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.

Video of the Week: Los Angeles, The City in Cinema: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1978)

Our video this week is a thoughtful analysis by essayist Colin Marshall of John CassavetesThe Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1978 director’s cut) as it relates to the city of Los Angeles itself. Timothy is briefly glimpsed in the restaurant scene in which Mort (Seymour Cassel) delivers the bad news.

As Marshall writes, “The action of John Cassavetes’ grotesque 1970s Los Angeles gangster movie takes place not in the margins of the city, but in a city made up of nothing but margins: mediocre eateries, empty gas stations, parking garages, and the strip club owned by its businessman-turned-hitman protagonist. Tasked with finding and killing the titular ‘Chinese bookie’ in this vast, taste-orthogonal void, he must set and stick for dear life to his own set of standards, no matter how garish or delusional they appear.”

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

Bonus: John Cassavetes

“You can defeat fear through humor, through pain, through honesty, bravery, intuition, and through love in the truest sense.” – John Cassavetes, born this date in 1929. A great friend and mentor to Timothy. Would that the both of them were still with us, but their spirits live on.

With John Cassavetes

"Anti-Academy Awards party" given by Tim for John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands

Cassavetes directing Timothy in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

On the set of Bookie

Minnie and Moskowitz, 1971

Pic of the Day: “Minnie and Moskowitz” revisited

Closing the week is another look at Morgan Morgan, the loquacious diner poet of John CassavetesMinnie and Moskowitz (1971). He has just taken a bite out of Moskowitz’s (Seymour Cassel) hot dog.

Minnie and Moskowitz

This was perhaps the greatest instance of Timothy showing up in a film, owning it for five minutes, and never being seen again. But in the back of your mind, for the rest of the film, the vague thought is floating around: “I wonder what that Morgan guy is up to right now?”

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)