It Came From Kuchar is an appropriately B-movie titled documentary about the legendary underground film-making Kuchar twins; appropriate, not because of any incompetence on Director Jennifer M. Kroot’s part, but because of the nature of the Kuchar archive.
Certain phrases like ‘B-movie’ and ‘underground’ may also explain why I had never heard of these so-called legends. However, whilst over-confidently scanning through the ‘Gay and Lesbian Film Festival’ booklet sent to me through my BFI membership, I came across the description of this film:
Known in the 1960s as the “8mm Mozarts”, the Kuchars rose to fame in the American underground movement with their unique brand of campy no-budget films they created as Bronx teenagers. Their films such as Hold Me While I’m Naked and Sins Of The Fleshapoids – filled with alien abduction, seedy Hollywood glamour, robots and toilet humour – influenced an entire generation of filmmakers. Pushing beyond their better-known thrills and spills of yesteryear, this immensely entertaining film illuminates their singular life story and what keeps them making brilliantly insane pictures yet today. An all-star lineup of commentators includes John Waters, Atom Egoyan, Guy Maddin, Gerard Mangala and B. Ruby Rich. You’ll be sure to leave the cinema with a renewed love of film and an appreciation of the Kuchars’ generous, kooky spirits. ~ Kyle Stephan
Now, I’m about to finish a degree in ‘arts and new media’ that I accidentally enrolled in on the way to becoming Quentin Spielberg, so the idea of witnessing the unhinged and unrelenting creativity of two 55 year old men sounded like a refreshing escape from the stagnant cesspool of groovy young go-getters that I’m used to being a part of. And, by goodness, I was right.
Immediately (and not just because I was slightly late to the cinema), the film hits you with what it’s all about – the fun of making films. Not films, in fact, but movies with the capital M of glamour, sleaze, cheese and freaky melodrama that comes with being born out of the iconic USA of the 1950s. If, at that time, Hollywood’s films were the reflection of such an era, then the Kuchars’ films were a reflection of that reflection, a parody that revealed the hilariously tacky, unwholesome and farcical absurdity that Hollywood tried to deny.
But I’m getting ahead of myself – the film begins with George Kuchar, who will continue in such a vain as the film’s main source of entertainment, directing/shooting/lighting (there is no lighting) a handsome young hero defending a group of women – who seem more interested in ripping his shirt off – from a big, green, inflatable spider. We are on the roof of the college where George teaches (yes, teaches), and the quality of images we imagine George getting with his little high-street camcorder makes Kroot’s documentation feel like Lawrence Of Arabia.
So, I guess at this very early point, and particularly if the Evil Dead trilogy hasn’t yet left you an appreciator of purposefully crappy cinema, you might wonder whether the Kuchars are just a bit too shit to enjoy. Luckily, and not least because Kroot’s keen and playful story-telling mirrors the infectiousness of the Kuchars’ own, this documentary briskly mingles through the conventions of the bio-doc, leaving no time for such initial reservations to incubate.
Having begun at the present, we get the birth, adolescence, back-story and maturity of the Kuchars’ parallel careers before returning to the present for a nice feeling of roundedness. Kroot is blessed, of course, with undeniably endearing and funny subjects, with equally interesting heads who are more than willing to talk about them, and more brilliant, obscene and entertaining archival Kuchar stock than you can juxtapose a stick at; but all of this would all be wasted on a bad director.
I’ve read that Kroot was mentored by George Kucher at the San Francisco Art Institute and perhaps this explains why a subject so ripe for the ‘funny bio-doc’ treatment hasn’t been exploited until now. As we see ever more towards the end of the documentary, through his teaching role George Kuchar is clearly dedicated to infecting young film-makers with his envious enthusiasm but, aside from his career, he seems an ideal candidate for the title of slightly crazy, slightly unapproachable, hoarding, aging bachelor.
This is perhaps an unfair characterization, re-enforced, however, by quieter, no-eye-contact-making brother Mike, who has shared the impenetrably cluttered Kuchar flat for the last sixteen years. Therefore, Kroot’s unique position as pupil, friend and film-maker has perhaps not only opened the brothers to the prospect of this documentary, but also opened them enough to make the documentary worth making, to let the audience into the Kuchar world.
Fortunately, the subjectivity of Kroot’s position has not dampened her willingness to manipulate her subject into the refreshing, punchy and actually rather interesting film I hoped it would be, and for the second time in a month – the first being Anvil! The Story of Anvil (reviewed here)– I have been left feeling strangely inspired, not only by the unquenchable dedication of forgotten old dogs, but by the understanding depiction of them by talented new film-makers.
This film isn’t earth-shattering, but it needn’t be. Like the playfulness of the films it discusses, it upholds a surprisingly rare acceptance of its own un-earth-shattering existence. I am talking now, again, as an official student of film. The most prominent feelings I took away from this film were of weightlessness and envy.
Weightlessness because it made me feel that if these crazy old guys have enjoyed (enjoyed!) making films for no money since the impractical days of celluloid necessity (five in fifteen weeks, is their estimated capability), then why can’t I do the same and more in digital? Envy because, despite my reservations at the beginning of the film, by the end I wanted nothing more than to be under George Kuchar’s wing, making films for the sake of making and watching them, learning through the fun of trying and failing instead of sitting in utterly useless little groups of washed up artists and academics, discussing all the reasons why what I should just get up and do isn’t worth doing at all.
So, for easy filmgoers, this will entertain you. For studiers of film, this will entertain and interest you. For film-makers, this is essential.