking who worked for Enron but transcended the corporate mindset? I'm sure there might have been someone, but I would then ask why they worked for Enron. Why not ask what non-Hollywood directors transcend the studio mindset? There are many interesting artists out there, but don't expect to see their faces on the cover of the next issue of Premiere: Jay Rosenblatt, Sam Seder, Su Friedrich, Charles Burnett, Chris Brown, Rob Nilsson, Harmony Korine, Chris Smith, Lucas Sabean, Gordon Erikson, Paul Harrill, Josh Apter, David Ball, Sherman Alexie, Terry Zwigoff, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, Caveh Zahedi, Jim Jarmusch, Eric Mendelsohn. I'm sure there are dozens of others I don't know about. It's the hacks whose faces are everywhere.

Friedman: Why do you think there has been a trend of anti-sentimental films in recent years?

Carney: It's a way of bursting the bubble, revealing that the Empire has nothing on under its clothes. Black comedy surfaces when options for normal truth-telling are blocked or frustrated by the mainstream culture.

In the expansionist, optimistic, go-go Elizabethan period-so much like our own Reagan-Bush years, Kyd and Marlowe wrote these brilliant, dark, sardonic comedies-the two parts of Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta, The Spanish Tragedy. At the height of the Eisenhower snooze-fest and the Kennedy-Camelot love-in, Kubrick gave us Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove. In the peace-love-Woodstock era, Altman and Penn unleashed Mash and Bonnie and Clyde. Todd Solondz, Paul Thomas Anderson, Sam Mendez, and Neil LaBute flourish because they tell us something we need to hear. They tell us that the dominant culture is screening out important truths. They tell us that its mass-produced feel-good products represent massive, life-denying acts of repression. And they're right.

The Appendix to my Leigh book has a lot more about this. Films like Magnolia, American Beauty, Your Friends and Neighbors, Happiness, and Naked are a purgative. An enema to flush out the sentimental crap. They are a necessary rejection of the fraudulence of Hollywood. Their causticness, irony, satire, cynicism is positive in this respect. These works are the last refuge of the truth-telling, caring heart-in hiding, forced underground by the happy-face fakery of American culture in the pre-9/11 decade.

But that doesn't mean that these films are great works of art. I wouldn't say that of Marlowe's or Kyd's work either. Shakespeare was the great artist of their era-because his art, like all great art, came out of love and kindness and sympathy and caring, not sarcasm and satire and illusion-shattering. It isn't enough to show what is wrong. You have to find a way to affirm what is right, without denying what is. You have to find a way to love life in all of its imperfection. That's what Rembrandt and Frans Hals do. That's what Lenny Bruce did. In film, that's what Cassavetes managed to do and Su Friedrich and Tom Noonan and Mike Leigh do, but it's beyond LaBute and Solondz. Their films are mean-spirited, ungenerous, spiritually stingy, and emotionally closed. They take cheap shots. They are afraid. Before they can be artists they have to learn to risk more and love more.

Friedman: Some media/cultural critics talk about sentimentality as a by-product of an industrial society unable to feel without "emotional guideposts." (Like we have to be told where to take pictures at Disneyland!) What to you distinguishes genuine emotion in art from fake emotion, i.e., genuine human empathy from manipulated sentimentality? How do we get back to the genuine in film-free from guideposts? Isn't all film a manipulation? Isn't any emotion real?

Carney: I've written so much about the "guidepost" issue and devoted so many classes to it, that I'll skip it if you don't mind and refer anyone interested in it to my writing.

As to the other part of your question: You want me to tell you how to tell fake emotion from real? You should be asking Charlotte Beck, not me. She's a Zen Master who's written books about the subject. Beautiful books. I'm not as smart as she is, but I'll take a stab at an answer by saying something that may sound weird. As far as I am concerned, ninety-nine percent of all of the emotions we experience in life and in Hollywood movies are what you are calling "fake." Our culture is a machine for creating false feelings-a whole panoply of petty, personal, egoistic demands; our greed and obsession with possessions and appearances, from houses to cars to clothing; our need to keep up with the latest gadgets, trends, news, and events; our concerns about glamour and charm and what other people think of us; our feeling that we need to fight, struggle, and compete to get ahead-and a million other self-destructive fears and insecurities. They are everywhere. And they are all unreal. Made up. Crazy. Cuckoo.

We put ourselves on an emotional hamster track we can never get to the end of. And we love the whole insane race. The push and pull of the bustling, grabbing, self-centered ego has become our substitute for the soul, which we ball up and jam into an hour at church or synagogue once a week. There are good emotions-truer, deeper, more authentic ways of being-but the problem with Hollywood and television and the rest of the media is that the whole system is devoted to presenting, manipulating, and exalting the self-destructive, self-centered feelings-not the valuable, good ones. In fact, as far as I can tell, movies organized around ego-centered emotions are the ones people love the most. Just like they love football games more than they love ballet. That's because they feed into a whole cultural system of programming. For more than you want to know about this subject, read the Introduction to my Leigh book.

But let me add that I've discovered that when I call these feelings fake, my students get confused. They say people really feel these emotions. Their pulses really beat faster during the ending of The Matrix. They really cry at the end of Titanic. They really care who wins in Erin Brockovich. They really feel elated when a villain gets blown up in the Star Wars movies. They really got choked up when they wore a yellow ribbon during the Gulf War, or when they attached an American flag to their car more recently. And my students are right. To the people who experience these feelings, they are real. But that doesn't mean they aren't fake. Maybe it would be better to call them mental emotions, since they are created by our thoughts. They are in our heads. That's what's wrong with them. They represent postures, stances, and attitudes that make us feel good about ourselves. Even as we torture ourselves by casting ourselves in this endless, draining struggle, these emotions flatter us. They inflate our importance. We struggle so we can feel we are getting ahead. We keep up with the Joneses so we can feel superior to them. Even as it hurts them, people love to create self-justifying emotional dramas this way.

It doesn't have to be that way. Bad movies play on our emotional weaknesses, but great ones can move us beyond these clichés or show us their limitations. But don't look to Hollywood for that kind of movie. Look at Dreyer's Ordet or Gertrud. Look at Bresson's L'Argent or Pickpocket. Look at Cassavetes' Faces, which critiques the reliance on business values for personal interactions. Look at Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party -- an absolutely brilliant dissection of the emotional role-playing we imprison ourselves within. These films reveal how unreal and self-destructive these feelings are.

Friedman: Sometimes it seems like so many films are becoming more like roller-coaster rides of stimulation rather than windows into human experience, and even so-called art films many times gloss over the interior life of their characters and become rather cynical reflections of the filmmakers' unwillingness to grapple with deep questions. Why do you think this is?

Carney: People would rather have simple emotions. They want thrills and chills, but just as they want happy endings, they want easy, predictable, controllable excitement. It's why video games are so big. It's the remnants of our evolutionary past. Our animal brain stems and our fight-or-flight limbic systems.

In my film classes, I sometimes do a unit on ballet and modern dance to show students the expressive power of gesture and movement, and some of my boy grad students -- with great sincerity and conviction mind you -- tell me that they don't get much out of the Paul Taylor or Balanchine tapes, but they "know what I mean," since they feel "the exact same things someone at the ballet does" when they watch the quarterback scramble in a football game. I have the awkward job of informing them that, no, they don't understand what I am trying to show them. As great as Lawrence Taylor was, the experience of watching him was fundamentally different from what Paul Taylor offers. Burt Bachrach may bring a tear to your eye, but that doesn't make him Bach.

The issue of whether you feel something or not is not a sufficient test of the value of a work. Our feelings are too primitive. Too simple. I can get excited by the final minute of a Final Four playoff game. But I don't mistake it for a work of art. I tell the boys who want to equate Michael Jordan with Suzanne Farrell, that they have to ask what they learn from the experience. Does it change or enrich their understanding of life? Or does it just play into their pre-existing emotional clichés? Does it leave them thoughtful and deeper or just breathless and excited? If they want that, you're right, they might as well go on a roller-coaster ride. Great art is not about revving us up. That's what a sales conference or How-to-Make-a-Fortune-in-Real-Estate seminar is for. The greatest art is more likely to take us through an experience that humbles and abashes us -- that chastens, bewilders, and hushes us into silence at what we suddenly realize we have failed to see and experience up until then. That's pretty different from a video game or a roller-coaster ride.

Inner life is everything. What else is there? The rest is capitalism and cars and houses. You're sick if you care about those things. I'm not opposed to some of the multiculturalist and feminist agendas, but it's something that filmmakers who focus on sociological issues and institutions need to ponder-that our imaginations, our dreams, our emotions are the only things that really matter. You can have all the equal-pay-for-equal-work statutes in the world, but if your imagination is impoverished, you are poorer than a ghetto kid squealing in the spray from a fire hydrant. We need films that recognize that what a teenage girl thinks and feels and dreams is far more important than the clothes she wears or the car she drives. That would be a rare movie!

Even most of the children's films I've seen have adopted our culture's depraved adult values. The kids in them are just little consumers. And of course, the goal is turn the kids watching them into little consumers too-as they run off to McDonald's to collect the mugs, action figures, and stickers. That's why Treasure Island and The Arabian Nights have more to say to a child's soul than a whole library of I Have Two Mommies books.

Friedman: What does the future hold for indie filmmakers with the rise of desktop filmmaking? Do you see any interesting filmmakers out there working in digital video?

Carney: All of the young filmmakers I know are working in digital, since they can't afford film! Well, maybe not all, but most of them. The advantage of digital is that you can massively over-shoot. I just got off the phone with a friend who told me he shot thirty hours of footage for his new movie. It would have been out of the question to buy and process that much 16mm film.

The downfall of most low-budget indie work is the acting. By necessity, young filmmakers usually have to use students, relatives, and other non-actors in their work. If they are limited to one or two takes because of the cost of film and processing, the results can be embarrassing. Massive over-shooting allows them to compensate. They can shoot until their actors are too tired to "act" or put down their actorly mannerisms, and start being real. My friend said he even shot some stuff like a documentarian, filming his actors when they weren't acting, when they didn't realize they were being filmed. Cassavetes did the same thing. It can make a real difference. As Renoir said, the whole scene is saved when the girl playing the servant thinks the shot is over and lets out a sigh.

Having a smaller crew and less equipment can also make things less intimidating. The mood is different. You can improvise. You can do a scene over and over again. You can take chances. You can have fun, play around, experiment. Chaplin shot this way and it's always good for the work. And, of course, the PC has revolutionized editing, to take away a little of the time pressure and cost from that part of the process. But I'm convinced that no matter how cheap filmmaking becomes, there won't ever be a glut of masterpieces. Technology does nothing by itself. Better, smaller, cheaper cameras don't make better art; better artists do. In seventeenth-century Holland, oil painting was a cutting edge technology, but it took Rembrandt and Frans Hals to do something amazing with it. The digital revolution will probably quadruple the number of feature films made in a given year, but most of them will still be garbage, just like most of them are now. Look at the first video revolution ten or fifteen years ago-when Beta and Hi-band 8 became cheap. What is its legacy? Porno flicks. There won't be any more artists born in a given year just because movies become cheaper to make. That particular form of insanity is in your DNA, and you either have it or you don't. Pen and pencil are the ultimate low-budget technology, but how many great novels and plays and poems are written every year? I don't see a stream of Shakespeares being produced just because writing is inexpensive. Emotional clichés still lurk like land mines waiting to destroy you.

As a violinist friend used to say, it's a poor musician who blames his instrument. A real artist can use whatever is available. Picasso could have created masterpieces with a burnt stick and a piece of chalk. In fact he did. We call them charcoals. Cassavetes could have used a cheap, old fashioned VHS camera and created a scene that was worth watching. In fact he did. In the last ten years of his life he used to film scenes at home that way just for the fun of doing it. Michael Almereyda made three amazing movies with a Pixel-cam. One of those sixty-nine dollar video cameras for kids that records on audio tape that they used to sell at KayBees. Another Girl, Another Planet, The Rocking Horse Winner, and a documentary about the Sundance film festival.

It's a faulty analysis that locates the problem in the cost of the production. The harder nut to crack for young filmmakers is distribution. How does a young, unknown filmmaker get a movie into a real theater or on mainstream TV-the web doesn't count-no matter how it is made? The rub, of course, is that the more original the work is, the harder it will be to sell it to the corporations that run those enterprises. It might offend someone. It might not be "entertaining" enough. It might require you to think a little. It might be different!

The life-or-death struggle every artist fights is not with technology but with our commercial culture. The businessmen, the accountants, the advertising guys always want to get their fingers in the pie -- suggesting cuts, trying to speed up the pacing, trying to pander to some imaginary demographic-and it's the death of personal expression. Generic truth -- what "they" want, need, or feel -- is not truth anymore. Truth can only be what you feel. Every week I have videos sent to me that are better than anything broadcast on HBO or PBS, accompanied by letters describing how the filmmaker can't get them screened or how, and even if they have won an award at some festival, they still can't get a distributor. The indie films that get lucky, the ones you always hear about, are almost always picked up for the wrong reason -- not because of their intrinsic merit, but because of some controversial theme, or sexual content, or potential appeal to a special interest demographic (gays or blacks or feminists or whatever). And if you don't play to a special interest, forget it. It's not a vote for art. It's a business decision on who the distributor thinks he can fleece. That problem won't go away.

Friedman: You explain in Cassavetes on Cassavetes that Cassavetes had this "mind's eye" view of himself, which is defined as how you perceive yourself before "society forces compromises or self-censorship on you." What filmmakers today seem to hold true to their mind's eye view?

Carney: My hope is in the actors. Some of them have become filmmakers by default, usually out of disgust with the roles offered to them in mainstream movies. Others are willing to work for nothing in an independent film written and directed by someone else, just for a chance to be able to do something really interesting and creative for a change.

I trust both groups of actors. Face it, most born-in-the-bone directors are rhetoricians. They are seduced away from truth in the pursuit of flashy, razzle-dazzle, special effects. Look at David Lynch's work or that of the Coen brothers. So much of it is rhetoric. Actors, by the nature of their calling, have a simpler, purer conception of art. They have dedicated their lives to individual, personal expression -- to what you are calling holding onto your "mind's eye view" against all the bureaucratic and social forces leagued against it, attempting to level and homogenize it.

That's why many of the best contemporary directors are actors. I'm thinking of people like Tom Noonan, Steve Buscemi, Sean Penn, Vince Gallo, Tim Roth, and Gary Oldman. Their work is surprisingly good.

Friedman: In this time of economic hardship, what do you recommend for people just entering a career in filmmaking?

Carney: I'm always uncomfortable with the notion of a "career" in anything. American society is structured so that it opulently rewards certain roles (lawyers, doctors, celebrity actors and athletes, wheeler-dealer businessmen, stockbrokers, producers) and ignores or financially penalizes others (teachers, nurses, mothers, caregivers, ministers, artists). That never changes, in good times or bad.

I think we focus too much on the financial side. That's Hollywood thinking. If you are a real artist, you can make art with no money. Red Grooms used house paint and plywood to make his art. Paul Zaloom sets up a card table and moves toy soldiers around. Todd Haynes used Barbie dolls. I had a friend, Freddie Curchack, who made shadow puppets on a sheet. An artist who complains about not having enough money is not an artist, but a businessman.

The only reason to make a movie, paint a painting, or write a poem is to try to explore and understand something that matters to you. God knows, it's the only reason I write my books. If I were in it for the money I would have thrown in the towel and declared bankruptcy a long time ago. The filmmakers I know who don't have enough money to make a movie are busy writing short stories or putting on plays with their friends. The beauty of that is that when you are able to get things together to make a movie, you have something to film. You have tested it by tinkering with it and writing it out. You have already workshopped it and seen where it needs to be revised. I tell students who say they can't afford a high quality video camera or sound equipment to put on a play in their livingrooms or hide out in their basements and write a novel. If they tell me they're not interested in doing that, then I know they're not artists. They are more interested in having a career than a life.

Friedman: Sometimes it seems like we have a very "everyone for themselves" attitude in the film industry in the U.S., which leaves little room for cultivating a master-student relationship. Also, to be unique and progressive as an artist often seems to imply to trash, not build upon, the past. Do you agree with this observation, and if you do, do you see any filmmakers out there trying to build upon a sense of film tradition and history in their individual styles?

Carney: Rob Nilsson said something very interesting in a Res column. He said that film schools should be abolished and all the young people should go find some low-budget independent filmmaker whose works they loved, apprentice themselves to him or her, and give their tuition money to the filmmaker. Of course, the proposal was half in jest. He knows it will never happen, and that it sounds insane to most people. But I would love to have young filmmakers take him seriously. It could change the history of American film.

Film school is a waste of time anyway. In fact, it's counter-productive in most cases because the wrong things are taught-like explaining away your characters' mysteries by providing unnecessary background information, and teaching you how to keep the stupid plot moving along. Who says you have to have establishing shots or over-the-shoulder shots? Who says a scene has to be lighted or edited in a certain way? It really shows contempt for the art. You'd never tell a musician he had to compose for particular instruments and play in certain keys, or a painter what colors to use or what size canvas to paint on. So at the end of the process, another class of no-nothings is turned loose in the world to compete with each other for a Hollywood distribution deal.

Most of the students I teach give up on film after they graduate anyway. And the ones who go to LA and fight and fight to get a job and starve for a while end up pushing a dolly or stringing wires on some big budget production that no one involved with gives a damn about. And those are the so-called lucky ones! They could have made their own feature their own way if they had apprenticed themselves to an indie filmmaker, but instead they go off to work in a factory every morning, and become a tiny, unimportant cog in an enormous studio machine. What a waste of a life. They had it right in the sixteenth century. The guild system was a much better way.

Friedman: Why do you think so many filmmakers are drawn to teaching, besides the schedule flexibilities?

Carney: Well, the pay is better than working in McDonald's! Lots of filmmakers come so they can use equipment for free or get students to help them with their films. But I'd like to think there is a higher, nobler reason-the dream of being part of a community of like-minded, soulful, spiritual searchers. Universities are the last of the monasteries -- the last shelter from the capitalist way of measuring everything in terms of popularity and profit. That makes them a wonderful place to be. But of course I'm talking about an ideal university. There are so few of them left. Most university film programs-especially the best-known ones, like NYU, UCLA, and USC-do not represent an alternative to the business sickness of our culture, but are devoted to training people to enter and compete within it. It's like I was saying, they'd rather give their students a job than a life. I am fighting that struggle in my own program.

Friedman: A fun question: If you could make one film required curriculum for American film audiences, what would it be and why? Why is this film innovative or unique?

Carney: If I were limited to teaching one two-or three-hour film class for all eternity. My one shot to change the history of American film, I wouldn't show any movies! I'd have the students listen to Bach's Double Violin Concerto and ask them to try to get that into their work. Or read Stanley Elkin's Greatest Hits. Or look at Degas' paintings. Those are things I already do in my classes and I'm convinced that many of the students learn more from doing that than they do from looking at any movie.

If you absolutely required me to screen something, I'd use my three hours to show short films. They are better than most features, and would at least demonstrate that a movie doesn't necessarily have to tell a stupid "story," be "entertaining," or any of that other rot Hollywood would make us believe.

Friedman: What would you show?

Bruce Conner's Permian Strata, Valse Triste, and A Movie; Jay Rosenblatt's Human Remains, Period Piece, and Restricted; Su Friedrich's Sink or Swim and Rules of the Road; Shirley Clarke's Bridges Go Round; Mike Leigh's Afternoon, Sense of History, and The Short and Curlies; Charlie Weiner's Rumba. And any ten minutes from Tom Noonan's What Happened Was, Caveh Zahedi's Little Stiff, Mark Rappaport's Casual Relations, Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky, and Ozu's Late Spring. That's about three hours of stuff. The least the students would learn is that a film doesn't have to look like a Hollywood movie. That Hollywood is a tiny and ultimately unimportant rivulet flowing away from the great sea of art.

The really smart ones would learn that the greatest movies use something other than action to keep us caring and in the moment-that the worst way to make a movie is to organize it around a sequence of events-that plot is the biggest lie we can tell about what life is really about.

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