A new series at Arts + Literature Lab presents videos of George Kuchar
BY CRAIG JOHNSON
Mills Folly Microcinema, Madison’s newest experimental film showcase, is taking a trip down the personal rabbit hole of a very naughty rabbit with Melodrama/Melodiary: Three Videos by George Kuchar.
Kuchar was active in the experimental film scene for more than five decades until his death in 2011. A compulsive artist, he made roughly 250 films, many of them “diaries” of his day-to-day life. Campy, raunchy and arguably vile, he was a hero to none other than the Pope of Trash himself, director John Waters. In an introduction to a memoir written by Kuchar and his twin brother, Mike, Waters describes the brothers as his “first inspiration … a bigger inspiration than Warhol, Kenneth Anger, even The Wizard of Oz.”
James Kreul, founder and curator of Mills Folly Microcinema (and an Isthmus contributor), was also inspired by Kuchar, whom he met while attending UW-Madison. “Meeting George was a transformative moment for me, and began my journey exploring experimental film and video art,” says Kreul.
Kreul says some people might be attracted to Kuchar’s brand of hyper-subversive humor while others might be put off by the artist’s flagrant perversion.
The three films featured in Melodrama/Melodiary are a sampling of Kuchar’s output from the late 1980s.
Weather Diary 3 (1988) chronicles the days Kuchar spent languishing in a drab Oklahoma motel, hoping to see a tornado. It’s a brief and — shall we say, frank? — play-by-play of a weekend spent mostly alone, far away from home. [Leave the kids at home: This video contains scenes of urination and masturbation.] For a zero-budget film, WD3 is remarkable in how well it captures the hot weather and the passage of time. It unspools like a memory, narrated in the snarky mutterings of a sweaty, isolated man.
500 Millibars to Ecstasy was filmed at UW-Madison in 1989. Its protagonist is Mike Kuetemeyer, a young meteorology and communication arts student at the UW, who also appeared in Weather Diary 3. The third selection, Calling Dr. Petrov (1986), is an example of Kuchar’s narrative work: a melodramatic tale of a vice-ridden hospital.
Kreul wants the Mills Folly screenings to inspire artists. “It’s been very gratifying to have early audience members respond to invitations to create or contribute their own work,” he says. Eat Drink and Be Merry, a short by local filmmaker Jeung Bok Holmquist, will also be featured at the screening.