Pic of the Day: “Ambush” revisited

We have a theme this week, and it’s “Timothy in color.” So let’s get the ball rolling with “Ambush,” the episode of Kung Fu that was first aired on April 4, 1975. Grumpy outlaw Bix Courtney is, well, grumpy.

Kung Fu

This episode was one of the earliest instances in which Tim is billed as Timothy Agoglia Carey. Agoglia was his mother’s maiden name. Her father, Rocco M. Agoglia, was proprietor of the Bank of Agoglia in Brooklyn. He is buried there in a beautiful mausoleum in Green-Wood Cemetery.

Pic of the Day: “Crime Wave” revisited

To celebrate the birthday anniversary of the great Ted de Corsia, born in Brooklyn this date in 1903, we take another look at Crime Wave (1954), directed by Andre’ de Toth. This is a publicity still for the film under its original title, The City is Dark.

aka Crime Wave

Also appearing here are (left to right) Phyllis Kirk, Gene Nelson, Jim Hayward, and the familiar-looking fellow in the white t-shirt is Charles Buchinsky. You probably know him better under the name he began using shortly afterwards – Charles Bronson.

Quote of the Week

“A bad actor is rich, unique, idiosyncratic, revealing of himself,” Jack Smith once wrote. Timothy Agoglia Carey (1929–1994), subject of a 10-day retrospective at Anthology Film Archives, was surely all of those things, but he was not exactly a bad actor—this Brooklyn-born, apparently self-taught Method man was more like a way of life.

A scary presence onscreen, Carey was an imposing palooka prone to upstaging fellow cast members by artfully flinging his body around the set. He had a shambling, sleepy-eyed stance and the grinning volatility of a barroom brawler, playing tough guys, lunatics, and chortling combinations of the two—although his career role was as a whimpering coward. As a performer, Carey was unafraid to make a spectacle of himself. His earliest claim to fame was as a member of Lee Marvin’s motorcycle gang in The Wild One (1953), spontaneously opening a beer bottle and surprising Marlon Brando, the grand master of on-camera improvisation, with a shower of suds.

However pissed, Brando did employ Carey again in his sole directorial effort, One-Eyed Jacks (1961)—or maybe it was Stanley Kubrick, the project’s original director. Kubrick had used Carey twice before to tremendous effect—as the racetrack hit man in The Killing (1956), enthusiastically primed to assassinate a horse and, even more memorably, as one of the condemned soldiers in Paths of Glory (1957). Unfairly sentenced to death, Carey steals the movie with his smirky drawl, inappropriate giggles, cud-chewing line reading, and sobbing cri de coeur: “I don’t wanna die!!!!!!” This embodiment of pure, hysterical fear made Carey an underground hero and, seven years later, inspired Esquire to run his picture opposite John Wayne’s as a paradigm of the so-called New Sentimentality: “A minor character actor who manages to excite us in a personal way is a real celebrity.”

Carey’s subsequent movie career was spotty but choice—a sadistic Union sergeant in Phil Karlson’s A Time for Killing (1967), a version of himself in Bob Rafelson’s Monkees musical Head (1968), and a fastidious, Marx-quoting mobster in John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Anthology is showing these, as well as Carey’s two most alarming vehicles, the indie cheapster Bayou (1957), re-released five years later as Poor White Trash with an added rape scene (starring guess-who), and The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962), a movie that Carey wrote, directed, and produced over a three-year period—while appearing in nearly every shot.

The high point of Poor White Trash is Carey’s Cajun love dance, knees knocking and mouth agape. This agonized mambo is reprised in The World’s Greatest Sinner, in which Carey’s bored insurance salesman becomes first a leather-lunged, immortality-promising street preacher, then a frantic rock-’n’-roller who bills himself as God, and, finally, dignified with a paste-on goatee and campaigning against death, the presidential candidate of the Eternal Man Party. Blasphemy aside, his sins include sex with female followers from 14 to 83, gratuitously smacking his little daughter and stabbing a sacramental wafer to see if it bleeds.

Fabulously scored by then unknown 20-year-old Frank Zappa, The World’s Greatest Sinner is far from incompetent filmmaking—it’s as idiotic, crafty, and unpredictable as Carey’s performance. Placing his satire at the intersection of politics, celebrity, and the media, Sinner is thematically the missing link between A Face in the Crowd and Wild in the Streets. It’s also a skid-row psychodrama to double-bill with Ed Wood’s plea for transvestite acceptance Glen or Glenda or Spencer Williams’s stark morality play The Blood of Jesus. Perhaps someday, someone will do Clint Eastwood a favor and show Sinner with Hereafter.

Quote of the Week

The Brooklyn-born Carey was physically imposing—a strapping 6’4”—making him ideal for roles as brutish heavies, and he resembled a love child of Nicolas Cage and John Turturro. His penchant for improvisation—bizarre dancing, unscripted outbursts, mumbled nonsense—often got him into trouble with directors and other actors, but made lifelong fans of Jack Nicholson (who wrote Head and likely borrowed elements of Carey’s persona for his performance in The Shining [1980]); [John] Cassavetes (who claimed Carey had the “brilliance of Eisenstein”); and Quentin Tarantino, who considered Carey for the role of crime boss Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs (1992).

For mondo video devotees, Carey sealed his immortality with the self-written/produced/directed oddity The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962), which can be characterized as [Elia] Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957) as directed by Ed Wood Jr. The film, which has some of the same proto–John Waters tackiness of The Honeymoon Killers (1970), tells the tale of a bored insurance salesman who becomes an early Elvis-style rockabilly sensation. Noting the frenzy he inspires in his audiences, he begins calling himself “God,” founds a religious cult, and runs for President. Carey and his singularly untalented “band” played their own detuned rock ‘n’ roll in the concert scenes, but the film was scored by a young, pre–Mothers of Invention Frank Zappa. Narrated by the devil and featuring the real God at the climax, Sinner was admired by Elvis himself (who asked Carey for a print) and remains one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll films.

Andrew Hultkrans, “Carey On”; Art Forum, October 12, 2010

The World's Greatest Sinner

Pic of the Day: “Teacher of Outlaws” revisited

On the 108th anniversary of the birth of Barbara Stanwyck, we take another look at “Teacher of Outlaws,” the episode of The Big Valley that premiered on February 2, 1966. Preacher Clegg, Scripture-spouting outlaw, makes eyes at Victoria Barkley. It doesn’t do him any good, but you really can’t blame him too much.

Teacher of Outlaws - 1966

Like Timothy, a native of Brooklyn, Miss Stanwyck was born Ruby Catherine Stevens. She became a Ziegfeld girl at the age of 16 and never looked back. In a career that spanned seven decades, she portrayed everything from blushing ingenues to steely matriarchs, stamping each role with the indelible Stanwyck imprimatur. She’s a constant inspiration to me and countless other women, showing us when it’s time to be vulnerable and when it’s time to start kicking some ass. Thumbs up, all the way.

“Video” of the Week: “The World’s Greatest Sinner” by The A-Bones

Here’s another one from the archives, gang! OK, it’s not really a video. But whattaya want, it’s on YouTube, so that kind of counts. Doesn’t it? Anyway, presenting The A-Bones‘ stellar 1993 cover of the Frank Zappa-penned theme song for Timothy’s masterwork, The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962). And of course, that is Tim himself introducing the tune.

The A-Bones, from Tim’s old stomping grounds of Brooklyn, New York, are an awesome rock’n’roll band who have been together in one incarnation or another since 1984. Timothy’s introduction for their Sinner cover may very well have been his last professional gig, as he passed away a year later. Long live the true fart!

Quote of the Week

Many kind, deifying and admiring words have been written to extol the virtues of Timothy William Carey, the hulking, Irish-Italian Brooklynite actor who was notoriously difficult to work with. From his death in 1994 ebbed a slow but mighty wave of fans who have been able to articulate the importance of his long and varied career (although it must be said, even if he himself stressed the importance of always being a different character, he was ALWAYS Tim Carey in his roles).  He is often mentioned in the same breath as Crispin Glover (because of his overindulgence in bit-parts and screen stealing mania) and also Andy Kaufman (for his ability to irritate everybody on a set and spontaneous outbursts of “creativity”), however, there was a quality inextricably unsurpassed in Carey that makes him quite separate from those who share his title as simply a Hollywood provocateur.  He was an example par excellence of the mutinous mutant, the graceful pig, the real hero of those beneath the underdog. 

His representations of unstable deadbeats (Cassavetes’ Minnie and Moskowitz), men on death row (Kubrick’s Paths of Glory) or righteous fartists (his own The Insect Trainer) all have the honor of being loved by him – characters with nothing else in common but expedient exaggeration – but are still always losers, always hated by all around them, apart from himself.  In one of his glorious interviews, he announced, “Characters as evil as the ones I play just can’t be allowed to remain in society. The only time I managed to “stay alive” all the way through a picture was when I wrote and produced one myself”.  However this clever byline has a witty double entendre; for his overacting, radical excitement and inability to cooperate or be boring, he was fired from almost as many roles as he was able to snag.  That, and a piety about his art that made him give up done deals to be in the first two Godfathers, or roles with Tarantino and Coppola.  It is immediately apparent from looking at his career that the directors that gave him the most rope (his beloved Cassavetes and the early Kubrick work) were the ones that got the most out of him.

Jimmy Trash, “Timothy Carey: Hollywood Provocateur”; Network Awesome Magazine, April 25, 2013

Paths of Glory

Quote of the Week

Born in Brooklyn, in 1929, Carey went to acting school and was a full-on believer of always being “in the moment” – a tendency that led to sudden, sometimes enraging improvisation (that beer he throws in Marlon Brando‘s face in “The Wild One” was not planned). But Kubrick saw something, and rescued Carey from years of bit parts to cast him first as the gunman in “The Killing,” and then as one of the railroaded soldiers in “Paths of Glory.”

It was a good match. Kubrick understood the importance of actors but didn’t have the slightest understanding of how they did what they did, or even how to guide them. It was one of the director’s few artistic failings, and it could lead to hundreds of frustrating takes or over-the-top performances. But some actors – like Malcolm McDowell, like Peter Sellers – saw this as a freedom.

So did Carey. His most memorable scene in “Paths of Glory,” in fact – with the sentenced soldier moaning “I don’t want to die” – was made up on the spot.

There’s something of a John Turturro in the young Carey, and those two movies with Kubrick suggested the kind of long collaboration that Turturro would later have with Spike Lee, or the Coen Brothers. And, in fact, Carey later had a part in “One-Eyed Jacks,” a film Kubrick had been signed to direct, before star Marlon Brando took over. But Kubrick went on to other projects, and he and Carey never worked again.

Stephen Whitty, “The World’s Wildest Actor”; The New Jersey Star-Ledger (October 21, 2008)

One-Eyed Jacks

Quote of the Week

“You mean you’ve never heard of WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER?”

This was a question posed to me not too long ago by a friend; too many drinks and joints in while surveying his collection of rare films and memorabilia. To tell the truth, I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, and could only stare back at him with a kind of slack-jawed goggle reserved for Alabama rats attempting to study astrophysics. In turn, my friend quickly dropped down to the floor, mumbling about some article in Psychotronic Video as he threw the cabinet of his entertainment center open, revealing a gaggle of VHS tapes, imported DVDs, and even spindles of DVDr recordings of late night TCM showings. From one of the spindles came a disc, probably buried six or seven deep, with the words “World’s Greatest Sinner” crudely scribbled on it with a black Sharpie. For a second I was semi-stressed, as neither of our wives were present, and I feared I was going to get exposed to some kind of super sick snuff flick he had hidden amongst bootlegs of forgotten Warren Oates roles.

Instead, what I got was entranced by the first forty-five minutes of arguably one of the strangest, most fascinating bits of cinema I’d ever laid eyes on. Dubbed by some as one of the “worst films ever made”, WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER was the work of one Timothy Carey, a Brooklyn born character actor who was attempting to produce, write and direct what he considered to be a “truly controversial” film. The story of a suburban everyman who becomes a rock megalomaniac, WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER is undoubtedly odd, but also hypnotic in its purpose; a kind of counter-culture document made before the term “counter-culture” was even part of our pop culture vernacular. And while it practically ruined his career in 1962, WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER has come to find a ROOM-like cult amongst psychotronic film fans*, because underneath the film’s seemingly inept veneer is an odd commentary on race and religion the likes of which were unheard of in the late 50s and early 60s.

*Zack Carlson of the Alamo Drafthouse recently put on a screening of WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER as his “goodbye film” before leaving as a programmer for the famed Texas theater chain

Jacob Knight, “Remembering Timothy Carey: The World’s Greatest Bit Actor”; Very Aware (July 26, 2013)

The World's Greatest Sinner

Quote of the Week

He was expelled from five schools in his native Brooklyn, the Marine Corps and nearly every job he’s tried while hitch-hiking across the country. He’s slept in vacant lots and cellars. Despite the fact he works regularly in Hollywood, he bought a four room house 25 miles away in a poor section of the city.

Plays With Cobra

“People are finally beginning to understand me,” barked Tim. “The trouble is, people in Hollywood never saw a guy like me before. They think I’m a man from another planet.”

Tim stands 6-feet-4 and has a mop of black hair hanging over his angular face. His behavior is so unruly that when I talked to him in a restaurant I often wished I was elsewhere. Carey kept jumping up to shout his answers and even demonstrated a sensual dance he does with a live cobra between pictures in little bistros downtown.

“I’ve been in and out of more jails on vagrancy charges – the police always arrest me on suspicion because I look suspicious,” said Tim.

“When I was little I had an insane desire to wear a uniform so I forged my way into the Marine Corps. My mother and father both worked – I wanted attention.

“Why are people afraid of me? One producer thought I was on dope. I don’t even drink or smoke. I’m just enthusiastic,” said Timothy Carey. “I don’t need any stimulation.”

Aline Mosby, “Carey Is Strangest, Wildest Actor”; newspaper column, March 7, 1957

Aline Mosby interview, 1957

East of Eden (1955)