Quote of the Week

Timothy Carey, the name has a certain aura to it. Some cinephiles know this feeling, those who go out on a limb and watch what little role he has. Carey, a character actor who zigzagged through the latter half of American cinema’s history, from A to Z pictures and everything in between, had a special talent. He could make a thin role into something memorable. He threw his 6’ 4’’ body around and spoke with a voice that sounded more like a cement mixer. He stole scenes, evaporating the memory of those that came before and after it.

Only Stanley Kubrick and John Cassavetes managed to integrate Carey into their films seamlessly. For both filmmakers, he appeared twice in their work. For Kubrick: The Killing (1956) and Paths of Glory (1957). For Cassavetes: Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). They were able to rein in Carey, controlling his high-strung acting for maximum effect. In Paths of Glory, in fact, Carey gives a career-performance. An interlude from the psychotics he often played, as Private Ferol, Carey is a smooth man, someone who would fit in with Jack Kerouac and co., not WWI France. By film’s end, he becomes unraveled. Along with Ralph Meeker and Joe Turkel, he’s one of the soldiers court-martialed and executed. “I don’t want to die,” he repeats, sniveling, whimpering, and crying as he faces the firing squad.

For every friend, Carey had three or four enemies, people who couldn’t tolerate his brand of free-wheeling, combusting improvisation. Fact and legend often blur in Hollywood history. In Carey’s case, there seems to be more legend than fact. His bouts with actors and directors are tabloid-worthy and tailor-made to his outsider persona. Billy Wilder and James B. Harris fired him. Elia Kazan dubbed his guttural lines. Richard Widmark and Karl Malden beat him. Marlon Brando stabbed him with a pen. Always cheeky, Carey proclaimed that he was fired more than any other actor in Hollywood.

Paths of Glory

Video of the Week: The Eyes of Timothy Carey

This week’s video accompanies the wonderful article by filmmaker Andre Perkowski (and was also created by him) that provided our Quote of the Week last Sunday. It comprises scenes from Timothy’s last television appearance in the Airwolf episode “Tracks” (3.22.1986) overlaid with the audio from Morgan Morgan’s near-soliloquy from Minnie and Moskowitz (1971). The result is surrealism at its finest. Enjoy!

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

I’ve been watching a lot of early Stanley Kubrick films. Films like Killer’s Kiss, Paths of Glory, The Killing, and Dr. Strangelove.  There’s a character actor in Paths of Glory and The Killing named Timothy Carey. He is one of the most bizarre actors ever. He usually speaks through gritted teeth. I mean he hardly ever opens them. He always adds the weird to every character he plays. Here’s a scene from a John Cassavetes film, Minnie & Moskowitz. He auditioned for the boss in Reservoir Dogs. But Tarantino was afraid to work with him. But he dedicated it to Carey and several of his cinematic influences.

Carey directed a 1962 film, The World’s Greatest Sinner. It’s a low, low, low budget movie, scored by a young, pre-Mothers Frank Zappa. It offended 1962 audiences so bad, it was not theatrically released. It’s so rare and obscure, I’ve never seen it.

Any way for your pleasure, here’s a caricature of late, great, and wacko Timothy Carey.

Thanks for looking. . . and sorry about the long windedness.

Tim by Kyle Wiggins

Timothy Carey by Kyle Wiggins

Videos of the Week: “Paths of Glory”and “Minnie & Moskowitz”

Today is the birthday anniversary of not one but two great men who played important roles in Timothy’s career. After wondering why I never noticed this before, I thought it fitting to pay tribute to both of them at once.

First up is Kirk Douglas, who turns an incredible 99 years old today. He may not have been thrilled with Tim’s improvisational acting style in Stanley Kubrick‘s Paths of Glory (1957), but you would never know it from this scene, from the court-martial of the three scapegoated prisoners.

John Cassavetes, who did appreciate Tim’s freestyle approach to his craft, was born on this date in 1929. He managed to capture Tim’s essence in two fantastic films, Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Here is Tim’s appearance in the former film, with star Seymour Cassel, in its glorious entirety.

Happy birthday, gentlemen!

Video of the Week: “Minnie and Moskowitz” full length film

Our video this week is John Cassavetes‘ comedy/romance/slice-of-life drama Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) in its entirety. Timothy’s cameo near the beginning of the film, verbally sparring with Moskowitz (Seymour Cassel) is justifiably famous. It’s only about 5 minutes long, but it’s one of Tim’s best and most unforgettable performances.

Also appearing are Gena Rowlands (Mrs. Cassavetes), the great Val Avery, and most of the Cassavetes and Rowlands clans. It pleases me no end that Ms. Rowlands will be receiving an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards this November. I’m sure it won’t be quite as amazing as the “anti-Oscars party” that Tim threw for her back in 1980, however.

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