BY PAUL VITELLO
George Kuchar, a filmmaker whose campy yet ardent low-budget movies inspired underground directors like John Waters and David Lynch in the 1960s, and helped kindle the do-it-yourself moviemaking aesthetic now ubiquitous on YouTube, died on Tuesday in San Francisco. He was 69.
The cause was prostate cancer, his twin brother, Mike, said.
Mr. Kuchar and his brother started making films together as boys, using the eight-millimeter camera they received for their 12th birthday, props from their family’s apartment, and actors enlisted among friends and neighbors in the Bronx.
George and Mike Kuchar (pronounced KOO-char) began receiving attention in the underground film world in the early ’60s with sardonic sendups like “I Was a Teenage Rumpot,” “Night of the Bomb” and “Lust for Ecstasy.” The films spoofed the Hollywood schlock the brothers devoured during weekend marathons at the local movie house, where they essentially grew up, while conveying what The New York Times, in a 1983 retrospective, called “a compassionate sense of the human condition, especially of loneliness.”
As the two developed individual styles, George Kuchar directed the 1966 film short “Hold Me While I’m Naked,” a semi-autobiographical rumination on the frustrations of a maker of soft-core pornographic films. Many movie scholars consider it one of camp’s defining texts. Along with his “Weather Diaries,” a series of films he made on annual visits to a trailer park in Oklahoma during tornado season, it is his best-known work.
Mr. Kuchar’s ability to make movies on a shoestring during a prolific career in which he sometimes made two or three films a year for the art-house circuit was a point of pride for him, and an inspiration to several generations of young filmmakers.
“He was a liberator,” said P. Adams Sitney, a founder of Anthology Film Archives in the East Village, a nonprofit organization that collects and preserves experimental films. “He showed you how to make a film for absolutely nothing, using your friends and your ingenuity. His influence is incalculable — the whole world of YouTube is where you see it. He was a guy who just wanted to keep making films. I don’t think he even wanted to be ‘discovered’ by Hollywood.”
Mr. Waters, who crossed over from cult to mainstream with his 1988 movie “Hairspray,” said in an interview on Wednesday that the Kuchar brothers were “the people who made me want to make movies.”
“They were the first ‘experimental’ filmmakers I ever read about when I was 15,” he added. “They were giants. They inspired four to five generations of militantly eccentric art fans. To me they were the Warner Brothers of the underground.”
George Andrew Kuchar was born in Manhattan on Aug. 31, 1942 (an hour after his brother), and grew up in the Bronx. His father, also George, was a truck driver whose taste for pornographic films triggered an initial interest in what the younger George called “the sordidness of adults” and the power of film to “suddenly make it so alive.”
Their mother, Stella, bought the brothers their camera.
After graduating from the School of Industrial Art (now the High School of Art and Design) in Manhattan, Mr. Kuchar worked briefly drawing weather maps for the New York television meteorologist Dr. Frank Field; then tried drawing comics. He settled on being a full-time filmmaker after The Village Voice and The New York Herald Tribune wrote glowing articles about some of his early work. (A reviewer in Newsweek called the brothers “the holy innocents of the underground.”)
In 1971 he was invited to teach filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he remained on the faculty until his illness forced him to stop work this year. Teaching provided him with not only a steady income but also hundreds of amateur actors — his students — willing to be cast in some of his later movies, including “Carnal Bipeds” (1973), “I Married a Heathen” (1974) and “I, an Actress” (1977).
Mr. Kuchar, whose speaking voice never left the Bronx, was always prosaic in describing his work. In the many documentaries and print interviews that quote him, he almost never uses the term avant-garde. He is more likely to brag about how little money he spent making a film, or to compare the costs of using film and videotape, than to articulate his theory of film.
“Normally, I don’t have much of a personal life,” he said in one taped interview, answering a question about why he made movies. “Making a movie is very personal. You get to interact with people. It’s like a party. You make a party and then you’re home alone for a long time. You edit it, and put it together and then you go — and another party happens when you show the rushes. So it helps your social life.”
In an interview videotaped in 2009, however, he probably came as close as he ever would to explaining his motives as a filmmaker: “Makin’ movies, see, sometimes you see a very beautiful person. And the first thing that comes to my mind is, I want to make a movie of that person. ’Cause I like puttin’ gauzes — ah, cheap, black cloth on the lens with a rubber band — and creating these, what look like 1940s movies, or movies of a beautiful Hollywood style, and blowing these people up bigger than life and making them into gods and goddesses. And I think in the movies that’s a wonderful way of pushing them on the public, and infusing the public with great objects of desire, and dreams, and things of great beauty.”
He added, after a long pause, “Living human beings of beauty.”