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August 12 - August 13

George Kuchar's Weather Diaries

This whole thing started because of my interest in nature. Since I was a city boy, living in The Bronx, nature came to me via the colorful tapestry of sky that loomed above the tenements. The awe of summer thunderstorms, smothering blizzards and window rattling nor'easters left a lasting impression on me. I sought out, via library books, the superstars of this meteorological majesty and read up on hurricanes, tornadoes and other terrors that occasionally whirled into urban awareness.

Loving to draw and paint, I happened to come upon the books of Eric Sloane. He was an artist very interested in Americana and American weather. His beautifully illustrated volumes on the atmosphere were of great aesthetic and scientific value to me. I learned how to read the clouds, and it made going out everyday a kind of heavenly horoscope. Eventually I was lucky enough to get a job doing weather maps for a local NBC news show. Frank Fields was the weatherman on that program, and he was astounded that I knew what the clouds accompanying storm fronts looked like. Previous visual artists had drawn amorphous-looking atrocities that resembled deflated duffle bags. Mine were anatomically correct aerial artifacts of blossoming beauty. His weather maps were my chance to display the knowledge I had acquired from Eric Sloane and from scanning the skies with new eyes.

I developed a fascination with thunderstorms and the furious whirlwinds they sometimes unleashed on the landscape. Instead of just reading accounts of these monstrous, whirling dervishes, and the lives of those caught in the vicinity of the vortex, I decided to take an airplane and go to where they huffed and puffed. So I wound up in Oklahoma City during springtime. I'd stay at the YMCA for three or four weeks and try to absorb, on all levels, the mysterious elements that now obsessed me. I was young and time stretched ahead of me in a seemingly endless event horizon. Perhaps I could fill my head with images and sound that previously had only come from reading books on this subject. This would be the real thing.

I am not a storm chaser as I never learned how to drive a car. I wanted to experience springtime storms on the American plains like the simple folk I read about in those library books. Therefore the videos in the weather diaries depict the turmoil, tedium, terror and televised terrain of tornado country through the eyes of a transplant. At times I try to blend in, to digest the alien ambiance, the fast food and slow-motion days. Ailments galore pepper the series along with glimpses of those who pass like gas, vapors of vitality to sniff at with a gizmo that doesn't have a nose. But I do hope you enjoy what its eye captures on this journey of jubilant junk food and delightful dread. – George Kuchar

A longtime luminary of underground cinema, George Kuchar has defined his own inimitable track, producing ingenious, low-budget melodramas at a stunningly prolific pace since he began shooting 8mm as a teenager in the Bronx. Like his extraordinary early films, the Weather Diaries' lack of pretension and gloss reveals a sincerely dramatic, funny and vulnerable perspective of the endlessly inspired and inspiring entity that is George Kuchar. The Harvard Film Archive is pleased to welcome Mr. Kuchar back to the theater with his own selection of journalistic escapades chasing tempests both meteorological and corporeal.

All film descriptions written by George Kuchar.

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Filmmaker visit cancelled. George Kuchar interview via Skype will follow screening.
Friday August 12 at 7pm


Wild Night in El Reno

Directed by George Kuchar.
USA 1977, 16mm, color, 15 min.

This movie began the weather diary cycle and is the only one in a film format. I shot it with my Bolex camera. I think the filmmaker (and my ex-student) Curt McDowell visited me during this time because there are some stills of me peppered here and there in the movie. The motel I was staying at is the only one that had an underground cellar. This was comforting when twisters threatened but was not well managed as the doors were unhinged making it more like sliding open a lid rather than opening a portal. It eventually became filled with ankle deep mud which for one panicked mother was more terror inducing than a full-fledged tornado. She told me to hand back the baby I was holding as she preferred to ride out the storm above ground and wanted no part of that muck. Luckily for her and little junior, the violent funnel cloud lifted before hitting the town but it was a close call!


Weather Diary 1

Directed by George Kuchar.
USA 1986, digital video, color, 75 min.

This (just about) feature length documentary attempts to capture the feel of the Oklahoma experience as I lived it for about three or four weeks in May at a motel/trailer park. It was entirely edited in camera and shot in a start to finish manner with the time being manipulated and expanded upon by in-camera inserts. You get sneak peaks of the occupants of the facility and glimpses of their lives interspersed with threats of turbulent weather both above our heads and squeezed into a TV tube. There are also four legged mammals hanging around and some bugs here and there. I do my best to connect with them all, socially.

This first video in the series sets the gastric tone of all future visits to Oklahoma and delves into a menu of gassy goodies and gooey deposits. This motel (and the owners) no longer exist as death and the bulldozer have wiped them out. But they live on in this electronic format which has always seemed to shock and outrage viewers on many occasions and has been assigned the dubious distinction of a "dangerous live wire, so beware"! These sentiments (warnings) were issued by Scott McDonald as his screening of the video to his class created an horrendous uproar of disgust. It also shed a new and very unflattering light on the Flaherty Film Seminar in upstate New York as the audience, totally repelled by this white man spending time in Indian territory and exposing his greasy secrets, skin and imperfect teeth was too much to bear for politically correct academia. Since the other documentaries in that venue stressed racial confrontations and territorial hatreds, the fact that they had to endure sitting through this exposition of a Bronx boy's friendly, if somewhat freaky, foray into Americana was too much to tolerate. The prestigious showcase turned into the Jerry Springer Show, and the animosity this video revealed from behind the cloak of academic respectability was truly awesome! I hope you enjoy it.


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Filmmaker visit cancelled
Saturday August 13 at 7pm


Weather Diary 3

Directed by George Kuchar.
USA 1998, digital video, color, 25 min

Shot in 8mm video and edited entirely in the camera, this picture deals with meteorological and sexual desire on the Plains. It's the only movie in the series where I interact with storm chasers. I'm a storm squatter as I never learned how to drive a car. The young meteorology student who pays me a visit was someone I met in Wisconsin at a screening of my films/videos a few years before. This was his first visit to Oklahoma to chase tornadoes, but the storm season proved to be a dry one. His presence lubricated me on a more personal level, and our friendship helped to sweeten the sourness that happens when nature doesn't "put out".


Heavenly Features

Directed by George Kuchar.
USA 2005, digital video, color, 10 min

I had a little more money so I switched motels to one that had a pool. A little wooden friend accompanied me for a while, but when the puppet's strings got tangled-up I ditched him. I sometimes interact with dolls and dummies so that the improvised dialogue can be directed at something other than the camera lens.



Centennial

Directed by George Kuchar.
USA 2007, digital video, color, 13 min

There's not much chatter in this video as I munch and chew my way through a series of scenes that eventually culminate in a celebration of the state's existence. I stumbled onto this historical knowledge by accident as it was concentrated on a street corner.


Chigger Country

Directed by George Kuchar.
USA 1999, digital video, color, 24 min

A chance to spend two weeks on a cattle ranch in southern Oklahoma makes this video an ode to the land more than the sky. The woman who invited me to the ranch was nicknamed Chigger and had been a student of mine many years ago. This place was a world very alien to me as instead of having cockroaches in the kitchen there were scorpions. It was like a giant park with no paths, streetlights or benches but it did have rattlesnakes, ticks, armadillos and cantankerous bulls. The ranch was all for the growth and well-being of the cattle and they had the run of the place which took up two counties. I got a chance to aim and shoot a rifle for the first time and (surprisingly) bonded with the firearm very quickly. I hope you will enjoy this vision of man and beast on the southern plains as this property was sold a short time later and I don't know what it is now.


Hotspell

Directed by George Kuchar.
USA 2011, digital video, color, 26 min

This is my latest weather diary and it follows me to Norman, Oklahoma, as I had a show at the giant university there and made some friends who came to visit me later when I moved on to my usual resting place, El Reno. It proved to be a turbulent stay both inwardly and outwardly as my libido mixed with the clashing seasons to create a vortex of violent forces, one of which threatened to wipe out the town!



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