Quote of the Week

This is an insightful piece that deserves to be quoted in its entirety.

*****

The World’s Greatest Sinner, Timothy Carey

In the spring of 2009 Vox Populi hosted a show and 3 screenings featuring the works of Timothy Carey. Timothy Carey was an actor, director, screenwriter and producer who, like his friend John Cassavetes, remains more famous for the films he made to finance his own smaller and independent pictures. The approach to the business of making films that these two men took is perhaps more relevant today than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. That is to say, through their example, shouldn’t every struggling filmmaker be capable of producing films on their own terms and far from meddling hands? Perhaps, but it is the importance of Timothy Carey to American cinema which I intend to address today, and perhaps in the process answer the question I have posed above.

After a string of bit roles, most notably in early Kubrick films (The Killing and Paths Of Glory), Timothy Carey was able to make a film of his own titled The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962).

In this film, Carey stars as a working stiff who quits his job, forms a hit rock band, then rallies his fan base around him into a Satanic religious cult financed by elderly women he’s seduced. Like Roger Corman’s early films of social commentary (The Intruder), The World’s Greatest Sinner makes heavy use of character actors and non-professionals. However, Carey distinguishes himself here better than Corman managed to. Carey, an actor himself, was better at casting non-professionals, placing them in roles closer to their own lives and thus allowing them to behave and “perform” more organically. Carey also embraces the black and white photography in his film, as opposed to heavily lighting the sets, which was customary for low budget films, assuming they would play mostly at drive-ins. Carey works with high contrast compositions, similar to the film noir genre, though not so rigorous.

This gives his film a very edgy quality that allows it to be equal parts confrontational and nightmarish as well as having a true-to-life atmosphere facilitated by his performers. Those aesthetic mechanisms are what make Carey’s satire of the music industry so impressionable and haunting. Without such skill to the formalist trappings of the film, its premise would seem ridiculous and would have been easily dismissed by audiences as campy excess. Another significant fact worth noting is that the films score was composed by a young Frank Zappa.

However, despite the then iconoclastic nature of his film, Carey was never able to procure a distributor, leaving his film on the festival circuit for years till the advent of cable. Carey, unlike Cassavetes, lacked the personal resources to self-distribute his films. Regardless, The World’s Greatest Sinner has gone on to become a high profile cult film with a large fan base and the influence accompanied by such an audience.

Sadly, The World’s Greatest Sinner is the closest Timothy Carey ever came to domestic distribution, since the rest of his films are either incomplete or have only been shown in competition a handful of times.  Despite these setbacks to his own filmmaking career, Carey has appeared in a number of films spanning a wide variety of genres during the 1960s and 1970s.  Of these films, his work with John Cassavetes is the most significant and lasting.

Timothy Carey first worked with John Cassavetes in the film Minnie & Moskowitz (1971), playing Morgan Morgan.  According to film scholar Ray Carney, the scene in which Carey appears was done as a favor by Cassavetes to help him finance one of his own films. Regardless of the motivation, Carey gives a hysterical performance, improvising almost all of his lines opposite of Seymour Cassel.  Next, Carey appeared in Cassavetes’ personal and allegorical film about a life in show business, The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie.

Carey appears more in the original cut of the film from 1976, playing a gangster out to collect money from Ben Gazzara’s character Cosmo.  Again, Cassavetes allowed Carey a comical freedom with his portrayal of the gangster, often appearing while stuffing his face with food.

Of all the films Carey acted in outside his own, the two made with Cassavetes are among his best, and certainly surpass his foray into exploitation films in regards to the quality of his performance and the film in general.  To this day, Timothy Carey is among those filmmakers cited as the “Godfathers” of American Independent films, and is therefore worth checking out.

– Robert Curry, “The World’s Greatest Sinner, Timothy Carey”; Zimbo Films, April 12, 2012

The World's Greatest Sinner

Pic of the Day: “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” revisited

Today we need to take another look at the handsome mug of Flo, the garrulous torpedo of John CassavetesThe Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Here he reminds an off-screen Cosmo (Ben Gazzara) that $23,000 is a lot of money.

The Killing of a Chinese BookieTaking up the foreground on the right side of the pic is Robert Phillips, who my MSTie pals will recognize as the exasperated police chief of Mitchell (1975). “You’re gonna get me mad, Mitchell, and when that happens I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes. Now get out.”

Quote of the Week

That long face, those droopy eyes – Timothy Carey is unmistakable, unpredictable, and electrifying with those lizard features that became both a blessing and a curse. […]

A true maverick known for improvising and getting fired, he’s worked with Roger Corman, Coppola, and Cassavetes, including a memorable turn as a mafia heavy in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (we know just from the look in Carey’s eyes that Ben Gazzara is in deep, deep shit).

Carey is an actor to get excited about; like Bruce Dern, there’s a manic energy inside him, a screw loose combined with a fearless realism. He often didn’t seem like an actor at all, more like a wonderfully intuitive amateur dragged out of a skid row bar and slid in front of the camera.

Nic Cage wishes he was Timothy Carey, but Carey didn’t have things easy…

“I can’t even take a stroll through a park. As soon as women see my face they start gathering up their children and running for home.” – Timothy Carey

Rob Munday, “A Face in the Crowd: Timothy Carey”; Video City London (12.13.13)

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Pic of the Day: “Convicts 4” revisited

In honor of today being the 84th birthday anniversary of the late great Ben Gazzara, today’s pic is another from Convicts 4 (1962), directed by Millard Kaufman. John Resko ponders his predicament after unexpectedly meeting up with his childhood friend Nick in the prison yard at Dannemora.

Convicts 4

Tim and Gazzara would meet again in John CassavetesThe Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Unfortunately Tim only garners a passing mention in Gazzara’s autobiography, In the Moment: My Life as an Actor (2004). I was hoping for some great stories! Gazzara’s presence on the silver screen is highly treasured and greatly missed.

Pic of the Day: “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” revisited

March comes in like a lion with this great shot from John CassavetesThe Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Flo, the genial muscle behind a gang of mediocre Hollywood mobsters, prepares to greet Cosmo (Ben Gazzara) outside the Crazy Horse West. He is flanked by the gang’s accountant (John Red Kullers) and Mort (Seymour Cassel). Never has a warm greeting seemed more threatening.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Finding more than the few spare details available about Kullers has proved difficult. He also worked with Cassavetes on-screen in Husbands (1970) and behind the camera for Gloria (1980). While he did bit parts in films and television in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was mostly active on the Broadway stage during this time. He passed away in 1985 at the age of 73. More information on this intriguing fellow would be much appreciated.

 

Pic of the Day: “Convicts 4” revisited

After stuffing ourselves yesterday, we deserve a rest. And where better to put up our feet than in the clink? We close the holiday week with another look at Convicts 4 (1962), Millard Kaufman‘s prison biography of artist John Resko (Ben Gazzara). Unbeknownst to Resko and his old pal Nick, they’re about to have an unfortunate encounter with Iggy (Ray Walston, with his back to the camera), not one of Resko’s favorite people.

Convicts 4

Award-winning Walston was one of the most beloved character actors around, working steadily from the 1950s up until his death in 2001. I’m sure we all know him best from his role in the comedy series My Favorite Martian (1963-66). He, however, wished that we didn’t. “I never should have done My Favorite Martian,” he told USA TODAY in 1995. “I didn’t work in TV or film for three years after. Everyone thought of me as a Martian. Do you know what it’s like to go to Madrid, Spain, on vacation and have a guy yell out, ‘Hey, Martin!’ and put antennas behind his head? When that happens, you know your career is dead.”

Pic of the Day: “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” revisited

We kick off this week with another look at Flo, the fascinating mix of glad-handing bonhomie and no-nonsense brute force from John CassavetesThe Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Here he sits under the red lights of Cosmo Vitelli’s Crazy Horse West, waiting to meet up with Cosmo himself (Ben Gazzara). He gazes at the strippers and performers up on the stage, his body language indicating wistfulness and nostalgia. Cassavetes’ camera observes the moment.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

What could he be thinking about? It’s a great moment in a film filled with great moments. If you have the Flix cable channel, it will be showing there tomorrow. It’s also on Hulu Plus. Don’t miss!