Guess what, I'm a film fan. Filmmakers, directors, producers,
writers, sure you probably know by now, I like some unconventional
ones. But how about actors? If you watch movies, as a serious
hobby or just as a casual viewer, you probably have your favorites.
But do you have that one person whose work is almost an obsession?
You have just fucking got to see everything they've ever been
in, to force feed you friends or even total strangers the delights
of their performances? Oh well listen honey child, I've got mine.
He is an actor that never fails to deliver when it comes to his
craft, most of his films aren't that well known but he has been
in some well-known films, if that makes sense. It's Timothy Carey.
Probably the worst cataloged great character actor of the Hollywood
heyday of the 50s and 60s, Carey, is at once, pure genius and
utterly flawed. Had he been willing to do things in a more conventional
manner you probably wouldn't be reading about his work here, but
that is not the way of a true artist, convention be damned, Timothy
Carey always did it his God-damned way. For better or many times,
for worse. That is never more apparent than in his self-indulgent,
disjointedly complex opus, THE WORLD'S GREATEST SINNER. I can
honestly say, without the slightest reservation, it is one of
my favorite films. Once in a great while you see a film that moves
your bowels quicker than a bowl of 40% Bran Flakes, if for no
other reason, because of its motivations, its guts and possibly
because of the unbridled passion behind it. THE WORLD'S GREATEST
SINNER is one of those films.
THE FANATICAL CULT OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST SINNER (TWGS from
here on out) was a bizarre premise for the halcyon mid-50's. Rock
& Roll was something that was just beginning to be discussed
outside of those in the know. Middle America was convinced that
the youth would be drawn to the Devil Man's hypnotic 4/4 beats
that these unkempt white-boys had stolen from the sexually deviant
blacks. We know now it was a time of change, but of the folks
who were living it, few had the notion of what was to come. Timothy
Carey picked up on it, he knew the youth would have a say in their
own futures, he also knew if you could harness the energy and
exuberance of this movement that the world could be changed. Carey
had once said that he was sick of seeing movies that were supposedly
'controversial.' He was dead fucking set on making a film that
was really controversial. This was punk fucking rock, 1956! Carey's
was disillusioned with the game that Hollywood played; he always
referred to being in a film as "being in the show."
The show as we know is all about business, and Hollywood doesn't
care about an actor's happiness or his talent or God fucking forbid,
his performance. That was the motivation for Clarence Hilliard,
Carey's lead character in TWGS. Clarence was going to rope in
believers of his philosophy, based on "man is God" and
by utilizing these Nietzche-ian notions and by sucking in the
Rock & Roll youth culture, the disenfranchised, from the elderly
to the everyman, Clarence was going to take his followers and
ultimately, of course, himself to new levels of humanity. Super
Human Beings that's what they were not merely just human beings.
Somewhere between classic Sci-fi mad doctor, politico trail stumper
and a Southern tent revivalist, the character of Clarence Hilliard
TWGS was first born from a great idea for a character, it would
require a great character actor for the part of Clarence, Carey
decided he'd have to do. While he was at it, he'd take on role
of producer/director/distributor as well as screenwriter/star,
you didn't see much of that going on in Hollywood in the 50s.
Inspirational then and more so now when you think of the context
TWGS was made in.
TWGS begins with a voiceover, describing Clarence's life and
the possibility of Clarence rising above his humdrum existence,
our narrator sees great potential in Clarence, and our narrator
should know, he be the Devil. Clarence is an insurance salesman,
a pretty good one at that but; he has been thinking for a while
that he might just give up the insurance racket. One day, Clarence
snaps and begins advising clients against purchasing insurance,
"I wouldn't worry about burial insurance because when you
die your body starts to stink and they'll give you a free burial,
no you don't need insurance to cover your burialship." Fucking
A! Clarence gives the staff of Anchorage Insurance something unheard
of, the day off. Needless to say his boss isn't too happy with
Clarence's sudden lack of sales savvy, Clarence asks for the day
off and his boss gives him the year off, he's been fired. The
exchange between Clarence and his boss is a taste of the pure
evil genius that is Timothy Carey. Sleepy eyed, slurred delivery
and that foppish hair all lend to the twisted radiance he brings
to the brief scene. Clarence has decided that he wants something
different, to just be on his own, he wants to maybe write a book
or politics might be his real calling, he doesn't know why, but
he feels he must pursue his muse. It's really just about being
happy for the "new" Clarence. His horse, per usual is
the only one who'll listen to him
for the time being, anyway.
Clarence's wife isn't crazy about her husband's sudden unemployment
but Clarence reassures her they will be just fine. Clarence has
a plan to make himself a God, first he has to hire his neighbor,
Alonzo the gardener (Carey's good friend and roommate Gil Barreto)
as a follower, He decides to attend a big, racially mixed hullabaloo
and the underground rock and soul show becomes his inspiration.
He'll grab a guitar, don a goatee and preach his message to the
masses with a little Rock & Roll panache'. Alonzo takes Clarence
to a Hispanic gal who teaches him a couple chords and then gives
him a snake for good luck, "My wife won't let me have this!"
But he takes it home and by midnight he's rockin' up in the bed,
dancing, bouncing, then falling down crying to his Christian wife
"Why can't I be a God!" Craziness, here in Kentucky
in the Holy Roller churches that would called getting a little
of the Holy Ghost in ya. In the Hilliard household that night,
I believe Clarence had conjured up Old Scratch instead.
Carey, when he began making TWGS, was already 31 years old, he
had been acting since 1951 and had worked with Marlon Brando,
Lee Marvin, Elia Kazan, James Dean, Stanley Kubrick and a slue
of other now classic personalities. His early acting career had
him continually annoying his co-stars (he threw his beer on Brando
in THE WILD ONES, Brando took a harder turn by stabbing Carey
with an ink pen in the only film Marlon ever directed, the Western,
ONE-EYE JACKS), the directors (Billy Wilder had him removed from
the set of ACE IN THE HOLE and Elia Kazen physically attacked
him during the shooting of EAST OF EDEN and ultimately overdubbed
his voice no doubt because he was such a strong character in a
bland film, asked why, Kazen grunted, "The way he talks,
that's the way pimps talk!" ) and most of the people who
worked on the studio lots. Carey had studied "The Method"
and he didn't seem to go about getting ore performing his roles
in the conventional manner. When he got his parts, he rarely relied
on the script ,often times never giving the director the same
take twice. Sometimes it worked, like with his memorable work
with Kubrick, where he ad-libs his painfully, pathetic "I
don't want to die!" Kubrick had planned on the scene being
MOS (no sound) until Carey began his sobs; Kubrick warned Carey
that it had better be good, because Kirk Douglas didn't like it.
Needless to say, it was good, very good.
At 33 when most of TWGS was shot, Carey was a grown man with
the ideals of a 20-nothing artist, he was possibly too far ahead
of his time. Clarence's "using the youth to spread his message"
mentality was a little of what Carey himself was hoping to do
with TWGS, he wanted to capitalize on a little of that riotous
youth rebellion by making a wacked-out Rock & Roll picture.
Clarence Hilliard's revelation for the world was simple "There
is no God but man, and every man is a God!" powerful words
in 1958, his "Superhumanism" philosophy was all about
an "Eternal Life" that any man could grasp, as long
as they listened to Clarence's words of guidance. Carey's own
political and spiritual views, no doubt, are buried in some of
Clarence's rhetoric. His Eternal Man's Party promised everyone
what ever they wanted, simple happiness for most, Clarence's pamphlets
seemed to explain it all, his vision of Super Humankind. When
his officers discuss whom to hate, "We got to hate someone!"
Carey once again gives a gem of a soliliquy, "We're wasting
time gentleman, let's be different, let's not hate anybody, I'm
basing this party on a nondiscrim-inin-atory basis!" Yeah,
I know that's spelled wrong but Carey adds the extra syllable.
Who am I to question genius? This is from the heart not from the
Clarence begins his rise to the top by passing out his pamphlets
and gripping and grinning, it is not long before he begins to
talk about being the President. He needs help of course, he needs
followers, and he is not about to turn down cash from an elderly
worshipper. His reward for her, he beds her, that's right Clarence
beds a lady in her 80s. On screen Carey grabs this lady with all
of the passion of a genuine Saturday matinee male lead and plants
not one, but many kisses on this little old lady. Wow, talking
about giving it your all. You want to talk groundbreaking? C'mon
his character is sleeping with the elderly for cash to forward
his politico-religious campaign. Groundfuckingbusting me thinks!
It's not long before he also beds the guitar teacher who becomes
a faithful follower and even a 14-year-old volunteer for his campaign,
near the end of the film. Carey's vision had all the parts; abuse
of power, abnormal sex, and the ever-present God-complex. Clarence
was a highly developed character for that or any time period.
Carey's Clarence evolves into the "God" he wants to
be, the "super human being" of his prophecies, but his
normal Christian family is missing the God Hilliard boat. When
Clarence fills an auditorium with followers and Rawks his message,
it is not only something spiritual, it is something down right
fucking OUT THERE. This scene is one of the rawest Rock &
Roll moments ever laid down on celluloid. Carey does the same
dance he is remembered for in the drive-in classic POOR WHITE
TRASH, only this time he is fronting a band, artificial chin hair
in place (actually by this time Carey had grown his own Soul Patch
even though initially Clarence applies a fake goatee), female,
that's right gal saxophone players groovin' and when he drops
to his knees and bellows "Please, please, please
MY HAND!" it is Rock & Roll in its truest most gutteral
form. Carey, later in his career, was in the last real Elvis movie
CHANGE OF HABIT and he liked to brag that when he met The King,
the great one said "Oh you're Tim Carey, you made The World's
Greatest Sinner! I want to see that picture!" Somehow, I
believe that happened. One rocker acknowledging another, Elvis
just knew. From 90s garage greats like the A-Bones (they covered
the theme song) to Peter Zaremba (most notably remembered as host
of early MTV's The Cutting Edge) of Fleshtones (his look was directly
stolen from God Hilliard's), Carey's performance in this scene
is one to be emulated. But it is so much more, there wasn't the
typical polish to this movie sequence. There is something animalistic,
rough and dangerous to Carey's writhing "God." Like
a Pentacostal preacher in the throws of orgasmic Holy Ghost fever,
God Hilliard delivers the groceries and waits for his tip. He
even crowd surfs as he works his flock into a frenzy. It begs
the question, where did Carey get this stuff? Once again, let's
not forget the time period, this behavior wasn't widely publicized.
If Elvis' hip shake scared people, what in the Hell did Carey's
gyrating, worm flop do? I can only imagine.
As Clarence begins calling himself God, his followers wear the
letter "F" for Follower on their sleeves. The symbolism,
reminiscent of the Germany's Nazis and their Swastikas, is apparent.
God is becoming more dictator-like. A mysterious visitor arrives
and wants to help God move to the next level, the Presidency,
and GOD of course, obliges. A letter, asent fter Carey passed
away in the early 90s to Chris Gore's once great rag FILM THREAT
alluded to Carey being a member of the Nazi party, I wouldn't
doubt this bit of misinformation was based on someone seeing this
movie. Carey seems to be a person who was never a member of any
group and I know for a while he had an African American lover
and also helped to raise her child. Doesn't sound like a Nazi
to me but I guess anything is possible.
TWGS flaws, jump cuts, poor exposure, dismal lighting and flubbed
lines add now to the whole experience of the film, but upon its
debut in 1962, critics weren't so forgiving. Carey's herky jerky
directing style, and the fact that years had passed during production,
with odd pick-ups being added when Carey got the notion, sometimes
Carey shooting ,sometimes a young guy named Ray Dennis Steckler,
that's right that Ray Dennis Steckler, Cash Flagg, if you will,
got his start behind the camera working on this classic for peanuts.
Carey claimed the budget was eventually $100,000, I'd be surprised
if it was a third of that. Carey, must have sensed that his masterwork
might get panned, so always the media hound, upon its opening
in a Los Angeles movie house, he wielded a .38 and shot into the
theatre's ceiling, causing a near riot and dooming TWGS engagement
from the get-go. His challenge to the movie-going public, the
businesspeople of movie-making and the critics is on par with
his dramatic challenge to God, "Show Me!" he pleads
to this entity he doesn't believe exists as Clarence. "Show
Me!" Carey seems to be saying to the outside world, "Show
me that you get my genius." Of course, no one did. Frank
Zappa who at age 16, lent his talents to the soundtrack of TWGS
proclaimed on The Steve Allen show that TWGS, was the "world's
worst movie" Carey never forgave him and often referred to
him as an ungrateful asshole.
Up until his death in 1994, he claimed to still be recutting
TWGS, like a man still obsessed, he always believed he could make
it better. No doubt he probably could have, but the way the film
stands seems just alright by me. His take on cultism, fanaticism,
religion and politics are so outrageously before their time it
is downright queer. You just never heard of this shit being discussed,
sure there was Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs doing their free
thinking, liberal, beat shit and tons of other coffee house poets
all talking a good game. Carey made a move, a daring, nuts-out
move to make a real statement. To shock, to provoke and to warn
to some extent. In a scant decade, a character named Charlie would
shock a nation with murders that were carried out by the cultish
followers of his bizarre doctrine based upon theories of eternal
life, man being God, and Rock & Roll. Had someone paid attention
to a loud-mouthed, New York trained, droopy eyed actor a few years
earlier they might have been less surprised by the notion.
Carey's genius didn't always go unnoticed. Actor and auteur John
Cassavetes championed both Carey as a person and Carey as an actor.
Cassavetes made a name for himself outside the typical parameters
of Hollywood, not a part of any underground, nor a part of the
system, similar to Timothy Carey. Both were actors who relied
on human instinct to develop their roles, Cassavetes played similar
unlikables early in his career and when the 2 got together (Cassavetes
helped Carey raise some cash for his yet completed TWEETS: LADIES
OF PASADENA, the follow-up to Carey's God Hilliard character)
later when Cassavetes begin his memorable series of films in the
early 70s, he gave Carey Carte' Blanche in 1971's Minnie and Moskowitz.
Carey played a character named Morgan Morgan who spend his days
wasting away in a coffee shop, Carey's performance is absolutely
unforgettable and with Cassavetes', "let the camera roll"
directorial work ethic, Carey lights up the screen with long takes
and classic slurry adlibs. Later in Cassavetes modern day noir
THE KILLING OF A CHINESE
BOOKIE, Carey's Flo once again eviscerates the conventional
thug characterizations and the moments Carey is on screen transcend
anyone daring to share frame time with him. Flo is the real Carey,
much like Clarence in his subdued alienation and deep rooted pain
and longing. Carey could make you feel that some invisible hand
was squeezing his nads to the point of explosion. He had a way
with pain, with showing it on the screen. Maybe it was with the
eyes as heavy as a lard-assed housewife. Maybe the peculiar mouth
and that grimace that showed all of his teeth and gums. At times
on screen his head looks twice the size of anyone else around
him or maybe that was just his aura.
TWGS was never and will never be a hit, big shit. TWGS shows
as much of Carey's passion as APOCALYPSE NOW showed of Coppola's.
The ideas behind his film were bigger than he could have ever
hoped to portray to the masses. Not on a 5 or 6 figure budget
for sure. TWGS was Carey's passion whittled down to short ends
of film stock. He wanted to be in front of the camera, acting,
his method, his rules without the suits fucking it up, performing.
Hell, his career didn't stop with TWGS or even with Cassavetes,
like I said he made Elvis' last movie and the Monkees only one,
HEAD. In HEAD, considered a psychedelic classic now, Carey arguably
he steals the movie as Lord High N' Low in the vehicle meant to
parody the Monkees prefabricated success. Carey's performance
is once again all him, crazed, incoherent, and as always, memorable.
Carey also showed up on various TV dramas through the 70s and
80s usually continuing his portrayal of the heavy for episodes
of Columbo, ChiPs, Charlies Angels and The Greatest American Hero.
When he passed away in 1994, he was only weeks away from debuting
his surreal wonder THE INSECT TRAINER on the stage. THE INSECT
TRAINER involved the importance of farting, yes farting. Described
by Carey as "an intimate collaboration with Salvador Dali"
THE INSECT TRAINER boldly involves a wacky subject matter even
for Carey, but he was driven to see it come to the stage. His
belief in the power of breaking wind is fairly amazing and the
sole motivation for this project, in an interview in Romeo Carey's
documentary work in progress, Carey says of prepping his actors
for their parts in THE INSECT TRAINER, "First I'd take a
big fart in front of them. That's always a big help. I always
thought if you really want to be a good actor, you've got to be
able to fart in public. That, to me, is the most important. If
you are so inhibited that you can't fart, I don't mean around
your friends, I mean just a fart, out loud somewhere. I don't
mean the 'silent creeper,' everybody does that; I mean fart out
loud! Just that you can do it and not be afraid of it. Humility
is very important." Carey never got to fart in front of a
real audience with THE INSPECT TRAINER but Romeo Carey picked
up his father's role and produced and starred in the play. I guess
gas was hereditary.
No matter what ended up on the screen, big or small, with Carey
you always knew there was much more on the cutting room floor,
his honesty and guts as an actor wouldn't allow him to not take
his roles to different places, many times that was too much for
the directors to take, how can a bit part actor hijack a project?
Carey did. In the final scenes of TWGS, when God Hilliard challenges
conventional God to prove his existence, the camera is out of
focus, the lighting flat and unflattering, teh audio hollow, and
Clarence's symbol of God is a mere Communion wafer...doesn't sound
like that great of a scene with my descriptioon, eh? Well that's
total horseshit because of Carey's incredible performance. It
wasn't about lighting, focus, special effects or sound, it was
about his performance. His, in this dramatic instance, is like
so many others in his crazed career, sheer brilliance on the scrren.
I began corresponding with Carey's son after reading Sam MacAbee's
brilliant piece on Carey in Cashiers Du Cinemart. I also remembered
the interview way back in the early 90s that Johnny Legend had
done for Weldon's Psychotronic Magazine and decided I had to get
my hands on a decent copy of TWGS. Romeo was incredibly informative,
helpful and downright generous with his father's work. He emailed
me the same story that McAbee mentioned at the end of his feature
on Carey involving Quentin Tarantino. It seems that Tarantino
had Carey pegged as his Joe character in RESERVOIR DOGS. As you
probably know by now, Harvey Keitel got interested in Tarantino's
script and became Executive Producer on the project. On the day
Carey arrived to read for the part, Tarantino had him come to
a trailer where Keitel and some other folks were. Tarantino showered
compliment after compliment on Carey. Keitel stood to shake Carey's
hand and told him he admired his work and was a huge fan even
mentioning CHINESE BOOKIE. Carey, who had been ill and had battled
back after having a stroke, was surprised by all the praise and
humbly said to Keitel "thank you." This thoroughly pissed
Keitel off because he was expecting some sort of "gratuitous"
ass kiss from Carey. The problem was Carey had no idea who he
was. Carey delivered his lines as Joe and of course wowed all
in attendence, well, all but Harvey Keitel who said."Forget
it, we can't use him." Keitel was hurt that Carey had not
given him the hollow compliment that he had bestowed upon Carey!
Lawrence Tierney ended up with the role, Lawrence and Carey had
been long time friends and Tierney phoned up Carey and broke the
news, "I can't believe those assholes gave me your part."
Yeah, neither can I Larry, neither can I.
Romeo has picked up the passion for his father's work as well
as for his own, his company Absolute
Films is not only showing TWGS at festivals around the country,
Romeo is trying to finish a documentary on his father and making
his own films. I urge you to visit www.timothycarey.com
and buy as much stuff as you can, you can get a fresh copy of
TWGS, a rough cut of the documentary as well as the work print
of TWEETS. Go there now.
It's tough to only devote this much space to someone, I think
is the shit when it comes to this world of strange cinema. Timothy
Carey seems to deserve more. Don't be surprised if more of his
work doesn't spring up around these parts. If you don't like I'll
say to you what my guess is that Tim might say. Fuck you. PPPFFFFFFFFRRRRRTTTTTTTT!
Discuss this baby.
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Girl From Tobacco Row
Rape Squad Join
The Meateater Do
Dixie Dynamite POW!
Run Stranger Run
Horror House On Hwy 5
Behind Locked Doors It's
Nailgun Massacre Some
Bat Pussy It had to
Thunder Alley It is
Blood Freak A Classic
The Geek Bigfoot Porn
High School Ghosthustlers
Frankenstein Island You
SuperCock Not that kinda
The Alienator Feeling
Angel Midnight Fantasy
Vanity and the Beast
Tim Ritter's $0 budget wonder
Nightmare Prof. Tread
still can't sleep.
Shanty Tramp She is sumpin'
If Footmen Tire You...?
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The Killing Of A Chinese
Bookie! Smart Guy.
The Pink Angels Gayness,
The Burning The 80's,
ahhh the 80's.
Q - The Winged Serpant! Larry
Fight For Your Life!
WARNING Racist content
Walking Tall Buford Pusser
in the Hizouse!
Sleepaway Camp Internet
Born Losers Ya Loser!
Shriek of the Mutilated
Bro. George gets busy.
Bury Me An Angel
Gal Biker and more.
The Grim Reaper Reap
Abby One of William Girdler's
Deadbeat At Dawn A
Sonny Boy Carradine,
Great Hollywood Rape-Slaughter
Savage Weekend. Take
Dead and Buried. A Should-be
Hot Summer In Barefoot
Night Train To Terror
I Drink Your Blood Glug,
Vixen Russ Meyer and breasts!
Truck Stop Women Honnnk
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Flesh Feast Maggots!
Soapy the Germ Fighter!
Why Doesn't Cathy Eat Breakfast?
Moonshine County Express!
The Night God Screamed!
White Dog Racists Pets!
Hunter's Blood City
Slickers get offed!
Devil Times Five Sean
Terror at the Red Wolf Inn
Headless Eyes See It
World's Greatest Sinner
One of the best!
The Baby! Goo Goo!
Summer Camp Nightmare Viva
Attack of the Beast Creatures
Let's Play Dead Incest
Island of Death Vacation
Evil Come, Evil Go! Bye,
Darktown Strutters Get
Poor Pretty Eddie Deep
Miami Golem Jewish Folklore
Tenement NYC Apartment
To Kill A Clown Alan Alda Vietnam Vet!
The Spook Who Sat Next To
The Door Booya!
I Woke Up Early The Day I
Died Mr. Ed Wood.
The Mutilation Man Andy
Copp goes arty on us!
The People Across The Lake
The Woman Hunt Load Up
The Devil At You Heels
These Are The Damned
Crowhaven Farm TV movie