In the 1990s, Jennifer Kroot was a student of the underground film legend George Kuchar at the San Francisco Art Institute and later performed in several of his films. Kroot’s documentary on the influential Kuchar brothers, It Came from Kuchar, will play at the Walker Art Center on February 11 and at Anthology Films Archives April 9–15.
I LIKE SUPERTHEATRICAL THINGS, which is one of the reasons I enjoy films by the Kuchars. There’s an ambiguous overlap in their works where theatricality becomes camp. People often dismiss camp as a melodramatic aesthetic and associate it with gay culture. But I think camp is more inclusive. It can be political and meaningful.
Mike always proudly admits his films are campy, but some of them are strangely campy and serious. He often uses a mythological style we associate with science fiction. His movies are video portraits of “glamorous men,” so he usually has a muse––an actor or model or someone he has met––whom he puts in theatrical scenes. They’re not narrative, but more experimental. That’s the “genre” he works with.
George makes movies with his classes that are unapologetically campy and that star his students and the septuagenarian diva Linda Martinez doing insane things with really low-budget, theatrical sets. George might feature a man in drag, but there’s usually something deep behind it. That actor is expressing human fears or inadequacies, and it’s something that you can sense is coming from an authentic place but is expressed in a theatrical manner. George also makes video diaries, which basically depict him going to different events or outings with friends. There’s something very warm and funny but edgy about them.
The Kuchars have also inspired different types of camp. John Waters and Guy Maddin are good examples of campy filmmakers affected by the Kuchars. The funny thing about George and Mike is that people just assume that they will love any given “campy” new movie, but several times I’ve asked them whether they liked a new film and they will say, “Oh, no. It’s too campy.” This happens again and again. For example, there was a new movie recently that had a drag queen as the star, and for some reason when I asked them to see the movie with me they were like, “That’s just camp with a drag queen.”
Although sometimes the word camp in used a derogatory manner, I think it’s interesting that George and Mike use it to explore deep issues. Things that trouble the Kuchars are offered under the veil of camp, and viewers can watch it without it being such a heavy thing. When I think about their films, I think about the humanity that comes through despite the work’s extreme silliness. There is honesty, but Mike and George are different in the way they express it. And even though someone may see their films and think, “This is just campy,” if you sit with it for a minute you realize it is campy but also so much more.
— As told to John Arthur Peetz