July 23, 2011
It Came From Kuchar (2010) ***1/2
Directed by Jennifer Kroot
It Came From Kuchar (2010)- Inclusion of Mike is an unfortunate necessity. George's influence & talent is unique & undeniable. ***1/2 of 5
Yes, there are two Kuchar Brothers, and yes, they collaborated on some movies; however, despite being twins, they are not alike in either their talents or their influence on the underground cinema scene of the 1960s and 1970s. Mike Kuchar, the more introverted of the two, has spent most of his career making indulgent experimental films and tawdry adult movies. George, on the other hand, has cemented his place somewhere between the margins and the main pages of film history as perhaps the greatest underground auteur of unapologetic garish excess. First time documentarian Jennifer Kroot appropriately does not give equal screen time to both brothers. The fact, though, that Mike needed to have been included at all is quite unfortunate. This is (and absolutely should be) George's story all the way.
George Kuchar grew up Catholic in the Bronx with a macho father and what seems to be a loving mother. He and his brother Mike were both talented artists who had to choose between the paths of commercial art and fine art. They collaborated together on no budget, highly-stylized homemade movies with a 16 mm camera. After a few pictures, Mike and George went their separate directorial ways, and George really took off in the avant-garde underground cinema scene of the 1960s. His "more is more" approach to experimental filmmaking was a welcomed relief from the overly serious, enigmatic works similar to Empire by Andy Warhol. It's clear from the beginning that George is a true eccentric, and, more than once, he is described as borderline crazy. Yet, he's extremely engaging, and there's a real lover of the visual medium of film within him. Influenced by 1950s Hollywood melodramas like Butterfield 8 and Written in the Wind, George Kuchar combined the glamorous with the grotesque, often exorcising his inner demons on screen. The results might appropriately be described as a whimsical nightmare.
The makeup is caked on; the dialogue is intentionally campy; the cinematography is over-stylized. Yet, from the many clips we see of George's films, there's a true sense of artistry at hand. I'm not sure I'd want to watch a marathon of George Kuchar's films, but, in small doses as they're presented here, they're unique, fascinating and really quite entertaining. George Kuchar is clearly not trying to be anything other than himself.
There are a dozen or so talking heads that really don't add much at all to the audience's understanding of George Kuchar. For someone with absolutely no knowledge of Kuchar or the experimental cinema world he flourished in, I'm left to wonder whether he is simply a cult figure that Kroot, John Waters, Buck Henry and Atom Egoyan find titillating, or whether he really is a universally respected trailblazer. In other words, is this the portrait of a legend or of an overlooked oddity? Buck Henry introduces George Kuchar at the Telluride Film Festival where he hosts a Q and A session. The two men later ride a ski lift and wax poetic about UFOs and aliens making pancakes. All the while, I kept wondering what Buck Henry has to do with Kuchar. Is Henry an admirer? Was he influenced by him? Are they long-time friends? Kroot easily could have brought some of these loose ends together, providing us with a clearer understanding of an individual who perhaps can't really ever be understood completely.
It Came From Kuchar opens with George Kuchar as a professor shooting a film with his students, teaching them the craft of filmmaking by making a campy, Z-level horror flick complete with an inflatable spider attacking an older woman whose wardrobe is less than ladylike. Everything comes full circle as we end at the screening of the students' film which is met with warm applause followed by George Kuchar signing DVDs as he says goodbye to the students who worked with him throughout the semester. I guarantee you that none of them will ever forget the experience of making a George Kuchar movie. It Came From Kuchar, though incomplete and muddled with the unnecessary inclusion of Mike Kuchar, presents a satisfying glimpse not only into the life and work of an underground filmmaker, but also into the mind of an extreme eccentric who found the perfect platform to cope with a world that would otherwise be way too bland and self-serious for George Kuchar to find fulfillment.