Thursday, September 22, 2011

The films of George Kuchar, 1942-2011

Color me lurid: a still from Kuchar's Hold Me While I'm Naked (1966), a film which struck a nerve in my early student film-making days

George Kuchar, along with his twin brother Mike, started making Super 8 films when they were twelve years old. By the time of George's death earlier this month (on the 6 September – the same day fellow experimental filmmaker Jordan Belson died… it sometimes happens like this: remember Antonioni and Bergman both dying on the same day in 2007?… as did Cocteau and Piaf in 1963), aged 69, he had made over two hundred shorts on Super 8, 16mm and, later, video. Low budget, melodramatic, lurid and camp, inspired by both Hollywood and B Movies, his films, along with the likes of Warhol, Brakage and Anger, defined the American underground cinema in the 1960s and for years to come, influencing the likes of David Lynch, Guy Maddin, Todd Solondz and John Waters, who has repeatedly called Kuchar his favourite filmmaker.

Though most of his short films weren't as homoerotically explicit as fellow gay filmmakers Jack Smith, whose Flaming Creatures caused a sensation in 1963, or Kenneth Anger, whose Scorpio Rising was likewise controversial for its time, a collaboration with his then-lover Curt McDowell resulted in Kuchar's (presumably) sole feature film credits: as actor and writer for the still-controversial McDowell-directed Thundercrack!, made in 1975. An almost three hour-long, black and white heady mix of Hollywood Gothic, comedy, hetero and gay hardcore porn featuring all manner of polymorphous perversities, it's as infamous today as it was then, with its hilarious, outrageously over the top dialogue and performances, in particular Marion Eaton as the melodramatic, crazy, cucumber loving and large eyebrow wearing madam of the house.

It takes as its premise the old dark house horror movie, with a group of young, good-looking strangers stranded together in a Gothic mansion during a thunderstorm. Being low budget, the mansion exterior is a painting; the interiors consist of a couple of sparse rooms. No matter; the lighting of the exteriors is pretty atmospheric, looking like a film noir. The interiors, more often than not, are bleached out and over-exposed, giving the raincoat brigade cause for frustration, perhaps, yet creating a unique look to the film. Mark Ellinger's silent movie-like piano score helps punctuate the relentless sex, sucking and masturbating which soon becomes as casual and natural as smoking a cigarette (or smoking a Sherlock Holmes-type meerschaum pipe, as one of the characters hilariously does).

George Kuchar shows up towards the end as a zookooper who's lost the love of his life... a female gorilla. With Kuchar donning a wedding dress, the pair are finally reunited and a happy ending is had by all.

As one of the comments on the YouTube Thundercrack! opening points out, Wikipedia's deadpan plot summary of the film is almost as funny as the film itself.

Along with Eraserhead, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Pink Flamingos, Thundercrack was a Scala cinema midnight favourite. The Horse Hospital had a special showing of the film on Tuesday night as part of the Scala Forever season.

Not be confused with: George Cukor, director of The Philadelphia Story, Adam's Rib and A Star is Born.
Or: Thundercrack, a little heard, unusual Bruce Springsteen song.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Scala Forever!
Double Bill Me

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