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

“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

Actor Timothy Carey was one of Hollywood’s true eccentrics, and when you consider how many crazy people there are in Hollywood, that’s no small claim. But even amongst that kind of competition Carey was a one-of-a-kind. Stanley Kubrick clearly saw something unique in him too, and gave him memorable roles in two of his early films, ‘The Killing’ and ‘Paths of Glory’, and from there the legendarily unpredictable Carey went on to become the ‘go-to’ man whenever a strange oddball character part needed to be cast. But he was also itching to make his own unique statement on film and from 1958 to 1961, whenever he could scrape a few bucks together he went about shooting scenes for his own labour of love: ‘The World’s Greatest Sinner’. Clarence Hilliard (Carey) is a frustrated insurance salesman who quits his meaningless job one day after he’s struck with the revelation that there is no god but man, and every man is a god whose birthright is eternal life. He starts preaching his gospel on street corners but after witnessing an ecstatic crowd at a rock and roll gig, Clarence forms his own band and soon learns how to get his message across while whipping his audience into a frenzy. With his growing fan base he decides to not only become the head of his own religious cult (rechristening himself ‘God Hilliard’ in the process), but also decides to form his own ‘Eternal Man’ political party and put himself forward as the next presidential candidate. But the biblical God has other ideas…

So as you can see, nothing too ambitious – just God, the universe and everything in between. But I have to be honest here, as fascinating as ‘The World’s Greatest Sinner’ is, it’s not a well-made film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s been made on a very low budget and for most of the running time the film is barely coherent. The direction is stilted, the editing is choppy and amateurish, and the cast are clearly people Carey just found on the street and said, ‘Hey, you’re in my movie. Now say this!’

But Carey’s as charismatic a presence as ever and the whole thing is still worth a look – even if it’s only the once – just so you can say you’ve seen it (Carey never put the film out on general release and for most of its 50-year history it’s been confined to an occasional special showing at selected cinemas). And believe it or not the title song is composed and sung by a young unknown named Frank Zappa. So altogether now: ‘As a sinner he’s a winner / Honey, he’s no beginner / He’s rotten to the core / Daddy, you can’t say no more / He’s the world’s greatest sinnnnner…’

Weirdness Factor: Off the scale
This one starts off being narrated by the devil in the form of a snake, and things only get stranger after that. I guarantee you will not find an odder movie anywhere else – this one really is in a class of its own.
The World's Greatest Sinner
 

Quote of the Week

For a weird, Z-grade movie, The World’s Greatest Sinner is remarkably prescient. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, there would be an explosion of God Hilliards out there. The Manson Family, the MOVE, the SLA, and Jonestown were all political and religious hybrid cults with charismatic leaders that led their followers into horrible ends.

The film’s music was composed and conducted by an (at the time) unknown musician from the L.A. area, Frank Zappa. There’s nothing in the music that is noticeably Zappa-esque, it mostly sounds like countless other swinging soundtracks from no-budget ‘60s films. Zappa briefly promoted the film during his 1963 appearance on the Steve Allen Show. There to show off his talents at playing the bicycle as a musical instrument, Zappa casually calls The World’s Greatest Sinner, “the world’s worst movie.” Zappa would later make the world’s worst movie, the unwatchable dreck known as 200 Motels.

The World’s Greatest Sinner failed to gain any wide distribution. For decades the film was the stuff of legend with rough bootlegs being passed around. That started to change with its initial airing on Turner Classic Movies – you can now purchase the film on iTunes. I first heard about it on a list compiled by Lux Interior and Poison Ivy of The Cramps where they ranked it their favorite film. Carey continued to work as a character actor in TV and films until his death in 1994, though he never completed another film as a director. He did work on directing Tweet’s Ladies of Pasadena, but the film was never completed and it has been said that the footage is unwatchable. Regardless, Carey has morphed into a full-blown cult movie icon. The Timothy Carey Experience is a regularly updated fan site dedicated to the legendary character actor.

As is the case with many no-budget, Z-grade films from the ‘60s, The World’s Greatest Sinner can be rough around the edges. The film does avoid the Z-grade pratfalls of padding the running time with stock footage to hit the 90-minute mark, running a tight 77-minutes. Even though Carey has worked with some of the greatest filmmakers in history, his work as a director varies from borderline incompetence to borderline brilliance. Even though the film isn’t the work of a cinema virtuoso, it’s an unusual, brave, and uncompromising work. Like its star, writer, and director,The World’s Greatest Sinner is truly one of a kind.

– Sean Mulvihill, “Reelin’ and Rockin’ – The World’s Greatest Sinner: A True Cult Film”; FanBoyNation.com, May 30, 2014

The World's Greatest Sinner

Quote of the Week

‘Dernsie’ is, as we’ll shortly see, the character who eventually became known as ‘Lord High ‘n’ Low’ and played in Head by Timothy Carey. Carey was not, however the first choice for the role…

The Criterion subtitles transcribe ‘I’ll choke from excitement’ as ‘I’m too old for excitement’. While this may well have been true as far as Timothy Carey was concerned [Ed. note: HA HA HA!!!], it’s still incorrect. […]

Since these pages are additional it’s probably safe to assume that this initial scene with ‘Dernsie’/’Lord High ‘n’ Low’ didn’t form part of earlier drafts. The character’s later appearance in the story (in the infamous scene where his ‘cripple’ act at Mike’s birthday becomes a laughing matter) was present however – and the script descriptions for that scene provide a proper introduction, if not for the character then at least for the actor they had in mind for the role – Bruce Dern (see ‘Changes’ – Page 68, Shot 228). The character name ‘Dernsie’ being no more than a matey moniker for one of the film-makers’ friends. A year earlier, Dern had appeared alongside Peter Fonda in The Trip (1967), a film also scripted by Jack Nicholson, and would later play opposite Nicholson himself in The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), directed by Bob Rafelson.

Quite why Bruce Dern didn’t take the role written specifically for him in Head is unknown, but Timothy Carey handles it affably. To describe Carey’s contributions to the world of film-making as ‘underground’ probably doesn’t do him justice. His most notorious contribution to the genre being the self-written, self-financed and self-starring The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962), a low-budget (but some maintain genius) satire on religion – which also provided Head guest star Frank Zappa with one of his earliest music-scoring commissions. Carey’s twisted cinematic visions ensured that he never trod the path of Hollywood respectability, yet he was often spoken of in hushed tones as a pioneer by the likes of Jack Nicholson, Stanley Kubrick and Quentin Tarantino. Indeed, Carey was purportedly originally offered the role of the gang boss in Reservoir Dogs until Harvey Keitel, as executive producer, intervened (the film is dedicated to him all the same).

SOTCAA (Some of the corpses are amusing): EDIT NEWS: The Monkees – Head – ‘Changes’ – Page 10

HEAD production shot

head_prodshot_lordhigh02

head_prodshot_lordhigh03

HEAD production shot

 

Quote of the Week

The 1960s offered little reprieve for Ulmer. Beleaguered by innumerable financial setbacks and unable to finish many of the projects he’d started in Europe, he and Shirley were again on the hunt for work. They retreated temporarily to the desert, to La Quinta, just south of Palm Springs, where Ulmer had bought a small piece of land in the 1940s with longtime collaborator Louis Hayward. Eager for any kind of freelance job he could get, he served briefly as a cameraman, using the same pseudonym he’d used on The Naked Venus [Ove H. Sehested], on Timothy Carey’s The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962), a low-budget comedy with a musical score by Frank Zappa.

Noah Isenberg, Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism); University of California Press (2014)

Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins

Quote of the Week

THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER (1963). Run, do not walk, to check out this movie! Timothy Carey, the character actor fave who appeared in everything from Kubrick‘s THE KILLING to The MonkeesHEAD, spent several years directing, writing and financing this below-low budget blast. One of the most bizarre movies ever made, and over three decades later, it’s STILL ahead of its time! A grotesque parable that’s as innovative and subversive as any film ever made. Carey sticks himself in the lead as Clarence Hilliard, a middle-aged insurance agent who goes nutzo and decides to become a rockabilly messiah. Abandoning his normal life, he changes his name to “God” and stands on street corners, handing out flyers, recruiting white-trash greasers to his fire ‘n’ brimstone “Life is Hell” doctrine. To raise money for his cause, he seduces old ladies for cash, and performs in an Elvis-like silver-lame suit. He even starts his own “Eternal Man” political party, which promises to make everyone a “superhuman being” (their motto: “There’s only one God, and that’s Man.”) This is seriously whacked stuff, folks, and Carey pulls off one of the most intense, overwrought performances of all time (putting novice scenery-chewers like Dennis Hopper to shame) – ranting, crying, dancing, and looking wasted, his eyelids at half-mast throughout. Eventually, Clarence’s followers begin rioting and vandalizing, but that type of social upheaval has to be expected when a new God emerges – especially one promising “No Death”. When the political machines get wind of his rock’n’roll charisma, they run him as an independent candidate for president, but Clarence is corrupted when his dogma takes on fascist overtones and he starts seducing cute, 14-year-old volunteers. Though lacking in little things like coherency, Carey packs this volatile tale with venom toward modern politics, the media, dried-up religion, and the entire sorry state of the human race. It’s even narrated by The Devil, represented by a snake! Carey is dead serious with all this craziness (even the heavily religious finale) and his outrageous direction is beyond belief! Most of the extras seem like they were simply pulled off the streets, and the score was provided by a young musician named Frank Zappa. Even its theme song is hilariously unforgettable: “As a sinner he’s a winner/Honey, he’s no beginner/He’s rotten to the core/Daddy, you can’t say no more/He’s the world’s greatest sinner.” This is a true work of warped genius.

– Steve Puchalski, Shock Cinema magazine #6 (1994)

The World's Greatest Sinner

Quote of the Week

Perhaps the most notorious recording made during the PAL Studio days was the soundtrack to one of the greatest independent movies ever, The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962). The movie was written, directed, and produced by Timothy Carey, who had previously acted in The Wild One (1953), East of Eden (1955), and two movies directed by Stanley Kubrick, The Killing (1956) and Paths of Glory (1957). Despite being made very cheaply – much of the action was shot in Carey’s garage in El MonteThe World’s Greatest Sinner was certainly ahead of its time. Carey plays a messianic rock’n’roll singer who invokes riots, while the ensuing political takeover predates by several years movies such as Riot on Sunset Strip and Wild In the Streets. The score was produced in November and December 1961, with Zappa recording a 20-piece chamber ensemble and a 55-piece orchestra at the Chaffey College auditorium, as well as an eight-man rock’n’roll band at PAL. (Zappa later made an off-color remark about the movie on The Steve Allen Show – on which he also ‘played’ a bicycle – effectively ending his relationship with Carey.)

Domenic Priore, Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock’n’Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood (Jawbone Press, 2007)

Frank Zappa with Tim at the TWGS premiere

Frank Zappa with Timothy at the Sinner premiere

 

 

Video of the Week: “The World’s Greatest Sinner”

Take a clip from The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962) and add the title tune from the film, written by Frank Zappa and performed by Baby Ray and the Ferns, and what have you got? This week’s video, perfect in its simplicity and awesomeness.

“All aplogies to the purists for not being able to find this footage in HD”. Aplogies. I love it.

Pic of the Day: “The Second Time Around” revisited

Our first pic for the week checks back in with Vincent Sherman‘s The Second Time Around (1961), the amiable Western comedy starring Debbie Reynolds, Steve Forrest and Andy Griffith. Timothy appears as bad guy Bonner, looking menacing as he sucks on a cancer stick, dagger tattoo and all.

The Second Time Around

I’m sure I’ve mentioned several times that it was during the making of this film that Tim encountered a young untried composer by the name of Frank Zappa and hired him to write the orchestral score for The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962).