The Kuchar brothers have been a staple of cult filmmaking for years, and their influence spreads wider than you’d think.
Dir. Jennifer M. Kroot, 2009, 86 min
There’s a whole weird and wonderful world of movies that lurks beneath the mainstream that we all know and love. It’s a world of low budgets, half-thought-out or nonexistent scripts, bad acting, and misplaced visions. It’s a world inhabited by the spiritual children of Ed Wood. It’s the place where filmmaking is most purely a labor of love, because there is no thanks from any quarter for the moviemaker’s efforts. And in a way, that makes their films rather beautiful. I mean, still terrible, but, you know, beautiful.
The Kuchar brothers lived that world for almost half a century. Twins George and Mike grew up loving movies, closely watching Douglas Sirk melodramas and paying attention to how they were put together. They started making their own films at a young age, and kept at it despite a complete lack of anything resembling artistic coherency. They never moved past the things students generally work out of themselves in film school, such as stories that only make sense in the director’s head.
And yet It Came from Kuchar is not about mocking these two. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was made by a former student of George’s (he was a professor at the San Francisco Art Institute for forty years), and this is a celebration of their lives and work. The Kuchar’s made hundreds of movies over the course of their careers, and they influenced many more mainstream filmmakers, including John Waters, Guy Maddin, and Wayne Wang. Okay, I’m going for a comparative definition of “mainstream,” but if you’re at all familiar with those directors, you can see the inspirations in the clips of the Kuchar’s movies.
The doc goes for a serious dissection of the Kuchar’s work. And this is no mean feat, considering that their films have titles like Sins of the Fleshapoids. But they went through honest-to-god artistic evolutions as they progressed, often mirroring the wider movements in films of the time. When porn got big, they started putting porn in their movies. When handheld cameras became all the rage, George would document himself more and more. They might have steadfastly refused to ever approach “legitimate” film business, but they were cinematic artists nonetheless.
It Came from Kuchar is a sweet, affectionate tribute to men who made not-so-sweet films. It verges on hagiographic at times, but this movie is about their work, not their complex inner lives. It’s a great example of the derring-do of the no-budget, cult filmmaker, and the wonderful-awful movies that spring forth from the fevered id of people uninhibited by convention or studio constraint. It’s perfectly appropriate that George Kuchar spent so long as a professor, working with film students, because that anything-is-possible mindset is one he never left behind. We could learn a thing or two from that.