Quote of the Week

Scene

1957 / Paths of Glory – Timothy Carey kills a cockroach.

U.S. Director: Stanley Kubrick. Cast: Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey.

Why It’s Key: A quintessential character actor achieves his apotheosis when his character kills a bug.

To cover up his vain blunders, a French general (George Macready) in World War I orders three of his soldiers (Ralph Meeker, Joe Turkel, Timothy Carey), chosen almost at random, to be court-martialed and then shot by a firing squad for dereliction of duty, as an example to their fellow soldiers. When their last meal is brought to them, they can mainly only talk desperately about futile plans for escape and the hopelessness of their plight. Then Corporal Paris (Meeker) looks down at a cockroach crawling across the table and says, “See that cockroach? Tomorrow morning, we’ll be dead and it’ll be alive. It’ll have more contact with my wife and child than I will. I’ll be nothing, and it’ll be alive.” Ferol smashes the cockroach with his fist and says, almost dreamily, “Now you got the edge on him.”

We’re apt to laugh at the absurdism and grotesquerie of the moment — especially Timothy Carey’s deadpan delivery, as if he had a mouthful of mush and was soft-pedaling the phrase like Lester Young on his tenor sax. One of the creepiest character actors in movies, he doesn’t fit the period; even if we accept him as a French soldier, accepting him as one in World War I is more of a stretch, because he registers like a contemporary beatnik. That’s also how he comes across in East of Eden, One-Eyed Jacks, The Killing, or The Killing of Chinese Bookie. But for precisely that reason, he gives the line the existential ring it deserves.

Paths of Glory

Quote of the Week

“A bad actor is rich, unique, idiosyncratic, revealing of himself,” Jack Smith once wrote. Timothy Agoglia Carey (1929–1994), subject of a 10-day retrospective at Anthology Film Archives, was surely all of those things, but he was not exactly a bad actor—this Brooklyn-born, apparently self-taught Method man was more like a way of life.

A scary presence onscreen, Carey was an imposing palooka prone to upstaging fellow cast members by artfully flinging his body around the set. He had a shambling, sleepy-eyed stance and the grinning volatility of a barroom brawler, playing tough guys, lunatics, and chortling combinations of the two—although his career role was as a whimpering coward. As a performer, Carey was unafraid to make a spectacle of himself. His earliest claim to fame was as a member of Lee Marvin’s motorcycle gang in The Wild One (1953), spontaneously opening a beer bottle and surprising Marlon Brando, the grand master of on-camera improvisation, with a shower of suds.

However pissed, Brando did employ Carey again in his sole directorial effort, One-Eyed Jacks (1961)—or maybe it was Stanley Kubrick, the project’s original director. Kubrick had used Carey twice before to tremendous effect—as the racetrack hit man in The Killing (1956), enthusiastically primed to assassinate a horse and, even more memorably, as one of the condemned soldiers in Paths of Glory (1957). Unfairly sentenced to death, Carey steals the movie with his smirky drawl, inappropriate giggles, cud-chewing line reading, and sobbing cri de coeur: “I don’t wanna die!!!!!!” This embodiment of pure, hysterical fear made Carey an underground hero and, seven years later, inspired Esquire to run his picture opposite John Wayne’s as a paradigm of the so-called New Sentimentality: “A minor character actor who manages to excite us in a personal way is a real celebrity.”

Carey’s subsequent movie career was spotty but choice—a sadistic Union sergeant in Phil Karlson’s A Time for Killing (1967), a version of himself in Bob Rafelson’s Monkees musical Head (1968), and a fastidious, Marx-quoting mobster in John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Anthology is showing these, as well as Carey’s two most alarming vehicles, the indie cheapster Bayou (1957), re-released five years later as Poor White Trash with an added rape scene (starring guess-who), and The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962), a movie that Carey wrote, directed, and produced over a three-year period—while appearing in nearly every shot.

The high point of Poor White Trash is Carey’s Cajun love dance, knees knocking and mouth agape. This agonized mambo is reprised in The World’s Greatest Sinner, in which Carey’s bored insurance salesman becomes first a leather-lunged, immortality-promising street preacher, then a frantic rock-’n’-roller who bills himself as God, and, finally, dignified with a paste-on goatee and campaigning against death, the presidential candidate of the Eternal Man Party. Blasphemy aside, his sins include sex with female followers from 14 to 83, gratuitously smacking his little daughter and stabbing a sacramental wafer to see if it bleeds.

Fabulously scored by then unknown 20-year-old Frank Zappa, The World’s Greatest Sinner is far from incompetent filmmaking—it’s as idiotic, crafty, and unpredictable as Carey’s performance. Placing his satire at the intersection of politics, celebrity, and the media, Sinner is thematically the missing link between A Face in the Crowd and Wild in the Streets. It’s also a skid-row psychodrama to double-bill with Ed Wood’s plea for transvestite acceptance Glen or Glenda or Spencer Williams’s stark morality play The Blood of Jesus. Perhaps someday, someone will do Clint Eastwood a favor and show Sinner with Hereafter.

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

Video of the Week: “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie”

Here’s another one from the archives. It’s John Cassavetes‘ enigmatic The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) in its entirety. It features one of Timothy’s most memorable performances as Flo, the intriguing mix of glad-handing bonhomie and brute force behind a rather mediocre collection of Hollywood gangsters.

Cassavetes’ examination of the risks a creative artist is sometimes forced to take has few equals in modern cinema. It’s a challenging film but ultimately rewarding. Enjoy!

Pic of the Day: “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” revisited

Today we need to take another look at the handsome mug of Flo, the garrulous torpedo of John CassavetesThe Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Here he reminds an off-screen Cosmo (Ben Gazzara) that $23,000 is a lot of money.

The Killing of a Chinese BookieTaking up the foreground on the right side of the pic is Robert Phillips, who my MSTie pals will recognize as the exasperated police chief of Mitchell (1975). “You’re gonna get me mad, Mitchell, and when that happens I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes. Now get out.”

Quote of the Week

In the landscape of television, public access has always been the equivalent to the wild, wild west. You will see and hear things that you would never see on “regular” or “for pay” television. It’s a field that many an artist and personality has created and prospered in. One man that fits this bill oh so nicely is Art Fein and his long running Los Angeles access show, Art Fein’s Poker Party. Billed as a “rock & roll talk show” and running since 1984, Fein’s likable personality coupled with a history of stellar guests, including Brian Wilson, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Richard Carpenter and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy have all helped make Poker Party a cult favorite. But like a Cajun dancing Elvis from Hell, it was one guest in particular that made Art Fein’s Poker Party history.

On June 12th, 1989, along with Paul Body, Richard Blackburn (director of Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural, a film I cannot recommend enough) and host Fein himself, was the man, Timothy Agoglia Carey. Carey, famous for his unforgettable turns in films like Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing and Paths of Glory, as well as John CassavetesThe Killing of a Chinese Bookie, had already long-earned the reputation of wild card by the time of this episode’s taping. This nearly six minutes of pure brazen gold plays out like a gift for anyone in the know of this not nearly heralded enough artist and true blue genius. In fact, it is so good that it is also a great introduction to the charisma and beautiful madness that was and forever is Timothy Carey for the uninitiated.

Here, Carey talks about his work with Cassavetes, as well as briefly his own film, the incomparable rock & roll religious parable of sorts, The World’s Greatest Sinner. Even better is Carey’s recollections of his work in both the campy AIP (American International Pictures) classic, Beach Blanket Bingo, as well as his last mainstream feature film, Echo Park. While neither description is entirely accurate, both actually would have made said films even better, between his talk of murder-by-bongos or women literally weeping from the painful indigestion after eating his character’s pizza. It makes one yearn for an entire universe as seen through Timothy-Carey-Vision. Dreaming is free but in the meantime, we at least thankfully have this great clip courtesy of Art Fein’s Poker Party.

Heather Drain, “World’s Greatest Sinner on Public Access: Cult Actor Timothy Carey on ‘Art Fein’s Poker Party’; Dangerous Minds (January 5, 2015)