Sunday, November 05, 2006

George Kuchar

Attended a screening of George Kuchar's most recent videos at the Siskel on Thursday with Pam and her housemate Emily, both of whom I think enjoyed themselves or at least found it interesting, but I loved it unconditionally. As he did when we brought him out to Seattle, George showed several of his diary videos, all of which were wonderful, and followed it with a ridiculously overblown campy melodrama that he made with his students at the Art Institute in SF, and which went on way too long. Of course, just as much as the actual work, the filmmaker was the draw and the biggest source of entertainment, and he didn't disappoint.

The program started on the wrong note when whoever it was that introduced Kuchar read a portion of an essay calling him "one of the great artists in the history of the medium," or something like that. Kuchar's films don't require such hyperbole. His place, along with his brother's, in the history of film, underground or otherwise, has much more to do with the amazing surplus of goodwill the rest of the film world feels towards him/them. His films are easy to like in a very fundamental way. The Kuchar brothers are both quintessential New York characters, lovably eccentric and wholly non-threatening (which is particularly important when you take into consideration the lurid subject matter of so many of their most influential films) - and their movies have a similar appeal. Amateurish, occasionally overearnest, delightfully strange, what-the-hell random, the Kuchars are perhaps unfairly treated something akin to outsider artists in the history of experimental filmmaking - the "perhaps" is there because when placed alongside Jacobs, Brakhage, even Jack Smith, it's clear that the Kuchars have a different, much less deliberately confrontational, relationship with the medium.

George Kuchar's diary videos on Thursday, all of which he shot over the summer and had recently finished editing, are truly delightful (to repeat myself), free-flowing jumbles. His presence at the center of all of them is key to their appeal, along with their endearing over-utilization of editing tricks (George has Final Cut Pro now, evidently). And I love the very basic philosophy of his video-making, that he carries a camera with him whenever he feels like filming something and then just turns it on, whether that's taking his aging mother around the block, visiting John Waters or Robert Breer, having dinner at a friend's house, or watching Mother Angelica on late night television. He'll jump from one location to another, and even, in one film, alternate between documentary and fiction, with no apparent motivation (narrative or otherwise). All this can be done because Kuchar creates a space that neither mythologizes nor belittles the everyday, but is instead an investigation of the quotidian for the sometimes faint traces of the stuff of melodramas and movie spectacles. But Kuchar makes no effort to compile them into one grand lurid narrative (even his grand lurid narratives are disjointed enough that they can't really be considered as such), he realizes they exist as bits and pieces and doesn't try to force them into any other formation.

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