The Ray Carney Absurdity

Pondering an upcoming essay around the theme of why underground film and other movements fail, I encounter the recent drama amidst the so called “indie film” world, this involving Ray Carney who has been a pioneer and vocal stronghold in supporting real cinematic arts versus the assembly line entertainment fluff outputted by Hollywood. And doing so as a professor at Boston University, some saying among the top film prof’s in the country for so strongly advocating Art over Hollywood. Apparently a rarity in academia. And Carney has been faced with hardships within his academic home, BU related to his views.

A taste of Ray:

It is a wholesale failure of the educational system to educate and inspire a generation of students with a vision of the possibilities of art. When colleges and universities show movies “students want to see” or organize courses around popular TV shows or incorporate the trash of the Internet into the curriculum, they are denying students their legacy. It takes a lot of knowledge and effort and learning to be able to grapple with Shakespeare or Mozart — or Cassavetes or Bresson! The students are being denied the opportunity to obtain that learning. The universities are conspiring with the culture of sales and hucksterdom rather than offering a way out of it. That is the story of American education in the arts and humanities. And it’s a tragedy. If the students understood how they are being cheated, they would be picketing in the streets.

So, this recent letter from filmmaker Mark Rappaport, whom Carney has always praised highly, has been riding the intranet waves in recent days, leaving one to wonder if the constant fight has taken a toll, mentally, on Carney to the point of taking absurd actions against the very same films he once cherished and supported.

AN OPEN LETTER FROM MARK RAPPAPORT TO THE INTERNATIONAL FILM COMMUNITY
September 2012

To all filmmakers, film critics, film archivists, film academics, curators, festival directors, and film enthusiasts everywhere—
I am writing to you because something very unforeseen, very unexpected, and most unpleasant recently happened in my life,
When I moved to Paris seven years ago, I had to decide whether or not to take with me copies of my films, video masters, early drafts of scripts, duplicates of reviews and announcements, etc. When I mentioned this to Ray Carney, tenured professor at Boston University and author of several books on John Cassavetes and who also claims he is “generally recognized to be the leading scholarly authority on American narrative art film,” he eagerly offered to hold all of my materials. I accepted his offer, with the understanding that he would return them to me upon request and that they remain at BU. Five years later, in 2010, I requested the return of some of my video masters to make copies of them for various film archives in Europe. Carney duly returned those video masters to me. They were in excellent condition.

Since that time, various companies have expressed interest in streaming my films, and UCLA, in conjunction with The Sundance Institute, have volunteered to archive video masters of Sundance alumni films. In early April, I made several requests to Carney for the return of my materials. I sent Carney several e-mails (to various e-mail addresses), and I called his home and office and left numerous messages. Carney ignored all of my attempts to reach him. As a result, I hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts, where a judge issued a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against Carney. The court entered a default against Carney (who had not responded to my complaint) and ordered Carney to return the materials to me, or else be held in contempt of court. After that, Carney hired a lawyer who stated Carney intends to defend his conduct by arguing that I “gave” him the materials outright as “a gift.”

There is much at stake here for me. Without the digital video masters, my films, everything prior to 1990, Casual Relations, Local Color, The Scenic Route, Impostors, Mark Rappaport—The TV Spin-Off, Chain Letters, plus the High-Definition version of Exterior Night, cannot be made available for streaming, commercial DVDs, video-on-demand, or any electronic delivery system down the road. My life as a filmmaker, my past, and even my future reputation as a filmmaker are at stake. I gave Carney no rights to my materials except the right to hold them and return them to me on request. His lawyer has refused to disclose the current location of my materials.

Carney tried to cast doubt on the truthfulness of the inventory I presented. Furthermore, under oath, he stated “some of the items I received I no longer have because I gave them away to third parties. I discarded other items due to the degraded and unusable condition they were in when I received them. Finally, I discarded other items at later dates after they were worn-out by the normal wear and tear of being used.” This is sworn statement from Carney who, earlier, on his website bragged, “Mark is a great friend and gave me almost everything he owned when he left New York for France… So I am now the ‘Mark Rappaport Archive.’ I have the largest collection of material by him in the world: file cabinets and storage bins full of amazing things: production notebooks, film prints, rough drafts, revisions, scripts, film stock, DVDs, tapes, notes, jottings, journals, etc. etc. etc. It’s a dream come true for me and one of the major film collections by one of the world’s greatest artists. All being preserved for posterity at any cost.” http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/aboutrc/letters57.shtml (PLEASE NOTE: If this interests you, go to the website before this entry is removed.)

Elsewhere, he describes me as “a genuine national treasure.”

The judge, at a pre-trial hearing, demanded that Carney supply the court with a full inventory of what he still had, what he gave away, and what he destroyed. Carney subsequently delivered a full inventory—which included absolutely everything I gave him. None of it had been given away or destroyed. Although he clearly had perjured himself, I was ecstatic to learn my materials were intact. After four and a half months of this, Carney got in touch with me to propose a deal, saying, “I sincerely wish you well and I am sorry this issue has come between us.” “I am willing,” he writes, to “ship everything back for a modest consideration, simply to cover my costs and the time and trouble of having stored the material for the past seven-and-a-half years.” In return for my own films, I was to pay him $27,000! Some may call this extortion, I call it merely outrageous. Just to put it in perspective, that would equal 3 years of the monies I get from Social Security. To continue the suit to trial would have cost me about the same amount, in addition to the thousands I had already spent. I couldn’t afford to continue.

Just when I filed for a dismissal of the suit, Carney demanded back, because he claims they were part of “the gift” I gave him, the video masters that he returned to me in 2010—namely From the Journals of Jean Seberg, Postcards, Exterior Night, and John Garfield.

I’ve heard somewhat similar stories from other filmmakers, although none quite as breathtaking as this.
For a variety of reasons, I think this is a cautionary tale you might consider emailing to colleagues, friends, and acquaintances who are interested in the conservation and protection of works by non-mainstream filmmakers, film preservation in general, and archiving not just films but film-related artifacts of the recent past by independent filmmakers. Please feel free email this letter, post this on Facebook pages, and submit it to various blogs.

If you want to write about this situation, I have much more information.
Sincerely,
Mark Rappaport
marrap@noos.fr

 

Prof. Carney has seemed to have gone into hiding after these alleged revelations have surfaced, and some, most notably filmmaker Jon Jost, colleague/friend of Ray, has suggested perhaps a sort of breakdown, mental or otherwise, may have occurred as repeated efforts by Jon to help resolve, buffer, or simply understand the situation, have all gone unanswered.

Glancing at a larger picture, a broader view, I think about the idea of collapse, in particular the “end days of arts”, where eventually everything gets streamlined into one channel – such as a single FM hits only radio station recycling the same song shuffle over and over.

The end of arts single channel system, comes to full fruition, when the margins begin bickering with one another, or begin losing it altogether, sucked into single channel behaviors – behaviors which Ray Carney’s alleged “pay me 27 grand for your rights back” attack , seems to suggest.

 “The margins define the page”. - Hal Hartley.

And when the margins go, guess what you got left. Carney was a significant voice from the margins. Though a few of the artists here on AVA have spoken with Ray casually and personally in the past in positive, enlightening talks, his attention or care towards this margin, AVA, is negligible. But being the said significant voice in the larger picture, makes this an important matter to resolve, and understand, for the sake of everyone swimming around in the sidebars of the last gasp single channel nearing environment.

Links:

Jon Josts open blog post.

Carney internet letter PDF

 

Comment with news, if any.

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2 comments

  1. this is an interesting post, and i read most of it until i got the gist. . .

    from my experience, because of the over-documentation of the times, and the over-gentrification of contemporary living. . we are starting to see who the real artists are. . . and it’s not the darlings of the past, the ray carneys, or the bob dylans, or anybody who had in previous years pretended to be the keepers of the flame. . . it’s often ordinary people living in extraordinary circumstances. . . which happens to be a hard pill to swallow for those who are social climbers. . . it’s like the french revolution mixed with contemporary art. . .

    i remember that tony conrad [the filmmaker and musician] used to have a picture of himself on his myspace page holding up a sign that said something like “down with the social climbers” and this was in the 60’s when everybody was doing it. . . well, now he’s a professor with tenure at SUNY Buffalo. .

    anyways, i’ve ribbed him from time to time, and i spammed his myspace page saying something like “well, now you make art for social climbers” – just one of the many bastard moments of mine. . .

    but anyways, people should stop complaining about the state of art [let alone the economy] if they think art is all about social climbing, tenure and fame. . . .

    even though i disagree with your angle regarding my film, i am at least refreshed that it’s not about first impressions. . . which are undoubtedly overrated. . . .

    take it easy, matt

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