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!”

Video of the Week: Frank Zappa on the Steve Allen Show, 1963 revisited

We received the sad news today of the passing of Gail Zappa, Frank Zappa‘s widow and the fierce guardian of his legacy. It seems appropriate, then, to reach back into the archives and re-post this video of young Zappa’s appearance on The Steve Allen Show back in 1963. He talks a bit about his involvement in The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962) and seems rather embarrassed by the whole thing. Then he plays a bicycle.

We send our love and support to the Zappa family, and thank them and Gail for protecting and curating Frank’s work for posterity. Peaceful rest.

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.

Quote of the Week

The Brooklyn-born Carey was physically imposing—a strapping 6’4”—making him ideal for roles as brutish heavies, and he resembled a love child of Nicolas Cage and John Turturro. His penchant for improvisation—bizarre dancing, unscripted outbursts, mumbled nonsense—often got him into trouble with directors and other actors, but made lifelong fans of Jack Nicholson (who wrote Head and likely borrowed elements of Carey’s persona for his performance in The Shining [1980]); [John] Cassavetes (who claimed Carey had the “brilliance of Eisenstein”); and Quentin Tarantino, who considered Carey for the role of crime boss Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs (1992).

For mondo video devotees, Carey sealed his immortality with the self-written/produced/directed oddity The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962), which can be characterized as [Elia] Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957) as directed by Ed Wood Jr. The film, which has some of the same proto–John Waters tackiness of The Honeymoon Killers (1970), tells the tale of a bored insurance salesman who becomes an early Elvis-style rockabilly sensation. Noting the frenzy he inspires in his audiences, he begins calling himself “God,” founds a religious cult, and runs for President. Carey and his singularly untalented “band” played their own detuned rock ‘n’ roll in the concert scenes, but the film was scored by a young, pre–Mothers of Invention Frank Zappa. Narrated by the devil and featuring the real God at the climax, Sinner was admired by Elvis himself (who asked Carey for a print) and remains one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll films.

Andrew Hultkrans, “Carey On”; Art Forum, October 12, 2010

The World's Greatest Sinner

More SINNER ephemera AND a NYC screening!

Today is definitely Sinner day here at the TCE! First up is a submission from friend of the blog Matt Meisenhelter of Pittsburgh, PA. Says Matt, “While going through some long boxed up correspondence, I came across the attached poster. It dates from, I’m guessing, 1991 or 92 and promotes a showing of The World’s Greatest Sinner. A college friend who’d migrated to LA sent it to me with a description of sorts of the film and experience. He described a wizened Carey introducing the film in his gold lame suit and how he was seen afterward in the lobby, ready to meet and talk with the moviegoers.” This sounds very much like the screening of the film that Grover Lewis described in his article of and interview with Timothy in Film Comment. Matt also tells me the poster was originally a vibrant pink but had faded over the years. I have taken the liberty of restoring it to its original pinkness. Many thanks, Matt!

SINNER screening flyer, 1992Next up, I am excited to tell you about an upcoming screening of Sinner in New York City next month! Please feel free to share this announcement:

Anthology Film Archives Screens The World’s Greatest Sinner!!! New York City

32 East 2nd Street, New York NY 10003

Hosted By Walter Ocner

The screenings will be Sat, July 18 at 9:00pm and Thurs, July 23 at 7:00pm!
Limited Seating

MONUMENTALLY RARE 35MM SCREENING! NEVER RELEASED ON VIDEO!

Hollywood maverick Timothy Carey was called plenty of things in his day: Genius…Rebel…Nut. Sometimes all three.

He was cast in major features by courageous directors like Stanley Kubrick and John Cassavetes, often playing a towering heavy or a leering criminal overlord. He brought a wildly unique fire to every role, and intensified it beyond comprehension for his own feature, which he wrote, directed, produced and starred in: THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER.

In it, Carey plays insurance salesman Clarence Hilliard, who one day decides to change his name to “God” and build a powerful religion, using sex and rock n’ roll as his recruiting tools. It’s a truly legendary masterwork of outsider filmmaking that profoundly shocked audiences wherever Carey screened it (often renting out the theater and even running the projector himself).

Half a century later, the largely unseen film has become one of cinema’s great curiosities, impossible to find and entirely deserving of its infamy. You’ve never experienced anything like it, and you never will again.

Grab the snake, sip the blood, and sacrifice yourself to the inhuman artistry of Timothy Carey’s visionary blue-collar epic. After all, you don’t want to anger God, do you?

Sinner in crayon; artist unknownA delightful drawing provided by Walter Ocner. Artist unknown (Isaac something??)