By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
There are great directors who haven’t inspired a documentary study as thorough as “It Came From Kuchar,” an affectionate look at a filmmaking phenomenon that remains way, way outside (or perhaps below) the mainstream.
George and Mike Kuchar are twin brothers, born in the Bronx in 1942, who have been making strange, experimental, low-budget pictures for decades now. Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with “Hold Me While I’m Naked” or “Sins of the Fleshapoids,” but this movie is here to rectify that situation.
The brothers began in advertising art during the “Mad Men” era, but quickly became disenchanted with the commercial life, devoting their energy instead to creating bizarre 8 mm. epics that played like nightmarish exaggerations of Hollywood melodramas.
As Buck Henry recalls of the glory days of the early-1960s avant garde film scene in New York, the Kuchar brothers were accepted in that world, even though their campy, colorful, funny films were not much like the more serious efforts being offered.
Although George and Mike began making their own separate films later in the decade, they remain friends, collaborating in various ways. Since 1971 George has been teaching filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute, a perch that allows him to enlist his students to make more films.
During the documentary, we see him staging scenes involving a giant blow-up spider, which seems pretty normal for one of his projects.
“It Came from Kuchar” interviews filmmakers such as John Waters (whose early efforts were clearly influenced by the Kuchars’ work), Atom Egoyan and Guy Maddin. Cartoonist Bill Griffith, who got George Kuchar involved in the San Francisco underground comics scene, also shares some memories, and admits that his “Zippy the Pinhead” might have been somewhat inspired by George’s personality.
What director Jennifer Kroot does most effectively is show clips from the Kuchar brothers’ films and actually describe why these crazy efforts might be worthy of discussion. If ever a case were to be made for their movies, this is it.
Expansive George and withdrawn Mike are both clearly eccentric personalities; the movie might have treated them in a condescending way, or gone for the psychodrama of, say, “Crumb,” the disturbing study of cartoonist Robert Crumb. Instead, it’s genial and accepting.
The fact that the Kuchars have soldiered on all these years and actually prevailed as filmmakers seems nothing short of miraculous. Along with its value as film appreciation, “It Came from Kuchar” is a tribute to perseverance.