This week, along with many others, I received a notice from Mark Rappaport detailing circumstances involving elements of his work – specifically DigiBeta tapes of his work, along with papers and such items, which he’d left with Ray Carney, Boston University Professor, Cassavetes expert, and enthusiastic promoter of so-called “independent film.” I’ve known Mark since the 70’s, and also have known Carney for some time. Here’s the notice:
AN OPEN LETTER FROM MARK RAPPAPORT TO THE INTERNATIONAL FILM COMMUNITY
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.
Last winter, at his request, I printed on www.jonjost.wordpress.com a long long “letter” Ray Carney had written regarding his (mis) treatment at Boston University. At his request, colluding with him, I went along with the charade that I’d just received this letter and chose to print it on my own. I included some comments of my own on my own little academic career and an experience I’d had at BU. In my view his letter was far too long winded to be effective, and suggested to me a person rather obsessed. In fact I did not read it all, nor do I imagine anyone else did. Perhaps I should have taken more serious note of this. After the blog was published I was in contact a few times to inquire what fall-out he’d had there from it. There seemed little. And then 5 months or so ago (April 4, 2012), after writing him again, I received no reply. And likewise to a few other emails sent, one on the morning of the day I received Mark’s notice.
Since then I’ve written him 3 times, requesting a reply, and an explanation of Mark’s notice. Again, no reply. I take this silence as indicative that Mark’s story is true, and that Ray, for reasons presumably best explained by him, can’t respond. Along with some others, who also know him in one way or another, I speculate that he’s slipped off the range of what we’d normally call “sane” and into another self-enclosed space where he unreachable to reason.
In the past years I have met a good many of Carney’s ex-students, all of whom found him an excellent and stimulating teacher, someone who truly touched and changed their lives. I’ve also met others, in other areas of the artsy film/critical world, who have suggested that he’s a troublesome person given to stirring up hornets nests and that they have themselves steered clear of him and advised me to do so. I know aside from his tangle with BU, he’s also tangled with Gena Rowlands over Cassavetes’ film Shadows. I am not interested enough in this to have bothered to have followed it, or read anything about it, so I don’t really have any view. In sum he’s left a trail of mixed reviews, which, in my view, is to be expected from anyone who is passionate, takes unpopular stands, and so on. I know from personal experience since I myself trail such a reputation, whether warranted or not.
Why Ray would act in the manner described in Mark’s letter, alienating a person whom he has praised to the skies and championed, I cannot fathom. And of course, in turn he has shredded whatever reputation and credibility he had in the independent film community – the filmmakers, critics, programmers, all of them – in taking such actions. I cannot imagine what he could think he would gain in doing so. So I must conclude, in a way charitably, that Ray has slipped into some mental twilight zone, and does not perceive the damage he is inflicting, and has inflicted on himself. In some way it is explicable to me, given the stresses of his years long combat with BU, and with Rowlands. It must take its toll, and it appears it has, and he’s tipped over into terra incognito. My guess, even though I don’t actually think such things work, is that he’s in need of some dead serious therapy work.
Here are the letters I have written Ray in the last days:
[Sept 6, 2012; morning, before I received Mark’s letter.]
Not having heard from you for a long time I wonder how you are etc. I’ve just finished shooting 2new narrative things in Butte and am hitting the road shortly to shoot for the essay film. One of the new ones I think will be very good, the other not so sure. C’est la vie.
Anyway drop me a note, however short, to let me know you’re OK etc. School started again. More hell?
[Sept 6, 2012, after getting the internet letter from Mark.]
Is the attached remotely true? Or what is your version of this story? I sort of don’t care what it is, though perhaps this entanglement explains why you haven’t answered the last 2 or 3 of my emails asking how you are.
I don’t know the whole story I suppose, but I’d suggest that you return all of Mark’s things – prints, papers, tapes – everything. Without any conditions or argument. If you don’t, and quickly, your credibility in the independent film/arts and academic world will be totally shot.
I’d like an answer.
I’ll be posting the letter on cinemaelectronica in 24 hours.
I hope it isn’t remotely true.
[Sept 7, 2012.]
Mark’s letter is out, and spreading. I don’t wish to see you hurt or hurt yourself, but if you don’t act, and fast, your reputation is going to be in shreds. How about an answer?
[Sept. 8, 2012]
Not having heard from you my better nature would like to think it is something benign – that the email system doesn’t work, things like that. The realist side says something else: that you don’t reply because you don’t want to, or in some way, psychologically, you can’t.
I am in touch with Mark, who advises that an attempt to intervene and get this settled is in his view useless, but I’ll give it a try. I’d like to see him get his work back, promptly, with no further hassle. I’d like to see it done with no further damage inflicted on you – which at this point is probably pretty considerable: it’s a very ugly story seen from Mark’s letter, and it sort of jibes with other stories that circulate around you. If indeed you are holding his material, and its gone to lawyers, and you don’t have a hard contract from him – which the legal story suggests you do not – and you are relying on that old legal maxim “possession is 9/10ths of the law,” then you’ve painted yourself pretty deeply into your own corner.
Let Mark know you will promptly return all his material. Unless you have a contract signed by him stating that he agreed you would charge him $4000 a year for the service of holding his materials, drop the $27,000 demand for payment; otherwise you are blackmailing. If it makes it easier for you, I will inquire with some archives, with Mark’s consent, to see if one of them would be willing to take hold of the material, and foot the cost of shipping. I don’t think Mark can afford it – this kind of filmmaking, as you should know, is not exactly a fount of money-making wealth. And besides, he shouldn’t be having to foot that bill.
We artists, whom you have championed in your books and public voice, are an odd bunch. We tend to be “sensitive” and often all too trusting. I know I have been in my life, and severely burned for my bother. Though I am still highly trusting, only because I prefer to live that way. I lived in Italy some time, where the national (Roman) motto is “Fidarsi bene; non fidarsi meglio.” “To trust is good; not to trust is better.” They live that way, and my observation is that it makes for a collective and individual unhappiness. Which makes sense. As Shakespeare had it, “Et tu, Brutus?” Who needs waiting for your best friend/supporter to slip the knife in your back?
Back in winter, when you asked me to print your BU letter on my blog, I did so. Frankly I thought the letter was far too long and detailed, and that few would actually read it. It suggested someone – you – obsessively wrapped up in your provincial battles, so much so that you lost that thing which artists must have to work effectively: a sense of perspective, scale, proportion. In your battle with BU you lost that sense, and it shows in that letter. Meantime it seems you’ve gone on to other battlefields, where you’ve done the same.
I can’t assure you in any way that it would “turn things around,” but it would be a step in that direction, and morally and ethically it is the right thing to do: let Mark know immediately you will return his materials, and take immediate practical action to do so. I will inquire with a few archival people I know and see if they will be willing to receive the materials on his behalf if it is OK with him.
If instead you choose to try to hold on to his work and materials, you will gain nothing from it, and you will definitely lose one friend: me. And I will do whatever I can to see Mark’s work is returned to him. As you’ve noted yourself, I am a tenacious soul, and when I take something on I see it through. I did you a favor last winter. Now you do me, and yourself, one.
[Sept 9, 2012]
Not having heard from you, I’m not exactly sanguine about the odds on hearing from you now. You seem to be in hiding, in denial, caught up in a web of unhappiness which appears largely of your own making. I’m not the only person who imagines you might have slipped off the realm we customarily call sanity and into something else.
The hole you’re in now is pretty deep. I’d suggest you cut your losses to what they already are – and at this point I’d judge they are pretty serious – and try to recoup. You need to start by returning Mark Rappaport’s materials to him, promptly, no strings attached. And issue a statement of apology for what you have done, whatever the cause – a misunderstanding, or a pathological shift from being an enthusiastic supporter to imagining you are owner of things which are not yours.
It’s your choice. Silence will only confirm the worst.
I’ll be posting Mark’s letter, and my own commentary on this whole matter, tomorrow on cinemaelectronica unless I hear from you with something positive regarding this whole matter. And failing a positive and constructive response from you, now, I will help initiate an international campaign to get you to return Mark’s work as quickly as possible. If this ends up being required, your reputation will lie in far more tatters than it already does.
I am sorry to have to say all this. I am far sorrier that what you have done, on your own, requires having to say it. You can lessen the self-inflicted damage by correcting yourself now, or you can dig the hole ten times deeper by digging your heels in.
All of the above elicited no response from Ray. Emails didn’t bounce back so I presume they still function. Some other friends and former students inform they’ve also sent emails, to no response. My personal conclusion is that Ray Carney has, in some form, had a mental breakdown and very likely is in need of serious help. My instincts lead to compassion – if I were in Boston and I knew where he lived I’d be at his door. I know nothing at all of his personal life, whom his friends are or if he has any. Or a wife or companion. I don’t know.
I do know he’s run a great blog at BU, one that engendered a large and long on-line conversation among filmmakers and interested parties, until it was closed down by BU; that he’s written many books and done research and from an academic viewpoint was highly respected. And I know he’s had a positive and formative impact on many students. All to the plus side. On the other side is his reputation as a cantankerous and argumentative soul, who, in my view tends towards hyperbole and exaggeration, though that is a common matter among people who are in some way propagandists and fighting for transparently minority positions – a kind of necessary rhetorical flaw required simply to be heard above the din of capitalism’s worship of fashion and money-making “popular” tastes. Ray’s tastes are most frequently at sharp variance to mine, as are his (as with many critics) announcements of “the best” of whatever. I have a distaste for such listings, always wanting to interject, “have you seen everything, and if not how about amending that phrasing to ‘of what I have seen’ (which is .001 percent of what I am declaiming about), and how about changing that ‘best’ to ‘what I like’?” Places things in perspective, which critics seem, as part of their job hazard, to often lack.
Mark moved to Paris some years ago, and having never talked with him about it, I don’t really know why. Though I suspect it was for similar reasons that have found me out of the USA for long periods: in our increasingly commercialized culture, where the only thing that is allowed to “talk” is money (see the Citizens United ruling of our corrupted Supreme Court; see our national politics; see what is allowed to be reviewed in our corporate news organizations, see Jeff Koons, etc. etc.), support for arts which do not embrace the concept that the only thing worth anything is, yep, money, is, shall we, minimal. In that good old American maxim, “Money talks and bullshit walks.” I am 100% sure Mark is not rolling in dough from the proceeds from his work. Nor are any of us who make work remotely in this realm of making films as “art.” If we make anything at all it is by teaching, or doing the occasional workshop, or things like that. Of those I know, those not teaching tend to live hand-to-mouth. Ray Carney knows all this, which makes it all the more imponderable that he’d demand of Mark $27,000 in “storage fees” to get his work back. Does Carney have a written agreement to such effect? I am 100% sure the answer is no. Nor has he any written contractual paper that Mark “gave” him his work.
What Ray Carney has done is unconscionable, and flies in the face of his long support for independent filmmakers. It flies in the face of the teaching he has done, and, well, pretty much everything he has stood up for in the past. So it makes one wonder.
Still, that leaves Mark holding an empty bag, and a sour taste in the mouth. To be clear – as word out on the net hasn’t been quite so clear: what Ray Carney has of Mark’s are his papers, and DigitalBeta tapes of his films. He does not have the originals, which are dispersed around a number of institutions, MoMA, Eastman House, the Cinematheque in Paris. For those unfamiliar with some current film-world realities, getting new digital copies, aside from the hassles of getting the materials from institution X to a lab, would cost roughly $2,400 to make another DigiBeta copy (HD, which is what ought to happen – see this – is far more costly). This is beyond Mark’s means, and is needless in any event: Carney has those tapes. For current purposes the tapes have much more utility – for streaming or other modes of distribution, than do the prints and/or originals. Though ideally the films should be transferred to 2K HD, though economics likely dictates against this occurring.
As unfortunately can be seen in Carney’s non-response to the letters I have sent, as well as those others have sent, he seems unapproachable by the avenue of reason and evidently to the simple matter of instinctual logic: this is Mark’s work, his livelihood, and it properly belongs to him. Carney’s non-response makes pretty clear he has no legal or on-paper accord with Mark for holding this material, and he seems to be caught in that legalistic item I mentioned, “possession is 9/10th of the law.” The preliminary court ruling seems to affirm this.
As Mark has noted, he couldn’t afford to pursue the legal procedures (something with which I am painfully familiar), and left dangling, he’ll be out tapes of his own work, and in a practical sense, given all the economics of the matter, minus an ability to turn his work into something that can be seen, or even make some marginal living income from it.
Hopefully Ray will come out of his self-imposed isolation and will seek whatever care and treatment he evidently needs. Hopefully he will see the error of his ways and without further ado return Mark’s materials, and promptly.
If, however, he does not, I think public pressure needs to be applied and if things haven’t altered to make it unnecessary, I will – hopefully in conjunction with others (let me know if you can help: contact me through www.jonjost.com if you will) – commence an organized, public, social net-working process of such a kind that will make Carney’s losses far exceed whatever imagined gains he thinks he secures in keeping Mark’s work in his hands.
If you read this, Ray, please just return Mark’s full materials, a.s.a.p., and spare yourself any further damage. If you don’t, you will find your horizons constricted in ways you cannot imagine. I deeply regret having to write this, and I hope for a resolution that quickly restores Mark’s work to him. And I hope you find whatever psychic reserves are needed for you to see the profound error you have made, and to promptly correct it.