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

Quote of the Week

There was more going on than issues of length and shot selection. A story [John] Cassavetes told about how his friend Tim Carey had spent eight years editing a film [The World’s Greatest Sinner] describes his own feelings as well.

He probably doesn’t want to stop, because when he stops then he really is going to stop. When he stops he’ll face the bills that he has to pay. When he stops he’ll have to become a father again to seven [sic] children. When he stops he’ll have to pay attention to his wife. When he stops he’ll have to be a human being and to be an artist really is to be a freak, in the greatest sense of the word. You’re not interested in living but you’re interested in a substitute life, which is what it means to be an artist.

Ray Carney, Cassavetes on Cassavetes (Faber and Faber Ltd., 2001)

Minnie and Moskowitz, 1971

Cassavetes directing Tim and Seymour Cassel, Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)


Quote of the Week

As we saw in Shadows, [John] Cassavetes conflates the actors’ acting strategies with the characters’ interactional strategies. As actors, Tim Carey (Morgan) and Val Avery (Zelmo) take refuge in identities that have been worked up and packaged into predictable, mechanical routines before their scenes even begin, much as the characters they play do in their lives. [Seymour] Cassel gives us acting as improvisatory collaboration. As an actor, Cassel discovers his purposes as he goes along in the same way Moskowitz does as a character. Carey’s and Avery’s forte, as actors, is their ability to hold forth and dominate a scene with the power of their personalities; Cassel’s is his ability to listen, to respond to, to interact with another person. It’s not accidental that Seymour’s (and Cassavetes’) ultimate putdown in the film is to say that someone “has no sense of timing.” Timing is something that involves more than one person. To care about timing is to care about relationship.

Ray Carney, The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies (Cambridge University Press, 1994)

Seymour Cassel and me

Seymour and me, Santa Monica, June 2013


Quote of the Week

Since this book doesn’t have an index, and I haven’t read the whole thing (it’s quite the hefty tome), this quote has only recently come to my attention. I had not heard this story before, and I honestly can’t vouch for its veracity. Seymour Cassel mentioned nothing about this during our interview with him in June. I’ll just leave this here for now.

[John Cassavetes] also continued to help out friends in a variety of ways – for example, backing and acting in a brief production of one of Tim Carey’s plays, similar to what he had previously done for Meade Roberts and Everett Chambers. As evidence of Cassavetes’ fundamentally non-judgmental stance, it is worth mentioning that prior to this, needing money, Carey had stolen a Moviola from Cassavetes and sold it. To the people in Cassavetes’ circle, it was the lowest crime imaginable. In their view, Carey had taken not just a piece of equipment but the means to conduct their livelihood. Everyone turned on him, excommunicating him, refusing to have anything to do with him from that point on (in the end, even refusing to let him speak at Cassavetes’ memorial service). Everyone but one person. Cassavetes himself defended Carey and apparently never held the theft against him.

Ray Carney, Cassavetes on Cassavetes (Faber and Faber, 2001)

With John Cassavetes

Quote of the Week

Tim Carey and Seymour Cassel had a number of personal conflicts, and a few fights almost broke out between them. Carey was a notorious ham and scene-stealer, averse to direction, who more or less did whatever he felt like doing in his scenes; Cassel was similar, and the combination was volatile. (By the same virtue, both actors brought a lot of originality to their work. Carey’s shirt and white gloves in the restaurant scene and the way he eats his spinach were entirely his own invention. These were the sorts of things that made other directors shy away from using Carey but which Cassavetes adored.) […] Tim Carey told me about many other times Cassavetes gleefully spent hours filming something when he must have known that he wouldn’t be able to include more than a few seconds of it in the film. (One example was a long sequence in the garage in which Carey’s character sang ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ over and over to Cosmo.)

Ray Carney, from “Chapter 8: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1975)”, Cassavetes on Cassavetes (Faber and Faber Ltd., 2001)

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Quote of the Week

In a letter to Carey (dated January 22, 1994), Ray Carney, a professor of film and American studies at Boston University, wrote:

“Re: The Insect Trainer script–What an extraordinary, weird, wonderful, bizarrely unclassifiable work you’ve created. In the Joycean, Swiftian, Salvador Dalian vein, you violate all of the taboos, cross all of the boundaries, break all of the rules, and–ecstatically–take us to places almost never even dreamt of in drama before. The script is a ‘gas’ in the other sense of the word: It’s hilarious–as well as humanly touching and moving. It’s a celebration of eccentric, non-homogenized, non-normalized humanity. An expression of love for the lost and forgotten feelings and impulses of life. A recognition of some of the sadness and loneliness of all originals, pioneers, inventors. In short, you break up the mental and spiritual constipation that afflicts both art and life. You free the spirit. The laughter and thoughtfulness you provoke, if we let ourselves be affected by them, shake us out of our zombie-like trances of conformity. This is an awesome piece of work. Bravo. Bravissimo!”

Prof. Carney’s letter is a fitting epitaph to the amazing talent and spirit of Timothy Carey.

— Harvey F. Chartrand, “Timothy Carey: The World’s Greatest Director!”, Filmfax Plus magazine #102 (April/June 2004)

A day late but no less heartfelt.

The Timothy Carey Experience wishes a very happy 82nd birthday anniversary to the lovely and supremely talented Gena Rowlands! She was married to John Cassavetes from 1954 until his death in 1989. It is safe to say that she was his muse. The following delightful photographs are from Cassavetes on Cassavetes by Ray Carney (Faber and Faber, 2001). When Rowlands was nominated for an Oscar for her terrific performance in Gloria (1980), Timothy threw her an “anti-Academy Awards party.” Cassavetes is examining a flier for The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962) in the bottom picture.

Happy birthday, Gena!