Tuesday, May 5, 2009

SXSW 2009: It Came from Kuchar

It's Tuesday. Some time in late morning/early afternoon. Last week of SXSW 2009. I've just finished a morning shift that got me out of bed around 7am, hungover, running on about 3 hours of sleep. I've been up and down the six flights of stairs at the Paramount 7 or 8 times today. I'm sweaty. My joints and muscles ache. I haven't showered yet. I want nothing more than to pass out somewhere, but I've already paid for a full day in a Brazos garage, and there's stuff I want to see later tonight...so I walk to the nearest showing: the Alamo Ritz. The film? "It Came from Kuchar". Sure, why not...as long as I can eat something, drink a glass of water, and go to sleep where nobody will bother me.

But then something awful happens. Really, really awful.

I can't sleep. Not because of insomnia, not because my stomach's upset from the chicken strip basket I just wolfed down...I'm just too intrigued by the image in front of me to close my eyes: an elderly Jewish man with a thick New York Accent, lying on his back with a camcorder, videotaping several college-age film students as they help guide the movements of a giant inflatable spider. It's attacking an elderly woman in grotesque drag-queen like makeup and a glittery bodystocking.


Welcome to the world of George and Mike Kuchar, America's forgotten underground filmmakers. If you're furrowing your brow in panic, don't worry, I had never heard of them either. Trained as commercial artists in New York in the middle of the 20th century, the Kuchar Brothers (twins!) amused themselves by toying around with 8mm film. Their stuff was of Ed Wood-like notoriety: non-actors, the opposite of a budget, and plots so atrocious they could only be done justice with titles like "The Wet Destruction of the Atlantic Empire", "Pussy On A Hot Tin Roof", and "I Was A Teenage Rumpot". It soon became apparent that these little side projects were what the Kuchars really loved to create, and it wasn't long before they became part of the burgeoning NYC underground film scene, along with guys like Kenneth Anger and Andy Warhol.

"It Came From Kuchar" follows the lives of the two oddball filmmaking twins from childhood all the way to the present day: both are old men, and continue to add to their enormous body of work. George is a professor at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he produces work with the help of many grateful students and whoever else wants in. Mike also lives in San Francisco, working mostly solo these days.

Without going into too much detail, much of the Kuchars work is bizarre, disturbing, and grotesque...so it should come as no surprise that a number of influential "underground culture" celebrities have flocked to the brothers and their films, John Waters and (comic book artist) Robert Crumb, most notably.

It's hard to say if "It Came From Kuchar" succeeds as a documentary. It's long-winded, loosely structured, and repetitive...but damn if it didn't make at least one other person know the names of George and Mike Kuchar: two guys from New York who loved to make movies for the sake of making movies, and weren't about to (and still haven't) let anything stop them.

PS: To date, George and Mike have written and directed over 250 films.

1 comment:

  1. Elderly jewish man? What documentary did you watch? The Kuchars come from a catholic polish family and the influence the religion had on their upbringing is discussed in the documentary as well as in other films George has made.