Early in his career, John Waters was quoted as saying that if he were given a huge budget for a single movie that he would actually use it to make several. When George Kuchar was asked the same question, he replied that he would stop making movies because he couldn’t work that way. John Waters took the money, suitably tailored his product, and it can be seen at the local multiplex. George Kuchar teaches film, does the lecture circuit and is usually only screened at cinemateques and art museums. In spite of these glaring contrasts, the roots of their aesthetics are surprisingly similar.
George and his twin brother Mike were born in 1942 and have been producing films since their childhood. By their early 20s they were associating with the likes of Jonas Mekas, Kenneth Anger and Jack Smith at the Charles, the Bleeker Street and the Gramercy Arts Theaters, which were then playing host to an exploding “underground” film scene. By the early ‘60s, John Waters had started sneaking up from his home in Baltimore to these screenings and, inspired largely by the Kuchar brothers, began to make films of his own in 1964. In both cases, the auteurs used repertory casts of nonactors. As John Waters has been more tenacious about publicizing himself and his efforts, much more is known to the general public about his body of work. The Kuchars have stayed very underground and prove generally more difficult to chronicle. This book has done an admirable job of presenting its subjects in a serious and scholarly light. The section on Waters includes interviews with such stalwarts as Divine, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pierce and Miss Jean Hill. Despite the oceans of ink devoted to Waters‘ work elsewhere, this is a completely fresh and multidimensional look at the man and the filmmaker.
The book’s real coup is the inclusion of lucid interviews with George and Mike Kuchar, who are notoriously elusive and playful subjects when in the wrong hands. The author gained their trust and did his homework. For possibly the first time, the Kuchars are given the opportunity to discuss their art, their craft, their influences and their lives in a way that shows how their inner machinery works. Marion Eaton, the star of Thundercrack (written by and co-starring George), provides an added dimension to understanding the brothers Kuchar and especially the perils involved when a “legitimate” actress gets stigmatized by her work in underground movies. Most impressive is the exhaustive filmography the author has assembled. Truly underground films are harder to track and catalog than are features and frequently only a single copy of a film survives in a private collection.
Paperback: 256 pages