It Came From Kuchar

Dir: Jennifer M. Kroot, 2009. Documentary.
It Came From Kuchar

I'm not sure how to begin this, so I'll try to make it linear, though the documentary is nothing but. George and Mike Kuchar are two twin brothers, born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx. I can imagine their birth to be extraordinary; a lighting bolt striking their mother and producing these two electrifying individuals. That didn't really happen, but that's how it plays out in my imagination. At the age of eleven, the two were given consumer-grade 8mm cameras as gifts, but what would later become of those tools is nothing short of spectacular.

This documentary spans across generations of filmmakers and artists, mainly in the New York and San Francisco underground scenes. The interviews consist of those from the two brothers and the various "stars" of their B-movie delights, as well as people like John Waters and Christopher Coppola (brother of Nick Cage), who claim that the Kuchar brothers and their films were their first sources of inspiration. Other clips include archive footage of New York and San Francisco from the '50s to present day, as well as photos and/or interviews of various influential artists, such as Andy Warhol, Guy Maddin, and cartoonists Bill Griffith and Robert Crumb.

As boys, George and Mike loved films and (un-macho) television shows like Liberace. Mike describes the theater experience by saying that it was like going into a temple. Instead of going to college or being taught the technical aspects of cinema, he and his brother simply watched and tore apart the films they saw and tried to emulate them at home, using friends and family as the cast. One of their early works was The Craven Sluck, inspired by the film Imitation of Life, which played off of the glamour of a blonde dame and her stupefied lover in movies. Another gem is George's The Devil's Cleavage, which was inspired by Butterfield 8 and would be the start of George's obsession with bold eyebrows and husky voices. The short film does not mock the movie, but rather emphasizes the things he was drawn to, such as Liz Taylor's brows and the allure of a white slip. The brows (which would be the envy of Frida Kahlo) were present throughout other films and were frequently paid homage to by Waters.

Speaking of John Waters, it is important to note how often he is interviewed throughout this documentary. He explains their work as if it is the work of a mentor, as well as the fundamentals of true underground cinema—an art that steers clear of money (you're a sell out if you chase money, apparently), and one in which all the early participants are anti-career. But the brothers did have a career, in strange sense. Their films were soon praised and shown in everything from colleges and storefronts to basements and "happenings." There is an awesome archival interview of Warhol being asked what a happening is, in which he numbly replied after a great silence, "A happening is where nothing really happens."

Soon the brothers began to have different senses of aesthetics, but still helped each other with their films in one form or another. Their Catholic upbringing caused both a fascination with pageantry and religious overtones in film (absurd ones), and later messages that explained the guilt that followed their sexual exploration with men. Mike's golden egg following the split was Sins of the Fleshapoids (1965), which starred George in the lead. It features saturated colors that were, and still are, an aspect of both of their films, as well as animation, robots, and even a woman giving birth to a baby robot. I assure you it is a genius piece of cult cinema. Meanwhile George made a short the same year called Hold Me While I'm Naked that has an endearing humanity behind its campiness. But my favorite is one that they did together called Born of the Wind—a sci-fi horror film that is perhaps the most interesting and vivid film in the B-movie genre. To put an image to it, I'd say it compares to Kenneth Anger's aggressive early works and the image of his later ones, blended with the asinine comedy of Waters. It is full of special effects and animation, incorporating everything from emotion and romance to flying saucers.

As techniques were being explored, so was the availability of other mediums and types of film. Eventually the brothers moved into 16mm and attempted to make a short called Corruption of the Damned. They developed into painters and cartoonists as well. When George came to San Francisco around the same time as Robert Crumb, he met and befriended Bill Griffith who would allow him to do comic drawings for a magazine for which Griffith and Art Spiegelman where the editors. He and his brother were as good at painting and cartooning as they were in film—it seems like everything they touch turns to gold, and of course a financial disaster.

George now teaches film, in his own loony way, and there are heartfelt interviews from his students and co-workers (one of his students was Christopher Coppola). At the school he gives seminars and cranks out film after film, inspiring many generations of cult filmmakers. Once named the Mozarts of 8mm cinema, these two men are the kind you want to get to know, show off to your dinner guests, and make a film with that's about as dreamlike and dysfunctional as life itself. Highly recommended!

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jul 27, 2010 2:17pm
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