Timothy Carey, Just in Time for Halloween
Published on October 14th, 2010 | by Emily Cheever0
Shock and awe in film is a concept that constantly borderlines on the cliché; rarely do films come out which pique audience interest because of the grotesque plot or the critics’ reviews. “The Human Centipede” skirted this, but overall lacked a physiological impact from the story, despite the generally horrific imagery. Sometimes we even hear of an audience member becoming so entranced by a film that they faint, or vomit. At least, these instances are reported (most recently from Danny Boyle’s amputation scene in his latest film, “127 Hours”). And while these reported faintings may be legitimate, it’s still publicity; the outrageous and grotesque always drives people to the theater and institutes those who make us shiver immortals on the screen.
But have you heard about Timothy Carey? A man who, when premiering a film in Los Angeles, shot a gun at the audience, causing them to flee in panic. A man who can act as both a strange man-child and a psychotic killer. A man whose best role is a self-proclaimed god that has sex with a ninety-four year old women and fourteen year old girls. Plan to get introduced with the man this October at the Anthology Film Archives during their ten day retrospective starting the fifteenth. Timothy Carey, who was born in 1929 in Brooklyn, was a physically imposing man. Though he was very tall, he wasn’t an anomaly (reported at 6’4’’); his broad chest and clenched fists were almost cartoonish, reminiscent of Brutus from old “Popeye” cartoons. His delivery of lines were slack-jawed and drooling, his eyes consistently half closed as if he was drunk or tired or as if any moment his pupils would disappear completely, leaving only the cold whites. Not much is known about Carey’s early years, until right after his acting school years where he makes his first appearance in 1951…as a corpse.
You’ve probably seen Carey before—if not in your nightmares— perhaps in Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory” (he’s the one who cries “I don’t want to die” before his execution – an improvisation that Kubrick left in). John Cassavettes casted him in “A Killing of a Chinese Bookie” as Flo. He even starred opposite Peter Graves in “Bayou” (also known as “Poor White Trash”) in 1957. Carey played the drunken and angry Cajun Ulysses, perhaps his most terrifying role up to that point. Usually films try to work up to the shocking moments, but in “Bayou,” one of the very first scenes is Ulysses chasing the heroine through the Louisiana swamp to eventually catch and rape her. Still nothing leaves quite the mark for Carey like his own “The World’s Greatest Sinner.”
Carey wrote, directed, and starred in “The World’s Greatest Sinner,” a movie where the concept itself would still raise many eyebrows, let alone the fact that it was made (personally financed by Carey) in 1962.
“The World’s Greatest Sinner” is the story of a regular everyman, Clarence Hilliard, who tires of his mundane insurance job, quits and starts his own political party/religion called “The Eternal Man Party” in which he proclaims himself god. Halfway between the treachery of fanatical cultism (the aforementioned sexual escapades with either very old or very young women) and the inspirational and rousing enjoyment of entertainment, God Hilliard can be seen often wearing a gold silk suit and fronts a band like Elvis, stretching out into the audience, pleading them to take his hand in between spastic and passionate dancing. Causing riots, forcing the elderly out of their savings, even hitting his own children, Hilliard becomes transfixed with himself, constantly challenging a higher power to strike him down if he is wrong; when there is a lack of response, God Hilliard only becomes more convinced that man is the only eternal god, and that he is at its highest order. Also, as another instant cult favorite side note: Carey gave Frank Zappa one of his first jobs as the music supervisor and composer for “The World’s Greatest Sinner.”
Even if “The World’s Greatest Sinner” was remade (as is a Hollywood trend) with even more sexual explicitness, more blaspheming themes and higher production values, it would be hard to surpass the strange grace that Carey adds to the picture, in front of and behind the camera. It is as if the film itself wasn’t supposed to be shocking at all; Carey puts great care into presenting God Hilliard as a once regular man, drunk on self-power, something that any ordinary man may be capable of, in any ordinary society. Which is to say, it could happen to you; this is the most shocking revelation of all.
Timothy Carey began teaching acting classes in his later years; his last film appearance was “The Devil’s Gas” written and directed by his son Romeo Carey. Timothy Carey died in 1994 in Los Angeles due to a stroke and is remembered through his cult film status. If you decide to check out his retrospective, (which you should) be prepared to be shocked, awed, frightened, disgusted, amused, but most of all entertained.
For details about the retrospective, please visit:
Check out some clips of Timothy Carey below:
From “World’s Greatest Sinner”
From “Tweets Ladies of Pasadena”
From “The Killing”