Quote of the Week

“The World’s Greatest Sinner” and the Big Timothy Carey Question

Timothy Who? Timothy Agoglia Carey, sometimes Tim Carey, most of the time Timothy Carey. 1929-94. This character actor (dis)graced American screens for five decades, playing vile, despicable and loathsome scum of the earth, void of any redeeming quality.

What has he been in? You might be familiar with The Wild One (1953), East of Eden (1955), The Killing (1956), Paths of Glory (1957), One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) to mention a few out of 50 something screen appearances – not counting television, which credits for about 50 more. Despite this sizable curriculum, he was quite possibly fired more often than any other actor in Hollywood, for example by Billy Wilder and Arthur Penn, and also quite willfully turned down parts in movies such as the first two Godfather films as well as Kubrick‘s Spartacus.

Why so vile, despicable etc? Well, he throws a beer in Brando‘s face, beats up James Dean, crushes a cockroach, pushes a girl into a bowl of chili, shoots a horse and verbally abuses a black man, all this in the most unspeakable of ways. And all this during the first ten years of his career…

If so vile etc – why is he worth watching? This 193 cm/6′ 4″ male specimen sported a pair of heavy-lidded eyes that matched Robert Mitchum’s, a set of clenched teeth that beat out Burt Lancaster’s, a dance routine that would have frightened James Brown and tantrums that outdid Harvey Keitel’s. This is partly why.

The World’s Greatest Sinner? A film he wrote, directed, produced and starred in, shot between 1958 and 1961, and released in 1963. He plays Clarence Hilliard, an insurance salesman who quits his job, changes his name from Clarence to God (he keeps Hilliard) and starts his own political/religious movement, promising to turn everyone into “millionaires, gods, super human beings!” He dons a silver lamé suit [NB: It was actually gold] and becomes a (very unlikely) rock ‘n’ roll idol, then runs for president of the United States as the candidate of The Eternal Man Party. The film is narrated by a snake and was promoted as “The most condemned and praised American movie of its Time”, but soon disappeared from the public eye. Among the few people who saw it were Frank Zappa, who wrote the film’s songs and called it the world’s worst film, and John Cassavetes, who said it had the emotional brilliance of Eisenstein. Among the people who didn’t see it was an indifferent Ingmar Bergman, despite the fact that Carey sent a friend to Sweden with a print earmarked for the director’s viewing pleasure, as well as a most enthusiastic Elvis Presley, on whom Carey did not want to waste a precious print, as he only had four left.

Carey and Vienna? Some almost five decades late, in November 1st, 2009, The World’s Greatest Sinner finally had its Austrian premiere. A packed audience at the legendary Gartenbaukino cinema in Vienna savoured the treat with awe. A tribute section devoted to selected Carey gems included Head (featuring pop group The Monkees and written by Jack Nicholson), Minnie and Moskowitz, Paths of Glory, Poor White Trash (a sordid exploitation story in which scary Carey is again seen doing a crazy dance), and another Carey directorial effort, Tweet’s Ladies of Pasadena, in which he plays a kind (!) member of a ladies knitting club who constantly roller-skates and wants to clothe naked animals. Along for the ride was Romeo Carey, one of four [NB: Actually six] of the actor’s children, providing insightful information on his father’s career (as well as being living proof of the fact that Carey, apart from being vile, despicable and loathsome, also was a family man) and guiding us through a highly unusual career (which also include a one-man stage performance on the topic of flatulence).

So is he just a cult guy? True, if Carey is in a film, even if it’s Francis the Talking Mule in the Haunted House, it’s worth seeing. Even in the smallest of parts, he manages to steal from the greatest of greats – some of them feeling surprisingly outdated these days, whereas Carey himself remains utterly watchable. In this respect, he comes across as a forerunner of sorts to actors like Vincent Gallo, Harvey Keitel and even Michael Richards, whose Kramer character in Seinfeld arguably owes a moment or two to Carey. In other words, this is an actor with a resonating presence. The idea of giving Carey a well-deserved tribute is thus highly appropriate, as well as being film festival retrospective programming at its finest.

Why has no one come up with this idea before? That’s The Big Timothy Carey Question. Quite simply.

"He's the World's Greatest Sinner" by eyeodyssey on Deviantart

“He’s the World’s Greatest Sinner” by Aaron Dylan Kearns (eyeodyssey) on DeviantArt

Quote of the Week

The first day I visited Universal Pictures in 1978, I met a legendary actor at the studio commissary. Timothy Carey. I went up to talk with him.

He didn’t look as he did in the movies, but I sure recognized him. Whatever quality he had on the screen floated around him like a wraith. You know what I mean.

He was the crazed horse sniper in The Killing, delivering lines through his teeth like an insane Kirk Douglas parody, working out the details of his grisly shooting job, all the while lovingly scratching a puppy.

He was the condemned French soldier in Kubrick‘s Paths of Glory, set unfairly to die before the firing squad. His cellmate says a roach in their cell will outlive them, and Carey crushes the insect, commenting “Now you’ve got the edge on him.”

Later, as they march helplessly to the firing squad, Carey improvises his own forlorn dialogue, to tremendously moving effect. He was one of only a few actors Kubrick would allow to do that.

I talked to Tim Carey quite a while. He was very friendly and didn’t mind. He really made my day. We talked about movie acting and Stanley Kubrick and Marlon Brando and Frank Zappa and Jack Nicholson and the indie feature movies Tim made with his own money.

Then we had to go. It was time for my appointment. He was at Universal to do some other business.

He raised and trained attack dogs now, and gave me his business card for his dog-training company “K-9 Attack Dogs.” It was in my wallet for a long time, and then on my bulletin board, (next to Stanley Kubrick’s phone number). I called Mr. Carey a couple of times; he was always nice, even though I wasn’t in the dog market.

I’m so glad I met him; he was an original. What a character in real life, and when the cameras started rolling, always completely perfect for the screen. Every movie he was in, he stole the frame, no matter who else was in it. Kirk Douglas, Marlon Brando, anybody. What a career.

And talk about chutzpah – he once climbed over the Fox studio wall – in a suit of armor – to get an audition for Prince Valiant. Can’t beat that. Lots of people have been influenced by him. I know I have.

Quentin Tarantino‘s script for Reservoir Dogs is dedicated to a list of influences. Timothy Carey heads that list.

Timothy Carey, I salute you.

Paths of Glory

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: “Head” revisited

Today we celebrate the 77th birthday anniversary of legendary Hollywood madman Jack Nicholson. As one of the scriptwriters of Bob Rafelson‘s Head (1968), he is at least partially responsible for the creation of Lord High ‘n’ Low, one of the strangest characters in cinematic history. Heck, he may be completely responsible for all we know.

Head

I especially like the cute couple in the background of this scene; they’re gazing at Timothy with obvious affection. How good would it be to someday interview Nicholson about his involvement in the film and his thoughts on Tim? As good as it gets. (See what I did there?) Happy birthday, Jack!

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

Timothy Agoglia Carey is directing a play in Hollywood this month about death by farting [The Insect Trainer]. He’s been acting in films since 1951, was in classics with Brando and Dean, worked several times each for Kubrick and Cassavetes, was in the exploitation classic POOR WHITE TRASH [aka Bayou pre-exploitation] and made a movie that would be a cult classic if only people could see it – WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER. In various books, the 6’4″, now 65 year old [sic – he was actually 61 at the time of this interview] Carey has been called “a heavy eyed character actor, often a loathsome villain”, “totally without attractive characteristics, repulsive looking”, and “the least lovable actor since Rondo Hatton“. He’s also considered a great actor and his fans in the business include Jack Nicholson, Peter Falk and Brando. Here, often in his own words, is the Timothy Carey story.

Psychotronic Video magazine #6, Summer 1990; interview by Michael Murphy and Johnny Legend, research by Michael J. Weldon

Timothy with Michael Murphy, 1989

Timothy with Michael Murphy, 1989