The second book is entitled The Bridge Between Two Nights: The Nature of Canadian Independent Cinema 1957-1986, a continuation of the blog writing project I started approximately two years ago. Thankfully, in the intervening years, I have far expanded my collection of Canadian films and have rustled up a valuable contact who has procured the rarest of titles for me. I intend, with the book, already well in progress, to take an in-depth look at the work of filmmakers Claude Jutra, Donald Shebib, Larry Kent, Jean-Pierre Lefebvre, Gilles Carle, Paul Almond, Frank Vitale, Don Owen, and…Sidney J. Furie. It is part design and part happy accident that both book projects intersect in this way.
At this point, I want to discuss something that has been especially on my radar for the last few months: the Carney-Rappaport Affair, possibly the biggest arthouse film world scandal to come along in decades. For those who do not know about it, I will provide a condensed history. When independent filmmaker Mark Rappaport (The Scenic Route, Local Color, From the Journals of Jean Seberg) left the U.S. to live in France for some years, he left raw materials for his films with controversial film scholar Ray Carney. I say “controversial” because many of the people with whom he has come into contact throughout his career have notoriously feuded with him. Actress Gena Rowlands has perhaps had the most acrimonious relationship with Carney, alleging that Carney refuses to relinquish rare, one-of-a-kind materials left over from her husband John Cassavetes’ films. When Rappaport returned from France and requested the materials back, assumedly because interest had resurfaced for his early work and screening opportunities had opened up for him, Carney refused, claiming that Rappaport issued the materials to him as a gift. Carney has long held the opinion that Rappaport is a national filmmaking treasure and had been one of the biggest scholarly supporters of his work. Rappaport’s contemporary, filmmaker Jon Jost, helped forge a campaign to help Rappaport get his materials returned, involving a blogging crusade and an online petition. Among the petition's signatories were Gus Van Sant, Todd Haynes, Atom Egoyan, Susan Seidelman, Guy Maddin, Jim Jarmusch, Tom DiCillo, Monte Hellman, Costa-Gavras, Barbara Kopple, Bela Tarr, John Waters, Olivier Assayas, as well as, from the other side of the aisle, Ken Jacobs, James Benning and many, many more.
I have met a few people loyal and empathetic to Carney’s perspective on the situation, two of the three of which were former students of his. However, I was quite frankly angered recently to read Ray Carney’s long-gestating response. It took Carney eleven months to publicly or in any other way respond to Rappaport’s allegations. Considering Carney's undeniably rocky history with others in the film world, the odds are not in his corner when it comes to who stands up as the most honest in this struggle.
Carney claims in his jeremiad titled Resting Blackmail and Standing Up for Principles at Boston University that he spent his own money and resources to restore and place in proper storage Rappaport's work, writing “Here’s a useful comparison: Imagine that someone you distantly knew told you he was moving to Europe and asked if you wanted an old, beat-up car he had that he obviously couldn’t take it with him. He told you he had given his fancy cars to auto museums, but no one wanted the junker. Did you want it? It was a beat-up mess and you were reluctant to take it, but once you got it, rather than having it towed to the junkyard, you were inspired to restore it. So you built a garage to store it in and work on it, and spent tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of your time cleaning it up, fixing it up, and restoring it. Almost eight years go by and you keep working on it. It’s not a jalopy anymore. It’s cleaned up. It’s shined up. It now purrs like a kitten. Thanks strictly to you, since it wouldn’t have been around at that point if you hadn’t taken it. You tell the person who gave it to you about your work, how you’ve put all this time and money into his present. He decides he regrets giving it to you. It’s years and years later but he decides he wants it back, even though he doesn’t own it anymore. So he goes to a lawyer and claims you stole it from him, files court papers to scare and intimidate you, and (on top of everything else) sends you a bill demanding you pay his lawyer’s costs to get the car back from you. Well, that’s a fair illustration of what happened in this situation."
At which point, Rappaport scans in the said document. Rappaport also goes into how Carney failed to show up to two court hearings. Only on the third time, when threatened with a contempt-of-court citation, did he bother. This speaks to intensely sociopathic behavior, if you ask me. As my perturbed friend said of this whole affair, "It's pretty clear he's demented."
Mr. Carney, let us be realistic and, above all, let us be that thing you claim that you strive to be, which is fair. An artist’s work belongs to the artist, and only the artist, particularly in the event that there was no original written agreement or stipulation. Your hesitation to return the items coupled directly with your excessive buying of time and your intent to draw things out speaks oh so obviously to your inexplicably ill intentions. For a long time, I tried to understand your possible perspective and I tried to air both sides of the argument. The problem is that your logic seems to defy and counter most everyone else's sense of logic -- everyone, that is, except for those who remain loyal for strictly personal reasons, and for the empty sake of loyalty. Restoring the work does not under any circumstances mean it belongs to you, particularly if you restored the materials and then, only afterwards, told the individual who "gifted" it to you. My advice: If you claim to support independent American filmmakers like you claim you do, give yourself a restoration credit and return the work to the person to whom it belongs, whose life's work it is. Restoration doesn't mean the work belongs to you. It's not like the jalopy in the metaphor. It does not function within the same paradigm.