For eight years, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson has presented many a cult classic and more horror flicks than you can shake a chainsaw at. As he nears the end of his tenure at the Alamo, Zack has been able to screen personal favorites like the 1969 Don Knotts sex comedy “The Love God” and, for his farewell show this Tuesday February 12th, an impossibly rare 35mm print of the 1962 exploitation oddity “The World’s Greatest Sinner,” written, produced, directed by, and starring crazed character actor Timothy Agoglia Carey, with music by a young Frank Zappa, and cinematography by Ray Dennis Steckler (“The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies”).
As an actor, Timothy Carey was best known for his work with Stanley Kubrick (“The Killing,” “Paths of Glory”), John Cassavetes (“Minnie and Moskowitz,” “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie”), and for playing memorably off-kilter heavies: the swamp psycho Ulysses in the long-running exploitation classic “Poor White Trash,” South Dakota Slim in 1965’s “Beach Blanket Bingo” and Lord High-and-Low in the Monkees’ 1968 film “Head.”
Carey shot “The World’s Greatest Sinner” on and off between 1958 and 1961, as he kept running out of money. In the film, he plays Clarence Hilliard, an insurance salesman who quits his job, starts his own rock n’ roll religion, declares himself God, and runs for president. According to Carlson, “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).”
Carlson writes in the Alamo blog: “In 1962, a visionary Hollywood wildman named Timothy Carey unleashed ‘The World’s Greatest Sinner’ upon an unprepared world. The 77-minute movie defied description; a shockingly sacrilegious mishmash of rock n’ roll, megalomania, comedy, horror and sexual insanity that practically blinded anyone who watched it. Audiences were stunned and critics were vaporized in their seats. Centuries ahead of its time, the film disappeared from theaters quickly and was never released on video.
“Carey was a brilliant, towering non-stop meltdown of a man who’d forged a character actor career for years, but his lone effort as writer/director/producer/editor is like no other experience you’ll ever have in a theater. His lead performance is one part thunder and one thousand parts maniac, an unforgettably fearless assault on acting and the cinematic arts in general. Venerable filmmakers like Cassavetes and Martin Scorsese have praised ‘Sinner’ for its near-terrifying uniqueness, and Carey for his staggering presence. After watching the film in an otherwise empty theater, Cassavetes later cast Carey in two of his movies.
“Despite these high-caliber supporters and multiple articles on ‘Sinner’ in respectable forums like Film Comment Magazine, the movie has spent the last 50 years languishing as a notorious legend. But on February 12th, we’ll be screening it in all of its 35mm glory, thanks to a generous print loan from Carey’s own son.
“If I’ve done anything worthwhile in my past eight years as a film programmer for this theater, it’s been the occasions when I was able to share fantastic, otherwise unseen movies like this with you guys. And this is truly one of the most unbelievable unknown films in the universe. I’ve always hoped to bring ‘The World’s Greatest Sinner’ to Austin, and there’s no better way for me to make my big, loud Alamo exit than with this show.
“So if you’re nostalgic for past Alamo memories, feeling generally adventurous, or you just want to see a really strange movie about a giant insurance salesman who puts on a silver suit, names himself ‘God,’ and makes out with a grandma, then I hope to see you at this screening. If not, it’s your funeral. Either way, thanks for all the fun times, everybody.”
“The World’s Greatest Sinner” screens Tuesday February 12th, 2013 at 7 p.m. at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, 320 East Sixth Street in downtown Austin. Tickets available at drafthouse.com/austin.
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J.M. Dobies, Austin Classic Movies Examiner Facebook Page