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Look back at Anger

Foundation to preserve avant garde pix

WASHINGTON — What a difference a half-century makes.

In the 1950s, the low-budget experimental works of avant-garde filmmakers George and Mike Kuchar caused such a stir the brothers were forced to screen them in a private New York City loft.

Now, with the help of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Redford and Steven Spielberg, the National Foundation for Film Preservation has shelled out $50,000 to restore and save the underground movies for posterity.

The National Foundation, partnered with Scorsese’s Film Foundation, selected nine influential works created by the Kuchar brothers and Kenneth Anger in the 1950s and early 1960s that pushed the limits of acceptable subject matter and poked fun at the established Hollywood melodrama of the day.

The Film Foundation provided the funds, and the national group, a non-profit created by Congress to help save the country’s film heritage, will work closely with the filmmakers and the UCLA Film and Television Archive on the restoration project. The prints produced through the preservation process will be available for archival viewing.

“Kenneth Anger and the Kuchar brothers are the aorta of the original underground film movement,” filmmaker John Waters said in a statement. “Without their incredible pioneering influence, the independent film world could never have been born.”

NFPF assistant director Jeff Lambert said this grant is the first aimed at saving experimental, avant-garde film, which was often produced on shoestring budgets and dropped from distribution after initial screenings at underground cinemas and museums. Some of the most influential titles only exist in battered prints or poorly stored production materials, and their creators typically struggle to find the funding to restore and safeguard them properly.

“Many of the prints would be in a closet somewhere,” Lambert said. “We want to get them into good storage archives and hopefully preserve them.”

The Kuchars began making films that broke the conventional mold of Hollywood in the late 1950s. With titles like “A Woman Distressed” and “I Was a Teenage Rumpot,” the parodies and comedies spawned a re-examination of popular culture that later became a genre all its own, known as “camp.” Some of the Kuchars’ greatest works, shot on 8mm film, are too fragile to exhibit.

“Rabbit’s Moon,” shot in 1950 in the studio of French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville and widely regarded by many as Anger’s greatest film, is among those the groups want to save.

Scorsese and nine other directors — Coppola, Redford, Spielberg, Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Clint Eastwood, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas and Sydney Pollack — established the non-profit film foundation 13 years ago to help protect and preserve motion picture history.