Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Kuchar movies and other underground classics -- Catch 'em while you can!

Two classy men of the Bronx.
(George and Mike Kuchar)
There are countless articles appearing each week about the availability (or non-availability) of different films. The general consensus among diehard cinephiles is that, while certain streaming services are very good at presenting arthouse and indie cinema, the best way to get and keep the films is through owning “physical media” (the new name for discs, tapes, what-have-you).

But then again, there are those films that are just simply NEVER going to appear on any streaming service. The ones that are not “economically viable” to acquire and only have a “limited audience.” Those of us who want to see these films thus have to scrounge, and when a trove of them appears on the most visible (and most visited) video site on the Net, I have to draw your attention to them.

In this case, I felt that I should do this sooner than later, even though the poster in question — a gent named “Ray Cathode” — is still in the process of building his channel. The reason I feel I have to do this right away is that he’s including one filmmaker in the bunch whose Estate generally hounds people who reproduce or post his films. (My take on this: They don’t want the secret getting out — that secret being that his films were numbingly dull until others came along and directed the films for him.)

From the above, I’m sure you can guess who I’m talking about. (Further clues would include the wearing of a wig, the state of Pennsylvania, and soup.) Including this particular artist’s films gets your account taken down – even the YT channels that used to hide his work by renaming the films and never posting his name (and removing the initial credit for a specific museum) went down.

Thus, I urge you to see the films that “Ray” has put up before any litigious pains in the ass decide to take action and remove his trove from public view. For this person (I’ve been using the male pronoun since the person is using a male name) has put up a veritable treasure chest of underground and weirdo cinema.

Mike Kuchar.
I will put the emphasis here on two gents whose work I absolutely love and have saluted before many times on the Funhouse TV show and on this blog: Mike and George Kuchar. Twin brothers from the Bronx who gave us some absolutely delightful films that exhibited a super-low-budget style that influenced many who came after them (most prominently John Waters). 

Mike was an interview subject on the Funhouse; I made two episodes out of our talk, which was wonderful — rarely have I had a guest to whom I could speak about "high" and "low" culture in adjoining sentences! I spoke to George about doing an interview, but he was busy at the time he was in NYC. To show you the kind of gent he was, he called me from San Francisco and noted that if I were to come out there he'd love to do the interview. Sadly, that was a short time before his revealing that he had prostate cancer. He left us in 2011.

I’ll link to six items below. I used to be able to make these “survey” blog posts much longer and have many more links, but embedding from YouTube is apparently now in the trash can for blogspot blogs. Despite Blogger and YouTube both being Google properties, there is no cross-pollination between the two sites anymore, and a dedicated person like myself can go insane trying to find videos that CAN be embedded at this point.

George Kuchar (and friends).

For some reason, the whole enterprise has transformed into a situation where YT embeds are blocked, providing the blogger with a black screen with a “watch on YouTube” link. As that is incredibly ugly and extremely pointless, I’ll be doing fewer blog entries that link to YouTube videos, because: a.) sites like ok.ru have a broader variety of films anyway (including several Media Funhouse episodes!), and b.) the notion of “experimenting” with HTML code to see which videos appear as full thumbnail/old-school embeds and which are black boxes with a YT link is the way to sheer madness.

In the meantime, here are five links-with-thumbnail image and one actual embed. (I guess the film in question slipped through the net.)

“Tootsies in Autumn” is an early 8mm film by Mike Kuchar that shows off the controlled chaos of the brothers’ films — they worked mostly in tandem on the 8mm films, then split to make their own solo 16mm films and, later on, many, many videos.

“Tootsies” is silent cinema reborn as brightly colored kitsch with the soul of an overripe melodrama. 

“Born of the Wind” is another early item that shows off the visual storytelling style. It was directed by Mike and shows off the brothers’ love of (again) melodrama and horror pictures. 


“The Craven Sluck” by Mike is a stunner – here is a sci-fi thriller that foreshadows everything in the early work of John Waters. 

Watch “The Craven Sluck.”

“Eclipse of the Sun Virgin” (1967) by George shows off his wonderfully tacky and torrid taste, with Catholic imagery, Americana, pop culture, and the tininess of urban apartments. 

Watch “Eclipse of the Sun Virgin.”

“Forever and Always” (1978) is George’s reflection on relationships. Both Kuchar brothers were gay and both did include homoerotic imagery in their films (Mike’s is mystical and idyllic; George’s was earthy and straight from the crotch), but here he depicts boy-girl love and the inevitable un-romantic thing that results from said union: kids. The site of our female lead carrying around her kids through a children’s carnival tells you all you need to know about the possible benefits of birth control. 

Watch “Forever and Always.” 

“Route 666” (1994) is a crazy and wonderful short video that reflects George’s later concerns: extreme weather (he was a “storm chaser” wannabe, spending weeks in Oklahoma each year to see the big storms come), being haunted by pop culture artifacts (in this case, a marionette with a Donald Duck voice), and indelibly kitschy imagery, taken from gift shops all around the country. 

Watch “Route 666.” 

Those are just six of the Kuchar films on the “Ray Cathode” YT channel. There are 18 more up there as of this writing. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t list the other filmmakers whose works “Ray” has posted.

A quick laundry list on the channel: Anger, Brakhage, Burroughs, Derek Jarman, Ken Russell, Werner Schroeter, Zappa, and yeah, the famous artist-turned-filmmaker (whose work might be down, but hopefully not all of the Cathode channel, by the time you read this.) Also, Ken Jacobs’ seven-hour found-footage epic Star Spangled to Death and, for the kiddies, the Satanic Panic fave “Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults.” 

Note: Thanks to “Ray” for posting all this stuff (a bit of advice: remove the Factory guy’s stuff!) and to Jon Whitehead for leading me toward it.