This weekend I went to an evening of Timothy Carey films. Carey has been one of my favorite character actors ever since I saw him as the sharp-shooter in Kubrick’s The Killing. However, my initial reaction to his scene, which I produce below, was that this guy was terrible: a gawky wouldbe-thespian with little screen presence, a bizarre guttural voice, a restlessness that’s too restless - a non-professional and unprofessional, too.
But I never forgot him, and upon seeing him freak up such disparate products as Paths of Glory, Head and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, I grew to not only appreciate his work but get excited about his injections of genuine, totally uncalculated bugfuckery into even the loose likes of John Cassavetes films. (He’s also in Minnie and Moskowitz, which I’ve never seen.)
Carey, as it turns out, was a Stanislasvki-ite, and in many ways his style is the purest expression of Method acting in movie history. His screen behavior — manic and jazz-like, difficult or impossible to repeat, with no two takes, surely, ever being the same — makes Brando look downright conventional, particularly when they actually share the same scene. (The two worked together on both The Wild One and Brando’s owm One-Eyed Jacks.)
Carey’s resume is here, and it’s pretty bizarre. Respectable films, like Elia Kazan’s East of Eden and Andre de Toth’s Crime Wave, sit next to two (2) Francis the Talking Mule movies and both Bikini Beach and Beach Blanket Bingo. Plus, tons of TV, from Rawhide and Columbo to CHiPs and Airwolf. Frankly, I’m actually more excited to see him pop up in harmless crap, as I’m sure the no doubt horrified reactions from Frankie and Anette are 100% real. In this interview, conducted shortly before his 1994 death and reproduced a decade later in Film Comment, Carey claims to have terrified Martin Scorsese circa 1974 to the extent that he didn’t even introduce himself. At least in terms of his unique intensity and his willingness to roll around in aesthetic shit, he’s reminiscent of Klaus Kinski. (Although Kinski was motivated primarily by money, while Carey at least claims he never was.)
After scores and scores of scene-stealing turns, Carey decided to graduate to the forefront on his own: in 1962 emerged The World’s Greatest Sinner, an underground satire he wrote, directed, starred in and distributed. (Or so the credit claims; the film was never distributed, and the only people who saw it were friends and carefully selected strangers.) Predictably, the word “sui generis” ought to have an image of the film next to it in the dictionary; though it almost (though not quite) turns more conventional in the final stretches, the movie is generally his acting style rendered in cinema form.
But more on that later. Following is the start of a semi-regular feature on this (barely maintained) microblog: clips from Timothy Carey performances! Mysteriously YouTube isn’t crawling with them, but there are enough Carey nerds out there to keep this going for a short time, at least.
Thus, the bulk of his turn in The Killing, Kubrick’s third feature and the first to get peoples’ hearts aflutter. For the record, I no longer feel this performance is terrible. Indeed, the unpredictable, unpolished messiness is a welcome, interesting counterpoint to Kubrick’s almost comical hyper-organization.