Update: A Book About Sidney J. Furie, and a Talmudic Interpretation of the Carney-Rappaport Affair

Please pardon my blogging absence for the last couple months.  I have been extremely busy working on three features (A Simple Game of Catch, Ezer Kenegdo and One Corner Surfacing) as well as two book projects.  The first of the two books, my literary debut, is entitled Working the Angles: The Life and Films of Sidney J. Furie, a biography of an unjustly marginalized filmmaker I have greatly admired for some time.  Furie has directed many diverse and uniquely intriguing films, including The Ipcress File, The Boys in Company C, The Leather Boys, Lady Sings the Blues, The Appaloosa, The Naked Runner and others.  I have been writing this book with the help and participation of Furie himself, now 80 years old and still a happily working director.  He is actually currently in pre-production on what he knows will be his final project, which he hopes to shoot within the next year.  Furie will be arriving in New York next week to spend time with me working on the project on my own home turf.  Sidney Furie has been a truly wonderful collaborator and it has been a great honor knowing him and capturing his story, and I can already say that the book will be both a very compelling account of his filmmaking adventures (including stories involving his collaborations with Brando, Sinatra, Redford, Caine, Pryor, and many others) and an analysis of his individual films that make the argument for them as auteurist works.  Furie’s journey through cinema is a truly fascinating case study, having started as one of the single greatest pioneers in Canadian independent filmmaking (having directed not just one but two 1950’s north-of-the-border features, very much against the odds), emigrating to England at the outset of the British New Wave boom, then taking off for Hollywood when his British work proved critically and commercially successful.

    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.

    Early in February, I had the great pleasure of working with Sundance Film Festival Award-winning filmmaker/actor Josh Safdie (The Pleasure of Being Robbed, Daddy Longlegs/Go Get Some Rosemary) as an actor in Ezer Kenegdo.  He plays my character’s Chassidic buddy Levi in the film.  Josh and his brother Benny are filmmakers I definitively admire, and it was rewarding to work with him on this film.  We shot a few of his scenes in Crown Heights, and were even able to sneak cameras into Chabad Lubavitch headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway to shoot a key scene.  Run-and-gun guerrilla filmmaking at its most edgy!  I return to San Francisco on April 8 to shoot the rest of that film.  A Simple Game of Catch, which started production in January 2012, is still in post-production after having been shown in a 52-minute median-length version at the One-Night-Only Philadelphia Film Festival.  The final version of the film will be approximately 80 minutes.  I anticipate final cut and delivery of A Simple Game of Catch for summer 2013.  One Corner Surfacing will continue shooting in late spring and early summer of this year, in Sag Harbor.

    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."

   Within only twenty-four hours, Rappaport bounced back, writing, "Everyone seems to be so concerned about Carney’s side of the story. All well and good. It took him over 11 months to come up with a letter filled more with hot air than with information—mostly about how everyone is treating him badly, and especially me, who has unfairly, it seems, spreading lies about him on the internet. I don’t intend to go over his attacks and vilification of me point by point and give concrete evidence (which I have in the numerous e-mails he sent me) of his prevarications. Just showing you a couple of examples of his egregious lies might give you an idea of what Carney, who talks endlessly about ethics and morals and honesty and truth (from now on we capitalize them), veers from anything resembling truth when he talks about this situation.  When he finally showed up in court after the third try, after he had defaulted twice and was going to be held in contempt of court unless he turned over my materials (I was paying a lawyer for the other two no-show court appearances of which he had ample notification at his primary residence via FedEx, signed by Mrs. Carney).  This, dated July 12, 2012, three months after I initially tried to contact him by phone (2 phones) and e-mail (3 e-mail addresses) to no avail, was presented to the court. This is his response to the detailed inventory I presented. Carney’s response is shown here with absolutely no alterations, scanned in from the court record."

    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.

   In fact, there is something in the Talmud about such a case.  Talmudic law dictates very clearly (for once, ha ha) what is to be done in such an instance.  After all, 'tis an Orthodox Jew writing what it is you are now reading.  In the tractate called Bava Matzia, a tractate which deals with ownership, possession and theft (among other things), the third perek (chapter) called Ha-Mafkid takes us through the case of a man who enlists a shomer (a guardian or custodian) to watch over an item while he goes off on a journey.  When he returns, he discovers that the shomer has restored, repaired and otherwise upgraded the object from the condition it was originally left in his custody.  Is the owner of the object liable (chiyuv) to reimburse the shomer for the money, time and effort he spent restoring and repairing if it was not part of the original agreement?  Absolutely not, and the rabbis debating the case agree on this point.  In fact, it says that the owner should receive remuneration and damages if he paid the shomer to watch the item.  The shomer, if paid, is called a shomer sukuhr.  Now, this is Talmudic law, not American judiciary law.  The later tractate Bava Kama later coined the expression "Possession is nine tenths of the law," so there you have it.  People will take it for what they feel it's worth.  But, in principle, we are discussing the same things, and the principle remains.  It is clear, in the Talmudic ruling, that Carney is at fault.  I find it absolutely impossible to believe that a man would gift such precious one-of-a-kind items to someone, then change his mind one hundred and eight degrees and request the precious one-of-a-kind items back.  It just does not make sense to me.  Maybe Rappaport is liable for not getting the initial agreement in some kind of writing.  But hey, what are friends for, right?

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