Kucharmania!

Frameline 2009: It Came from Kuchar is a splash of foam within a whirling cinematic cesspool
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johnny@sfbg.com

PREVIEW I was going to review It Came from Kuchar, Jennifer Kroot's documentary about George and Mike Kuchar, but a combination of exhaustion, absent-mindedness, and deep innate logic got the best of me. Instead of writing a straightforward appraisal of a movie about two filmmakers who are anything but straight, I've decided to pay tribute to a pair of brothers whose filmography and videography is longer and larger and (sorry!) more freely imaginative than all of the pictures in this year's Frameline festival put together.

For sure, there is an irony at the heart of Kroot's dedicated endeavor, just as there was one at the core of Mary Jordan's equally appreciative Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis (2006). Underground filmmaking as preached and practiced by Smith and the Kuchars is too wild to be summarized by a stadium of talking heads, let alone condensed into one of 21st century cinema's most common manias, the feature-length documentary portrait. In 1997, when George and Mike published the midlife autobiography Reflections From a Cinematic Cesspool (Zanja Press, 182 pages, $19.95), they'd already created at least 300 films and videos. Just as Smith's unfinished projects tease and outright mock any neat categorization or traditional definition of art work, how could a single film or commentator do justice to the myriad lovely warts and hidden undersides of such a gargantuan filmography? Most likely, Kroot has fashioned an introduction, so I will try to as well, using words instead of a camera.

If you're a movie-lover in San Francisco, you have some Kuchar memories, and maybe even some bonds forged partly through an admiration of George and Mike Kuchar. I remember planning to wear an ape suit to a Roxie Cinema screening of Curt McDowell's Thundercrack!, which is scripted by George. I remember how one friend's private screening of George's Color Me Shameless (1967) helped jostle me out of a deep depression rooted in embarrassment about past shameless behavior. However silly they might seem on the surface, many Kuchar movies tap into truths about life, and for that I'm thankful.

Another vital aspect of cinema Kuchar is its continued influence on contemporary San Francisco creativity. Kroot's movie spotlights the Kuchars' influence on cult icons and iconographers such as John Waters, Bill Griffith, and Guy Maddin. But name a local moviemaker you like, and that person is probably a Kuchar devotee, or even — like Kroot — a former student from one of George's San Francisco Art Institute classes. When I enjoy a movie by Sam Green, David Enos, Martha Colburn, or the late, great (and currently resurgent) McDowell, I sense the spirit and essence of Kuchar. When I take note of Sarah Enid's behind-the-camera direction and before-the-camera emotion, I see a Kuchar heroine beginning to tell her own story. Meanwhile, George keeps making whirwlind star-wipe video diaries and cooking up scripted genre goulashes that possess a singularly strange flavor. A couple of months ago, someone near and dear enthusiastically showed me a recent paradisical movie by Mike, and I was blown away by the potent high it derived from the beauty of its male lead actor. Secondhand smoke? Yes please.

It Came From Kuchar is an apt title not just because George and Mike Kuchar take their inspiration from B-movies, but because something about the Kuchar brothers as a phenomenon is not of this world — so of the world as to be almost too good for it. It came from outer space, and it came from beneath the sea, but not until it came — goopily — from the creative intestines and pleasure centers of George and Mike Kuchar did cinema truly phone home.

IT CAME FROM KUCHAR

Sun/21, 6:30 p.m., Castro

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