Raymond "Ray" Carney (born February 28, 1947), is an American scholar and critic, primarily known for his work as a film theorist, although he writes extensively on American art and literature as well. He is known for his study of the works of actor and director John Cassavetes. He teaches in the American Studies department at Boston University and has published several books on American art and film.
Carney was educated at Harvard (magna cum laude) and Rutgers. Professor Carney taught literature at Middlebury College and Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin. He was also a William Rice Kimball Fellow at Stanford, working on a study of performance art, particularly the stand up comedy of Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce.
He met Cassavetes during the last years of the director's life, and was the first American scholar to write books on the director. In 2003, Carney's research led to the discovery of the first version of Cassavetes's seminal work Shadows. Besides his work on John Cassavetes, Carney has written on Carl Theodor Dreyer, Frank Capra, and Mike Leigh. He has also written extensively on American literature (particularly the works of Henry James) and art (particularly painters such as Sargent and Hopper).
Carney is highly critical of Hollywood filmmaking, and the way it is approached from an academic standpoint. He is well known for the stridency with which he attacks directors such as Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, the Coen brothers, Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles, David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino, whom he describes as tricksters using empty style and pseudo-intellectualism to score points with an "in" crowd. Carney often refers to Spielberg's output after Schindler's List (1993) as "Steven 'Please take me seriously' Spielberg movies". Carney is as critical of the academic establishment that gives plaudits to these directors as he is of the filmmakers themselves.
In his 1989 Alaska Quarterly Review essay on Woody Allen, "Modernism for the Millions," Carney notes that Allen uses humour in his films to defuse situations that he, the filmmaker, is uncomfortable with, such as drug use and depression. At the same time, Allen wants to get credit for bringing up these issues, as that is what serious artists do.
Carney argues that an emphasis on interpreting symbolism shows a "high school" understanding of art, and that this kind of "decoder ring" approach is in place because it is easier to grasp and makes scholars feel more important and esoteric. Carney believes that the meaning of a creative work lies at its surface, and imagines a world where art is appreciated for what it objectively contains rather than what is read into it, an aesthetic he refers to as pragmatic. He argues that audiences can, for example, simply appreciate the acting in a film and gain meaning from this, what the characters actually say and do, and the tonal shifts that accompany these actions.
In May 2012, Mark Rappaport filed a lawsuit against Carney for refusing to give back digital masters of Rappaport's movies which the filmmaker had previously entrusted to Carney to transport to Paris. Carney, however, has maintained that Rappaport actually gave him the masters as gifts and is now engaging in cyber bullying against him. No written agreement was signed when the material was shipped to Carney. The suit was dropped in September of that same year, due to rising legal costs, although Rappaport later started an online petition demanding that Carney return the masters.
- Ray Carney. The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
- Ray Carney. Shadows. London: British Film Institute, 2001.
- Ray Carney. Cassavetes on Cassavetes. London: Faber and Faber, 2001.