An Interview with Mike Kuchar: A Pioneer of Queer Cinema
Published by Wes Hurley
I met Mike Kuchar at Ben DeLaCreme’s house. “They’re making breakfast, but no bacon – I love bacon,” Mike Kuchar told me nervously before we began our interview. I put him in front of the foresty photo wallpaper because it made me think of his films. Later that day, Three Dollar Bill Cinema was screening Kuchar Brothers’ movies at the Northwest Film Forum. Kuchar sat in the front row and provided a live commentary, sharing with us behind the scenes anecdotes and inspirations responsible for titles such as “Hold Me While I’m Naked” and “I Was a Teenage Rumpot”. His narration was, just as his and his brother’s films, brilliant, heart-breaking, unassuming and, perhaps, unintentionally hilarious. The Kuchar Brothers’ gorilla style grandeur earned them a special place among America’s underground and experimental filmmakers along with Warhol, Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage. Their films have been cited as an influence on John Waters and Guy Maddin. Yet it took Jennifer Kroot’s delightful documentary “It Came From Kuchar” to introduce their work to the general public. The doc, which features interviews with Mike and George Kuchar, as well as their famous admirers, premiered at SXSW and screened at Outfest, Frameline and here at SIFF.
There’s a child-like, frenetic sense of wonder to the Kuchars’ early films. Their deep passion for cinema is palpable in every scene, in every glittery costume, in every hand-painted set and in the way the camera makes love to all the oddball performers who had the honor of reenacting Kuchars’ fanciful queer fantasies. Kuchar often speaks of being in love with his actors – the act of putting them in his films is a way to “own” them, to be with them, to construct an escape world in his image where anything is possible.
But filmmaking wasn’t Mike Kuchar’s only talent. He was at the forefront of the underground comics movement and his works, often explicit and very gay, shared publications with R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman. These drawings have recently been rediscovered, making rounds at galleries around the world. The attention to Kuchar’s visual arts is much overdue, as his style is unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Back at the NWFF, a piercing sadness comes over me, as Mike Kuchar speaks about losing his twin brother, livelong collaborator and, in many senses, a soul mate, George Kuchar who passed away in September of 2011. He compares getting older and saying goodbye to the people you love to living on a small and very lonely island that keeps on shrinking. His pain is apparent but there’s no self-pity or emotional exhibitionism in this revelation. Like everything else that comes out of Mike Kuchar’s mouth, it’s just a simple observation.