As illustrated in Jennifer Kroot’s affectionate documentary It Came From Kuchar, brothers George and Mike Kuchar seem driven by an almost pathological need to create. Today, anyone with a cheap digital-video camera can claim to be a director, but when the twin brothers began making homemade mini-epics in the mid-’50s, the cost of entry for filmmaking was prohibitively high for all but the very wealthy. Yet the brothers soldiered on regardless, making bizarrely personal films across a variety of genres with minimal financial resources, production values, trained actors, or even the faintest semblance of professionalism.
It Came From Kuchar opens with George Kuchar making a series of surreal, seemingly willfully incoherent short films with his film-school students, who appear to view him as half-guru, half-lunatic. Filmmaking seems to come as naturally to Mike as breathing or eating; it’s less an avocation than an existential identity he’s shared with his brother since they were outsider teens using film to work through their sexual-identity issues. As with fellow avant-garde filmmakers Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, and Andy Warhol, film was a safe place for the brothers to explore their homosexuality at a time when widespread acceptance was a quixotic dream. A strange innocence runs through the brothers’ oeuvre. They were enthusiastic amateurs powered by the “Let’s put on a show!” spirit they shared with everyone from the protagonists of Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musicals to the YouTube auteurs of today.
Mike Kuchar has a sideline in painting and illustration, which seems appropriate, since the brothers transformed the friends and family members that populate their films into pop-art cartoon characters with garish costumes and angry, abstract eyebrows. Kroot’s documentary combines extensive clips from the Kuchars’ work with interviews featuring fans like Buck Henry, plus the endlessly engaging brothers themselves. (Cartoonist Bill Griffith partially based his signature character, Zippy the Pinhead, on George.) What emerges is a heartfelt valentine to filmmaking at any cost. It’s also a salute to a pair of dreamers who serve as the missing link between Ed Wood and John Waters.
Key features: More than 45 minutes of interviews and clips from the brothers’ films.