Remembering George Kuchar, Hero of Outsider Cinema

Remembering George Kuchar, Hero of Outsider Cinema
A young George Kuchar in his film "Eclipse of the Sun Virgin," 1967
(Video still from "Eclipse of the Sun Virgin," 1967)

"Making a movie is very personal and social... It's like a party," George Kuchar once said, summing up in the most direct terms the motive that drove him to make his exuberantly campy films — to put people together, and to cut against loneliness. Kuchar, a giant of underground filmmaking whose taste for shock and schlock make him the grandfather of the contemporary affection for camp, passed away earlier this week after a battle with prostate cancer.

A true eccentric who had a fascination with extreme weather (the subject of some of his memorable DIY films) and claimed to have seen a UFO, Kuchar made more than 500 works, almost all of them no-budget oddities. He grew up in the Bronx as a cinema fanatic, and began making slapdash movies with his brother Mike at an early age. When their 1961 "Pussy on a Hot Tin Roof" was screened at the New York Eight Millimeter Club, they were asked not to come back. The scandal, however, drew the attention of the NYC avant garde, leading to invitations to screening sessions at the loft of experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs, where the Kuchars met the likes of Jack Smith and Jonas Mekas.

In 1971, Kuchar relocated to San Francisco where he taught at the San Francisco Art Institute (often using students as stars in his films). There, he became involved in the underground comix scene, meeting the likes of Art Spiegelman and R. Crumb, whose neurotic work resonated with Kuchar's own sensibilities. Comix writer Bill Griffith has credited Kuchar as an inspiration for his "Zippy the Pinhead" character.


Kuchar himself drew comics, in the same shaggy, confessional vein as his films. Some of these were shown, along with photo works, at this year's Volta New York fair by his gallery, the Richmond, Virginia-based ADA. "When we sold a few works at VOLTA, he said 'I'm finally a professional artist, after all these years!'" dealer John Pollard, a former student of Kuchar's, told ARTINFO. "George was very proud of the new-found attention that his artwork, the paintings, the comics, the photographs, were receiving." (Pollard added that "something is in the works at PS1" featuring Kuchar.)

Kuchar's work had many fans, including fellow camp auteur John Waters, who once called the Kuchar Brothers his "first inspiration." It also had some virulent critics, and in 2009, the San Francisco-based Frameline Festival's screening of the notorious, Curt McDowell-directed "Thundercrack!" (1975) — co-written and co-starring Kuchar, and hailed on its own Web site as having invited "the most extreme praise or vile hatred from critics" — became the center of an attack by Fox News's Glenn Beck.  

His 1966 short "Hold Me While I'm Naked," a strange, diaristic look at the life of a lonely pornographic filmmaker, was voted one of the 100 best films of the 20th century in a 2000 Village Voice poll, while in 2009 Jennifer Kroot's documentary "It Came From Kuchar" generated fresh interest in his willfully slapdash, madcap aesthetic. Along with his brother, he was also honored at the Frameline Festival for lifetime achievement in 2009.

In an interview that same year at an independent film festival in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Kuchar expressed his feelings about what he wanted to achieve before death in his typically outrageous terms. "You want to be humpable, for as long as you can remain that way," he said. "Otherwise forget about it. You can put it in the movies, but you would actually like some experiences that you can convey on the screen as romantic, humpable experiences."

To see the 2009 interview with George Kuchar, click on the video below: