It Came From Kuchar
Directed by Jennifer M. Kroot
The biggest shock of Jennifer M. Kroot's It Came From Kuchar is that 68-year-old underground filmmaking legends George and Mike Kuchar no longer know if they're identical or fraternal twins. Otherwise, the jolts provided by these first practitioners of camp and cataloged in this fine documentary now safely comprise their legacy, the brothers having passed from intentionally tasteless and tacky saboteurs of Hollywood melodrama, horror, and exotica to charter members in cinema's bargain basement hall of fame. Presented in It Came From Kuchar not only through interviews but also home and "professional" movies shot by George and Mike starting from the age of 12, their story is that of awkward, joined-at-the-hip homosexual film geeks armed with 8mm cameras, working-class Bronx tenement backdrops, "star" casts of equally weird friends and neighbors, a complete disregard for taboos, and some of the best film titles in the history of cinema—The Naked and the Nude, I Was a Teenage Rumpot, Lust for Ecstacy—who with their non-stop output somehow joined the ranks of 50s and 60s avant-garde artistes like mythic visionary Stan Brakhage and scenester Andy Warhol. Whatever the Kuchars lacked in production values they made up for in pure enthusiasm, their films' unprecedented irony the result of an enormous disparity between aspiration and means, even as they also blurred the boundary between savant-like earnestness and knowing irreverence. Each generation of cult film and DIY die-hards has looked to the brothers as patron saints: Kroot herself is one of George's former students, and clearly a devotee.
She certainly knows how to take one through the Kuchar universe. Whereas the Dardenne, Coen, and Wachowski brothers are rarely if ever considered apart from one another, the Kuchars established individual cinematic identities with their amicable split during the 1965 making of Corruption of the Damned. Their solo careers nonetheless offer uncanny parallels. George is known as the extroverted and scatological one (along with partner Curt McDowell, he was the brains behind surreal and infamous quasi-hardcore flick Thundercrack!, given loving screen time here), Mike the shy and spiritual; yet even while inevitably upholding this dichotomy Kroot's film acknowledges the many and related facets of their work. Hold Me While I'm Naked, George's second film without Mike, remains one of the great cinephile autobiographies, a raw and knowingly amateur 8 1/2 in which the filmmaker's personal and artistic struggles tragicomically resolve themselves in his beloved and begrudged old-world mother's pork chop dinner: "There's a lot of things in life worth living for—isn't there?" Hold Me set the template for a lifetime of confessional work, including the deservingly heralded Weather Diary series (in which meteorology buff George pays annual visits to the same desolate Oklahoma town to poetically document turbulent and twister-prone changes in climate) and endless portraits of fellow artist-friends.
Meanwhile, Mike's mystical odysseys—involving Himalayan gurus and mind-altering chemical substances—have been consistently complemented by films both goofy and horny, from off-the-wall sci-fi send-up Sins of the Fleshapoids, his first solo effort and still his most famous, to unabashed beefcake video and comic art. These contradictions, along with the lasting influence and overlooked nuances of their oeuvres, are explored with a wealth of visual evidence culled from the Kuchar archives as well as the help of an impressive roster of talking heads (Bill Griffith, Buck Henry, Atom Egoyan, Guy Maddin, and, of course, spiritual heir John Waters; Egoyan offers the best anecdote as he reads a characteristically effusive letter written by George during one of his Weather Diary excursions). The single flaw of It Came From Kuchar is imbalance: George receives greater in-depth analysis than Mike in regard to the Catholic-guilt and "pre-adolescent" roots of his fetishes, while one of his San Francisco Art Institute film class productions (The Fury of Frau Frankenstein) threads through the film at the expense of information about slightly overshadowed Mike's recent life and work. Still, as filmmaker documentaries go Kroot's entry is tops, just as passionate, dedicated, and disarmingly endearing as the Kuchars and their films.
April 9-15 at Anthology Film Archives