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

Video of the Week: “Chesty Anderson U.S. Navy”

OH MY GOD. Shield your eyes, folks, it’s Chesty Anderson U.S. Navy (1976) in its entirety. Horrible print, horrible film, and Timothy’s most over-the-top, unhinged performance ever. Well, maybe tied with The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962).

Co-star Rosanne Katon told Shock Cinema magazine that the production of this film was “chaotic”: “That’s another one where we had new pages every day, three directors – after a while it was like, ‘How do I get out of this?!’ It was one absurd situation after another. I think I stayed on just to watch Timothy Carey around the Craft Services table! He was certifiable. I mean, he was climbing the walls. They almost had to get a net just to pull him over so he could say his lines, and then he’d wander off again. It was insane. They had all these garbage trucks around, and girlfriends of the investors – when I wasn’t laughing at what was going on, I was reading a book in the corner. I’ll put it that way.”

 

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

Quote of the Week

Modern hipsters didn’t invent the cult actor. Oh, we might all feel really cool raving about icons like Christopher Walken or newcomers like Michael Shannon. There’s still a long history of weirdo artists infiltrating our movie theaters and living rooms. Just consider the epic strangeness of Timothy Carey. He maintained a perfectly normal career as a character actor right through the 1980s. In fact, Carey would’ve managed one more great role if he’d passed Quentin Tarantino’s audition to play the crime boss in 1992’s Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino cast veteran oddball actor Lawrence Tierney instead. The director dedicated Reservoir Dogs to a list of idols that included Carey, though. That was nice–especially since Carey would pass away in 1994.

But why would Tarantino dedicate his first feature to a guy who’d shown up in mainstream TV shows like Starsky & Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, and CHiPs? That’s because Carey was far more than a character actor. He was a beatnik visionary and a true wild man. The young actor first made a name for himself by stealing a scene from Marlon Brando in the pioneering biker epic The Wild One. Carey didn’t even get billing, but the hulking actor with the basso voice was soon being used as a heavy by all kinds of directors. He gave one of his most compelling performances as a crazed Cajun in 1957’s Bayou, where he contributed to a sleazy atmosphere that kept the movie playing the drive-in circuit well into the ’70s.

Stanley Kubrick cast Carey in memorable roles for both The Killing and Paths of Glory, and a lot of other directors–including John Cassavetes–loved Carey’s knack for crazed improvisation. That was the kind of Hollywood connection that got Carey playing parts in three episodes of Columbo. Other directors, however, couldn’t tolerate Carey’s maniacal Method acting.

Carey did a lot to sabotage his own career, too. He turned down roles in The Godfather and The Godfather Part II–and walked off the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. That’s three less classics in Carey’s weird filmography, but he found time to appear in Chesty Anderson, U.S. Navy and the Joe Don Baker epic Speedtrap. To be fair, Chesty Anderson gave Carey the freedom to let loose with one of his more amazing performances.

Carey also wrote and directed himself to an amazing role in 1962’s The World’s Greatest Sinner–which was pretty much forgotten for most of Carey’s career. Originally, the film’s legend was kept alive by some musical contributions from Frank Zappa. Then Sinner began to build a bigger reputation as Carey’s own careening genius built his own cult. It’s an amazing film, and was recently restored and is now available to the masses. There’s no other movie like it.

Speedtrap

Quote of the Week

I apologize for not posting anything last week. It was a rough week for me – I lost both my cat and my father the previous weekend. I promise to get back on track this week!

The third of the four titular convicts was Timothy Carey, an oddball supporting actor usually cast as a psychopath. Carey’s large frame, sad eyes, and drawling voice made him memorable even when playing bit parts. Shortly after his work on Convicts 4, Carey set out to broaden his horizons by sheer moxie – producing, writing, directing, and starring in The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962). That B-movie epic finds Carey playing a rock-n-roll atheist evangelist who sets out to become a dictator (the film is even weirder than this description makes it sound).

Convicts 4

Quote of the Week

The greatness of Timothy Carey, and indeed his essence, is the man as a symbol. It is not so much what he has done for others, but what others have done and will do because of his example. This is the true measure of the man. What has come out of his artistic work, his life and examples, is the kind of inspiration that can animate a generation.

The World’s Greatest Sinner alone supplies a completed vision and a working demonstration of unwavering artistic courage and reverence for life. It represents enduring proof that honest cinematic self-expression is a rare event that needs to be celebrated.

Romeo Carey, “Making Sinner, A Work-In-Progress,” from Dead Flowers (Vox Populi/Participant Press, 2011)

Shot from SINNER as seen in The Devil's Gas by Romeo CareyA shot from The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962) as seen in Romeo Carey’s short film The Devil’s Gas (1990), Timothy’s final film appearance

Video of the Week: “The World’s Greatest Sinner” revisited

The late, great, legendary Lux Interior of The Cramps would have been 69 years old today. He was a huge fan of Timothy and The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962). In his honor and memory, I am re-posting this video that features God Hilliard working his voodoo magic, accompanied by Frank Zappa‘s title tune.

“You won’t believe [Carey’s] performance [in The World’s Greatest Sinner],” Lux once said. “He just starts shaking and his hair falls down . . . He must have watched Jerry Lee Lewis or something. He starts rolling around on the stage, he’s just shaking all over. It’s a live performance and he’s just smashing his guitar, he’s really beating on it real loud. This is one of the greatest rockabilly movies ever made. If you get a chance to see it, it’ll just change your life. Wow!”