George Kuchar (August 31, 1942 – September 6, 2011) and his twin brother Mike began making films as teenagers in the 1950s, with 8mm film being their weapon of choice. After shocking their local amateur filmmaking club with their over-the-top stories of lust and angst, they became stars of the NYC underground scene in the 1960s, befriending the likes of Jonas Mekas and Jack Smith. Always working with the constraints of minuscule budgets and nonprofessional actors, the Kuchar’s inspiration comes from classic Hollywood melodrama. Their cheaply made pictures, rather than being held back by lack of funds, blossomed in the shackles of poverty; the garish colors of the cheap makeup and sets were perfectly complemented by the bold color range afforded by Kodachrome reversal stock. The wild (and sometimes the inverse of wild) acting, use of stock music, lack of synch sound, hyperbolic narration, and primitive special effects all combined to make tiny gems unlike anything seen before or since. The Kuchars are cited as major influences by such filmmakers as John Waters, Todd Solondz, and David Lynch.
The HFA is the repository for the original material for over thirty of George Kuchar’s works, dating from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. Many of these films were made in conjunction with his students at the San Francisco Art Institute, where George taught for over 35 years. These days, the classroom movies are produced on video, but in the old days they were created on 16mm film, usually reversal, always whatever stock was cheapest. Kuchar recalls, “Whole movies were shot on stock that was so outdated that it looked like a fog machine was used in every scene.” Anyone familiar with Kuchar’s work will know this “defect” was ultimately used to the film’s advantage.
The HFA has worked with sister institution The Pacific Film Archive and with the funding agency The National Film Preservation Foundation to preserve many of these unique films. We intend to continue to make more of these films, many of which have not been seen outside of the Art Institute, available. George Kuchar’s work exudes a joy not often sustained by artists of any kind, certainly rare for a filmmaker who has been making films that push the limits of respectability for over fifty years.