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It Came From Kuchar

Dir: Jennifer M. Kroot

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Anthology Film Archives

86 Minutes

With a career spanning 45 years and countless genres, from Sirk-inspired melodrama to gorilla-suited quasi porn, the Kuchar brothers, working both separately and as a team, have been responsible for a great deal of insanity. If we can believe John Waters, who appears as one of the many doting cinephiles trotted out for industry support, they’re also to thank for a more directly queasy milestone: cinema’s first turd. It Came from Kuchar even shows it to us, lolling in a toilet bowl, shaped from dog food but still looking singularly disgusting.

It’s tempting to try and link all the film’s ills, its skewed presentation and slightly off-kilter tone, to this type of moment, which tries to position such instances of no-holds-barred crudeness as influential cinematic benchmarks. It’s typical for the type of documentary this is emulating to slacken into a kind of autopilot, where the film transforms into an extended argument for the subject’s significance. But it’s clear from what we see here alone that George and Mike Kuchar were never movement leaders as much as fascinating fringe-operators, making movies that even now seem to exist far outside the arthouse canon.

In their case, usually a turd is just a turd. Which is not to say that the brothers’ films, couched in a strident no-budget aesthetic, spinning gritty beauty from cheap necessity, are meaningless. It’s more the case that the reverence It Came from Kuchar attempts to bestow upon them feels wholly alien to the aesthetic they’ve expressed. By shoehorning their careers into the standard tribute documentary form, where genius begets influence and then gets rewarded with praise, the documentary falters, playing as far too conservative of a response to a pair who’ve made careers out of such a fluid use of weirdness.

As a labor of love, directed by Jennifer M. Kroot, one of George Kuchar’s students at the San Francisco Art Institute, the film feels more than sufficient, functioning as an interesting enough career summation, buoyed by the uneasy charm of the brothers’ strange personalities. Yet there are so many questions circling around their work, its seemingly accidental style and apparent disregard for any type of rules, as well as the barely suggested fact that both brothers are gay, that an importance-stressing fluff piece doesn’t feel like the correct approach.

A more adventurous documentary might get into any one of these questions more fully. But It Came from Kuchar frustratingly accepts the brothers’ many quirks as sparks from the forge of creative brilliance, viewing them more as art brut curios than actual people. This comes to a head in their one shared interview, where they sit nearly back to back, positioned to avoid Mike’s fear of making eye contact with anyone.

It’s easy to laugh at this kind of strangeness, feeling we’re laughing along with people who seem willingly committed to full-bore eccentricity. The brothers’ personas approach those of the Beales of Grey Gardens, with lispy, pinched New York accents, buzzing with neuroses and bizarre quips. There are certainly ties between Grey Gardens and this film, in their elevation of society-spurning weirdness to camp art. But in the case of the two Edies, the Maysles did an incisive job of probing into the serious undercurrents of such eccentricity. The lack of such exploration here, especially with two subjects who have exposed so much of themselves to the world, makes the portrait feel annoyingly reductive.

It Came From Kuchar does give lip service to some of the questions that deserve exploration, but its most compelling moments, like George’s relationship with queer film icon (and AIDS victim) Curt McDowell, are cut short to keep the pace up. The journey is interesting, but it’s conducted too much like a guided tour, with all the appropriate stopping points and all the appropriate reverence. It only takes a few clips of George’s most recent project, produced with the help of his students, filled with half-dressed old ladies and blow-up purple spiders, to prove how ineffective of an approach this proves to be.

by Jesse Cataldo
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