Saying good-bye to George Kuchar | Bleader

Saying good-bye to George Kuchar

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Kuchar in 2008
  • Kuchar in 2008
As the short video Hot Spell (which plays tonight at the Gene Siskel Film Center) demonstrates, the recently departed George Kuchar died exactly as he lived: by making proudly amateurish movies that spared the audience no details of his private life. It’s one of Kuchar’s “Weather Diaries,” a series depicting his annual visits to an Oklahoma trailer park during tornado season. Kuchar had a lifelong interest in meteorology—Paul Vitello’s New York Times obituary mentions that as a young man he briefly worked for a TV meteorologist drawing weather maps—so it’s not surprising this would make its way into the work. For this director, filmmaking was part of life, if not the system that gave it meaning. It’s worth noting, too, that his movies can be ridiculously self-effacing: the emotional climax of Hot Spell, in which Kuchar reflects on how great it is to be alive, takes place at a Mexican restaurant in a mall food court.

I’m still fairly new to Kuchar’s massive body of work (he made over 200 features and shorts), even though I grew up in a cinematic culture he helped to shape. His influence on John Waters is well known, and his 1966 short Hold Me While I’m Naked—which you can watch here—is cited as one of the touchstones of cinematic camp. One could also argue that he anticipated the obsessive self-documenting culture we inhabit today. That being said, I don’t feel that Kuchar’s work betrays much narcissism. His love of movie spectacle, no matter how trashy, inspired him to throw himself into whatever production values he could afford; and when he couldn’t afford production values, he’d borrow movie magic from vintage film scores that he found in the public domain.

Tonight’s program is a good introduction to Kuchar at his most confessional (one video is an elegy for a recently deceased pet cat). To see him at his most flamboyant, check out the 16-millimeter revival of The Devil’s Cleavage (1975), a feature-length soap opera spoof, at the School of the Art Institute on Monday at 4 PM.

In Curt McDowells Thundercrack! (1975)
  • In Curt McDowell's Thundercrack! (1975)

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