Thursday, September 8, 2011

R.I.P.: George Kuchar

George Kuchar
August 31, 1942 – September 6, 2011

One half of a set of twins, George and his brother Mike Kuchar shared a wonderfully warped aesthetic that they carried through film and art projects since the mid-1960s, when they first began gaining attention for their 8mm films in the underground film scene of NYC. Their early joint productions featured melodramatic flashes and campy narrative that that had more to do with Douglas Sirk than, say, Jonas Mekas or the initial exercises in visual boredom practiced by Andy Warhol. The campy B-movie aesthetic he favored influenced numerous directors who went on to achieve much greater mainstream fame, most notably John Waters, who was inspired by Kuchar's lowbrow productions to make his own. (Simply said, without Kuchar, there would be no – amongst other great films – Pink Flamingos [1972 / trailer] and no Desperate Living [1977 / trailer] – and the world would be a poorer place for it).
He and his brother made films both together and individually, but when George lost his commercial art job in 1971, he left NYC for a teaching post at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he remained until his death from prostate cancer on September 6th, 2011. An excellent draughtsman and painter, in San Francisco, George also got involved in the underground comix scene of the 70s. (His brother Mike is likewise an excellent artist, but his graphic output has remained decidedly homoerotic and tends to feature a notable obsession for bearded, muscular men with pacifier-like nipples, long foreskins and massive tools.)
In all truth, here at A Wasted Life we appreciate George Kuchar the filmmaker more for his influence than for most of the 200-plus films that he made over the course of his life. His production after leaving Manhattan tends, for us, to be too arty, banal, unstructured and full of the production itself to enjoy – see I, An Actress for clarification of what is meant. Be what it may, we will forever put him upon a pedestal, for without him there would surely never have been a John Waters, a David Lynch or a Guy Maden – not to mention two of my favorite underground films from the 70s, Thundercrack! and Screamplay, with which he took part.
George Kuchar, R.I.P. – and thank you for helping to enrich the world. Below, for your viewing pleasure, is a selection of his short films as well as short films from others and trailers to films he was involved in.

The Sins of the Fleshapoids
(1965, dir. Mike Kuchar)

Although directed by his brother Mike, George worked on the screenplay (uncredited) and also acted in this film, which, along with George's Hold Me While I'm Naked, is probably one of the most influential films of its time, helping to inspire untold numbers to make weird films themselves (see the John Waters quote at the end of this trailer, which I assume to be fan made.)

Hold Me While I'm Naked
(1966, dir. George Kuchar)

According to senses of cinema, "A film that has come to stand as one of camp's defining texts." The short tells the tale of an independent filmmaker frustrated in his attempts to make art. Shooting Down Pictures says: "This movie is just too good, too poignant, and often too painful to be applauded merely as being a jokey, campy satire on Hollywood aspirations and aesthetics."
Full short film:

Eclipse of the Sun Virgin
(1967, dir. George Kuchar)

Worldwide Celluloid Massacre says: "A more extreme and confusing short by the Kuchars with a seemingly LSD-inspired hodgepodge of images and symbols: Classical music, romantic love, self-love and narcissism vs. Catholic guilt and penance, fat women and pictures of mammoths, bodily functions, and gory footage of some surgery. What it all adds up to is anybody's guess."
Full short film:

The Craven Sluck
(1967, dir. Mike Kuchar)

More soap opera camp, this proto-John-Waters B&W short was directed and written by George's brother Mike. The plot, as explained by DVD Talks: "A bored housewife decides to kill herself. When the suicide attempt fails, she goes cruising for a new lover. She finds a young hipster in the park and they make plans for a rendezvous. But it appears elements both metaphysical and interplanetary are conspiring to keep her unhappy." Other key players in the film are Bob Cowan (in drag) and Florain Connors (from whom Divine stole her look) and George Kuchar's haircut.
Full short film:

Pagan Rhapsody
(1970, dir. George Kuchar)

Starring Jane Elford, Lloyd Williams, Bob Cowan. With Donna Kerness, Brad Bell, John Collyer, Dave Somerset, Janine Soderhjelm, Phillip Weiner. Comments made in the film: "Since this was Jane and Lloyd's first big acting roles, I made the music very loud so it would sweep them to stardom. [...] Donna Kerness was pregnant during her scenes but her stomach was kept pretty much in shadow and it's not noticeable. My stomach was the same as always except it contained more mocha cake than usual since that type of cake was usually around when I filmed in Brooklyn Heights. [...] Being that the picture was made in the winter, there are no outdoor scenes because it's too cold and when the characters have to suddenly flee a tense situation, it's too time consuming to have them put on a coat and gloves."
Full short film:

(1975, dir. Curt McDowell)

George Kuchar not only supplied the decidedly weird screenplay to Curt McDowell's 1975 B&W underground classic Thundercrack!, he also tackled the part of Bing, a man with a deep, unquenched love for an ape. Anyone who likes John Waters and silent films – or simply has a taste for strange films – will love this decidedly unique cinematic experience, providing they have nothing against naturally hairy bodies conducting hardcore pansexual actions. The closing scene is even riffed on in Planet Terror (2007 / trailer), in the scene where Quentin Tarantino's weenie begins to drag on the floor. An on-the-mark review of the film, which we had the pleasure of seeing in LA decades ago, can be found here at Shock Cinema. Cinema of the World has the following to say about this masterpiece of subversive cinema: "Thundercrack! is [...] subverts not only the entire 'grammar' of film, but an endless succession of Hollywood images, situations and clichés in the process. It even manages to satirize pornography; no mean feat when such images still retain their power to shock and unsettle some people! Using the familiar 'lonely-house on a storm-swept night acting as a safe haven for lost and confused travelers' scenario, (some chance!!), it explores the manners and mores of 'normal' society with such wicked wit that only the most puritanical would not be capable of responding. [The] entire cast and, it appears, crew, throw themselves into the venture without inhibition or qualm, and the result is Hollywood turned on its head, and all those previously 'hidden' and subliminal subplots exposed for what they really are. For broad-minded adults, a most amusing and entertaining tonic, showing perhaps, that even sex should not be taken TOO seriously."
Edited opening from Thundercrack!:

The Devil's Cleavage
(1975, dir. George Kuchar)

The same year that he participated in Thundercrack!, George directed his own feature-length underground film – featuring Curt McDowell, the director of Thundercrack!, in one of the main roles. Of the film, the LA Times said: "Throughout, Kuchar displays a kind of genius at making fun of the overblown cliches and distended figures of speech in old Hollywood dialogue." Rarely screened and rarely seen, it is distributed by Canyon Cinema of San Francisco, who quote Chuck Kleinhans: "... Douglas Sirk tells us, 'Cinema is blood, tears, violence, hate, death, and love.' Kuchar reminds us that cinema, like life, is also bedpans, earwax, sleazy fantasy, ineptness, compromise, and laughter." A few odd scenes can be found on the web, but no trailer. We've chosen the following one for no other reason than that it features one of A Wasted Life's favorite singers on the soundtrack.
Scene form The Devil's Cleavage w/Mrs Miller singing:

I, An Actress
dir. George Kuchar)
Watch George teach at SFAI.
Full short film:

Wild Night in El Reno
dir. George Kuchar)
An oddly mesmerizing interplay of images, sound and song.
Full short film:

The Mongreloid
(1978, dir. George Kuchar)

A man and his dog.
Full short film:

The Cage of Nicholas
(1992, dir. George Kuchar)

Starring Christopher Coppola – ever hear of him? – and his dog Scout, George Kuchar's 1992 short film was shot at Nicholas Cage's place. (Christopher Coppola, for those of you who don't know it, is Nicholas Cage's B-movie brother.)
Full (short) film:

Music video to Solstice
OK, this isn't a film, it's a music video... but ain't it cute? Music and lyrics by Andy Ditzler, video directed by George Kuchar.
(1985, written & directed & starring Rufus Butler Seder)
"Dear Mr. Weiner, Just a quick note to tell you that the killer is approaching me from behind and, by the time you read this I may very well be dead. It's all because of my screenplay! I'll try to explain as quickly as possible. It all started a short time ago when I first arrived here in... Hollywood."
Edgar Allen Poe (Rufus Butler Seder)

Rufus Butler Seder made only one feature-length film to date, this one, and what a film it is! God only knows why he has never made another on – probably because he makes more money marketing optical illusions (see his wares at his website, Like Thundercrack!, Screamplay is a definite underground production – but though it shares some of the aesthetics, it lacks the hardcore sex. Though bought up and released by Troma, this creative B&W flick is anything but a Troma film. As puts it, "Screamplay is possibly the best Troma movie you've never heard of." If you liked Thundercrack! or Forbidden Zone (1982 / trailer), then this film is for you!
Screamplay trailer:

Tomorrow Always Comes
(2006, dir. Jacob Burckhardt & Royston Scott)

Never seen the film, but we like the trailer. Kuchar appears brefily in the film as "Desk Clerk # 1". The full plot can be found at the film's website. Our edit: "It’s late in the 1940's, and New York City is full of shady characters – none shadier than Spade Slade, the dubious black private dick. [...] Blonde and beautiful Vivian Conners Jr. visits his office and asks him to find her mysteriously disappeared husband, the wealthy Basil Conners Jr. [...] Then Slade’s secretary is murdered, bitten by an exotic snake. Slade’s quest now takes him to a murky smoke filled shop in Chinatown, and then to the Rich Millionaire’s Club where he watches leggy chorines and suavely pumps the vivacious cigarette girl Rhonda Fonda for information. After trading punches, flirtations, and threats with a variety of hotel clerks, Slade finally discovers Basil's vermin infested room and the clue to his secret plan. [...] A shipboard slugfest and a blazing shootout in the engine room, dark secrets and cheap plot twists all lead our 'second rung nobody of a private eye' to the solution of another case, the reward money, and a roller coaster ride into the sunset with his best girl Rhonda Fonda."

Megaopolis 3000
There is no film to Megaopolis 3000, and there probably never will be. According to PIX Productions: "This entertaining project highlights the unique combination of art and video production exhibits Zeum provides to the San Francisco community. We created this promotional video-on-demand mock sci-fi 'B' movie trailer with artists-in-residence Spike and Jeff, the Zeum staff and Zeum's young visitors." George Kuchar makes an appearance in it, too. Who knows from what year this thing is.
Megaopolis 3000 (the Trailer):

It Came From Kuchar
(2009, dir. Jennifer M. Kroot)
Jennifer M. Kroot, a former student at the San Francisco Art Institute, made a documentary about her mentor and his brother in 2009. Bad Lit says: "The film is a treat for both Kuchar fans and novices alike." We haven't seen it yet, but would like to – it looks as as if it could be as good as Terry Zwigoff's Crumb (1994 / trailer).
It Came From Kuchar – Official Trailer:

(PS: For a few other Kuchar films not presented above – as well as many that are – go here to Ubuweb.)

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