Review: It Came From Kuchar
Gleefully piles on everything anyone could want in a docu on the fabulous Kuchar brothers.
“It Came From Kuchar” gleefully piles on everything anyone could want in a docu on the fabulous Kuchar brothers, whose deliriously campy zero-budget mellers — with titles like “Hold Me While I’m Naked” or “Sins of the Fleshapoids” — enlivened many otherwise somber evenings of ’60s underground cinema. Critics and aficionados seek to distill the essence of the twins’ work, while clips from the films in question unspool in a fever dream of compelling non sequiturs. Meanwhile, George and Mike Kuchar themselves hold forth unstoppably. A must-see for filmmakers of all persuasions, Jennifer M. Kroot’s docu could spark accompanying retros.
A present-day George Kuchar collaborates with his students from the San Francisco Art Institute as they wrap the latest Kuchar extravaganza, “The Fury of Frau Frankenstein,” starring a huge, purple plastic spider and septuagenarian Kuchar regular Linda Martinez (sans panties).
The chronicling of this work-in-progress is intercut with entertainingly scattershot interview snippets. The Kuchars speak about their upbringing in the Bronx, their love for Hollywood melodrama and their joint arrival on the New York underground film scene; cartoonist Bill Griffith (who admits his “Zippy the Pinhead” was based in part on George) expounds on George’s comicbook artwork at Arcade, where he worked alongside R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman; Mike Kuchar discusses his trip to Nepal and his graphic erotic comics; several Kuchar “stars” such as Bob Cowan and Donna Kerness poignantly reminisce; and a host of appreciative filmmakers offer bemused encomiums.
It is hardly surprising that early exposure to Kuchar films fueled the lurid reveries of Guy Maddin and the high kitsch of John Waters. But who ever would have imagined that the Americanization of Wayne Wang could be attributed to “Thundercrack,” a legendary collaboration between George and his late lover, helmer Curt McDowell, a work described by Buck Henry as “a wonderfully foul and degrading film?”
Kroot crams a true cornucopia of excerpts from the prolific brothers’ output, sampling everything from their early 8mm films of the ’50s and ’60s such as “A Town Called Tempest” and 16mm classics like “The Corruption of the Damned,” to George’s more recent, video-shot “Weather Diaries,” complete with impromptu commentary by Atom Egoyan.
Also analyzed is the bifurcation of the Kuchar vision, Mike’s films becoming more ethereally haunting as George’s plunge headlong into further fleshbound oddities.
Kroot’s unlimited access to the entire Kuchar canon allows her to visually connect specific scenes with interviewees’ anecdotes, and even to match particular Kuchar images to clips from the Technicolor soap operas that spawned them. In one instance, the pic cuts from a slip-clad Elizabeth Taylor in “Butterfield 8” to an identically dressed, albeit grotesquely made-up and very differently endowed femme fatale in George’s “The Devil’s Cleavage.”
Kroot’s film itself is a throwback to the good old days before skyrocketing rights costs waylaid numerous docus on actors, directors and cinematographers. With so much Kuchariana so sumptuously spread out, viewers can experience first-hand the strong sense of composition and tweaks to classical editing that gave the brothers’ tortured grotesques such undeniable pathos.