Quote of the Week

The greatness of Timothy Carey, and indeed his essence, is the man as a symbol. It is not so much what he has done for others, but what others have done and will do because of his example. This is the true measure of the man. What has come out of his artistic work, his life and examples, is the kind of inspiration that can animate a generation.

The World’s Greatest Sinner alone supplies a completed vision and a working demonstration of unwavering artistic courage and reverence for life. It represents enduring proof that honest cinematic self-expression is a rare event that needs to be celebrated.

Romeo Carey, “Making Sinner, A Work-In-Progress,” from Dead Flowers (Vox Populi/Participant Press, 2011)

Shot from SINNER as seen in The Devil's Gas by Romeo CareyA shot from The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962) as seen in Romeo Carey’s short film The Devil’s Gas (1990), Timothy’s final film appearance

Quote of the Week

I was a child laborer, as were my brother and four sisters. The family property rests on a half an acre with three buildings: the family residence, a guesthouse, and the studio. The studio was alive with production work for many years, and on the property was a bustling menagerie of more than a hundred farm and exotic animals that included chickens, ducks, geese, goats, horse, cats, dogs, birds of prey, and a monkey. The animals were the responsibility of the children, supervised by my mother and father. […]

Like a farmer’s son, I felt compelled to follow in my father’s footsteps, or at least to facilitate the journey he had hoped to make as a filmmaker. As his right hand man toward the end of his life, I managed his career and helped produce and write projects with him. We were as close as a father and son could be; but I knew there were things about my father I would never comprehend or reconcile. I felt I had complete access to him in ways only a father and son could share. It was during these final years that a crystallization of understanding was formed which gave me the ability to better understand the underlying meaning in his artistic efforts. In The World’s Greatest Sinner, he was an outspoken smuggler. He had the ability to cultivate the shocks and hyperbole of tabloid headlines. Nothing escaped his scathing irony. His work was an antidote to complacency during the Cold War. American hypocrisy was always a major target. And to take on the subject matter of sex, religion, politics, and rock ‘n’ roll, he knew that he was playing a game so big that he wasn’t going to screw it up.

– Romeo Carey, “Making Sinner, A Work-In-Progress,” from Dead Flowers (Vox Populi/Participant Press, 2011)

Byron and Romeo

My husband Byron with Romeo Carey in Timothy’s El Monte studio, before the stone wall that Tim built himself, June 2013

Quote of the Week

Setting up an appointment with Carey was tricky. He is, for one thing, a recluse. On the other hand, as a benched performer, he craves attention. Finally, Romeo Carey, the actor’s [then] 32-year-old filmmaker son, smoothed the path for a series of encounters at the modest Carey family bungalow in the L.A. suburb of El Monte, not far from the Santa Anita racetrack. The neighborhood, quiet and working class, seemed far in psychic miles from Hollywood.

I’ll say it was a gas meeting Carey and get that out of the way. The character and the actor meshed seamlessly, and he responded to my interest like somebody who’d been in solitary and couldn’t stop talking once he started. If he was often over-the-top in his comments, he also seemed painfully insecure, even as his long index finger jabbed the air. He struck me as a man of high ideals, however curious—at once a show-off and a fragile dreamer. He answered my questions perched on a mock throne in his cluttered backyard studio, once again wearing his glittery Sinner costume. To add to the general bizarrerie, Romeo Carey filmed portions of the proceedings for a documentary-in-progress.

Grover Lewis, “Cracked Actor”, Film Comment Jan/Feb 2004; interview conducted in 1992

Tim's El Monte studio, from the Dead Flowers book

Timothy’s El Monte studio, from Dead Flowers (Vox Populi/Participant Press, 2011)


Quote of the Week

Timothy Carey became known as a pioneer of underground film due to his rarely seen 1962 film, The World’s Greatest Sinner, a film in which he starred, as well as wrote, directed, and produced. Carey’s character, Clarence Hilliard, is an insurance salesman who abandons everything to become a roadside evangelist, a rock star, and soon changes his name to god and runs for president. A 1971 review in the LA Free Press makes reference to Carey’s particularly dark critique of “the always close and always dangerous alliance between religion and politics in this pie-in-God’s sky country.” […]

For both Carey and his longtime collaborator John Cassavetes, working the mainstream, mostly as secondary character actors, was just a means to their optimistic ends. All proceeds gathered on the inside served to fuel their independent projects, which they resolutely considered art. Despite their inherent critique of middle-class America and society in general, neither figured themselves as part of an underground. They expressed ambivalence toward such distinctions that would necessarily alienate them from their desired audience, and seemed to imply no doubt that the public would comprehend their innovate approach as driven by economic necessities – not underground “style.”

Lia Gangitano, “Afterword and Acknowledgements,” Dead Flowers (Vox Populi/Participant Press, 2011)

With John Cassavetes

Quote of the Week

Whether looming over the strangely invertebrate James Dean as the muscle of the local brothel in East of Eden or buying the farm in a whisker-quick saloon shoot-out with Marlon Brando in One-Eyed Jacks, the disheveled, vertiginous Timothy Carey performed, through much of his career, as the kind of thespian rarity whose flickering presence, even when bereft of a fleshed-out “character,” struck a loud, long-resonating note in the frequently seam-riddled “seamless narratives” it embellished. Like a portal into a reality hidden from view by scopophobic hysteria, Carey materialized from an alternate universe devoid of heroes and legible story lines.

Available accounts and filmographies of Carey’s early career typify his roles in exploitation pictures as “oozing malevolence,” citing creepy gangster turns in Andre de Toth‘s Crime Wave and Harold D. Schuster‘s Finger Man, as well as uncredited parts in Billy Wilder’s The Big Carnival [aka Ace in the Hole – ed.] and William A. Wellman‘s Across the Wide Missouri. In 1953’s The Wild One, he got to spray Brando in the face with a shaken-up carbonated beverage – some say beer, others soda pop. He was physically attacked by Richard Widmark during the filming of The Last Wagon in 1956, and pummeled by Karl Malden on the set of One-Eyed Jacks, or so the legends go; according to some of Carey’s enthusiasts, his parts got progressively bigger in B-circuit pictures for a time, then shrank as his uninhibited behavior off-camera, and scene-swiping on, earned him the poisonous sobriquet of being “difficult.”

Only the sharpest and restive of “great” directors, and the most cynically astute hacks, recognized Carey’s innate ability to enlarge a piece of cinema into something beyond cinema. Anecdotal evidence reflects how often even those who perceived Carey’s ungovernable grandeur were either prevented from casting him, or themselves provoked by his antics into tossing him out of a picture.

He was, in effect, too much of what he was, too formidably present to evaporate into a peripheral presence; both his imposing physicality and his avid wish to smuggle something living into something simulated got him scotched from films like Bonnie and Clyde and The Grifters; the insecurity of Harvey Keitel purportedly scrapped a  major role in Reservoir Dogs; Carey, by his own account, sabotaged his own way out of The Godfather and Godfather II.

Gary Indiana, “Timothy Carey: The Refusal of the Repressed,” from Dead Flowers (Participant Press/VoxPopuli, 2011)

East of Eden (1955)


Quote of the Week

Timothy Agoglia Carey was born in 1929. His father Joseph was second-generation Irish, a former fireman who lost his job after an accident and died of a stroke at work in a Wall Street elevator. His mother Ida was the daughter of Rocco Agoglia, founder of the Bank of Agoglia in Brooklyn, where Timothy grew up in the wake of the Great Depression. His role model elder brother, Joseph, died at sixteen, and then his elder sister Cecelia contracted meningitis and died at fifteen.

Carey never discussed such hard aspects of his early life, but these biographical details are significantly echoed in The World’s Greatest Sinner, in which two of his primary preoccupations, the fear of death and his aversion to money, are openly addressed. A characteristic plot point in The World’s Greatest Sinner is the death of the main character’s mother. While the hero is wailing over her open coffin, the actor was in reality grieving for his real mother who passed during the making of the film.

Vassily Bourikas, “Cinema Justice,” from Dead Flowers (Participant Press/Vox Populi, 2011)

Timothy and his mother, Ida Agoglia Carey

Timothy and his mother

The Agoglia family crypt, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn NY

The Agoglia family crypt at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn

Quote of the Week

Although Carey’s scenes have the strangely elastic compression Kubrick uses throughout The Killing, in both he deploys a fantastic range of gestural nuances that all but eradicate the other player. Stroking the puppy, rubbing an eye with his finger, creasing his ponderous eyebrows, rolling his tongue in his mouth, spitting; his voices segues from velvety softness to rustlike scraping through the same convexity of clenched teeth, suggesting wildly careening states churning inside an unknowable noggin. Carey’s scenes with the parking lot guard are a movie nestled inside a movie, an episodic delirium in which even his shooting the horse and, moments later, being shot by the guard, transpire at the same eerily even temperature, truly like events in a dream.

Gary Indiana, “Timothy Carey: The Refusal of the Repressed,” from Dead Flowers (Participant Press/VoxPopuli, 2011)

The Killing

Quote of the Week

Timothy Carey was by no means one of Hollywood’s greatest character actors. Character actors, great or otherwise, like Peter Lorre or Bill Kennedy, were less restricted by studio contracts and could perform in several films per year. Carey appeared in few significant films and even fewer gave him the opportunity to unravel his extraordinary personality and acting abilities. He was frequently fired and his roles got shorter over the years, which is the opposite of what happens to great character actors. I seriously doubt that Timothy Carey even wanted to be a character actor in those particular circumstances. He just wanted to be a great actor, and judging by the way he improvised – not only his, but often his co-actors’ performances too – maybe what he really wanted was the chance to be a great director. And thank god he gave himself that chance.

This is a tribute to a man who started as one of Hollywood’s most amazing character actors but never fulfilled a fragment of his potential in that area because he was too uncompromising, too different, too creative, too ambitious, and too tall. As a character actor he “died” very young, like James Dean or Montgomery Clift. In fact, he killed himself when he was barely thirty, when he committed the ultimate hubris for a hopeful character actor: he produced, directed, and distributed one of the most outrageous feature films of his era, and he also starred in it.

The World’s Greatest Sinner is the story of an insurance salesman who gives up his job, forms a political party and a rock band, and calls himself “God.” Timothy Carey was a character actor no more. Instead, he became a legendary director and a film god, before being crucified – but I think somehow that was part of his script. Otherwise he had a good life, a home and six kids, more opportunities to create, a great deal of friends and admirers, and he remained too uncompromising, too different, too creative, too ambitious, and too tall until the day he died in 1994.

Vassily Bourikas, “Cinema Justice,” from Dead Flowers (Participant Press/Vox Populi, 2011)

Video of the Week: Dead Flowers at PARTICIPANT INC.

Our video for this week is a look at the Dead Flowers art exhibit at the PARTICIPANT INC gallery in New York City, recorded by James Kalm on June 20, 2010. The show used Timothy’s work as a springboard for several performance pieces and other artwork exploring the iconoclastic creative spirit.

I think Tim would be amused to hear himself described as “one of the edgy avant garde actors” who was involved with “John Catslavetes.” At any rate, make of this what you will; performance art is way, way over my head. And don’t miss the Dead Flowers book!

Quote of the Week

I have always had a unique connection with my father, a bond that began with my very first breath. The spring of 1961 would be a trying year for my family. My father was in the throes of making his first feature film, The World’s Greatest Sinner, and my mother would give birth to twins: Romeo and Silvana. And as fate would have it, with little warning, my mother’s water broke; soon she was in full labor and unable to move. While waiting for the arrival of an ambulance, my head began to crown. Under duress, my father was cast in the role of the stork and delivered me into the world. Silvana would be born an hour later in a local hospital.

What is in a name? Romeo Timothy Carey is my given birth name. I proudly wear the title which owes respect to my father even though I know full well what matters is what someone is, not what someone is called. My early memories of family life run deep like veins in granite. I was fully aware at an early age that my father was different from most other fathers. Living in his shade was a life that I can only begin to describe as a parallel universe, as if looking through a magic kaleidoscope where simple adventures, day-to-day life, took on a circus-like quality that seemed to me to be bigger than life and never ending.

…I often accompanied my father on his trips to major Hollywood studios for acting work. I witnessed from the sidelines the awesome force by which he operated in a scene and how he worked with directors and actors. He was always highly respected and on many occasions his performances were followed by loud applause, and then there would be times when his acting performance would leave a path of discontent that would lead to him getting fired. He was living Shakespeare’s quote from Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.” He was living his own truth about what he thought he needed to do as a Thespian. In performing a scene he tried as much as possible to appease all involved, but in the end he more often than not disillusioned many. Directors and actors had no clue as to his motivations and found him to be insubordinate.

Allowing someone else to define how he was to act in a scene would have been living a lie. Truth is also love. The greatest act of love towards another is living a life that is truthful. To be honest with himself, knowing that he was in “process” and therefore need not have others’ approval. This is true freedom indeed.

– Romeo Carey, from “Making Sinner, A Work-In-Progress,” from the book Dead Flowers (Vox Populi, Philadelphia and PARTICIPANT INC, New York, 2011)

Happy Father’s Day, everyone!