Director George Kuchar, who with his twin brother Mike, made campy but influential low-budget films that inspired directors including John Waters, died on Tuesday in San Francisco of prostate cancer. He was 69.
Growing up in the Bronx, the Kuchars started making films with an 8mm camera in their early teens.
By the early ’60s, they were gaining attention for underground films like “I Was a Teenage Rumpot,” “Night of the Bomb” and “Lust for Ecstasy,” spoofs of Hollywood B-movies that turned up the melodrama while retaining a certain emotional resonance.
As the two brothers developed individual styles, George Kuchar played a key role in defining what is now considered “camp” with his semiautobiographical 1966 short “Hold Me While I’m Naked,” in which a director of softcore porn mulls his frustrations. Also among his best-known efforts is “Weather Diaries,” a series of films he made during visits to a Oklahoma trailer park in tornado season.
Other Kuchar films of the 1960s included “Corruption of the Damned” and “Sins of the Fleshapoids.”
Bloody.disgusting.com describes the aesthetic of his movies this way: “The hallmarks of a Kuchar film include wildly inexplicable dialogue and situations, near surrealistic settings in worlds inhabited by women with crazy Joan Crawford eyebrows and bisexual men with thick, very thick, mustaches. It would really take no effort at all to draw a direct line between the characters that populate George Kuchar’s universe in the 1960s to John Waters’ “Multiple Maniacs” (1970).
In New York, the Kuchars were part of an underground art scene that included Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger.
Kuchar cheaply and rapidly produced enormous numbers of films during his career — he made 14 shorts from 2003-04 and more than 200 films overall — serving as a role model for other young directors over the decades.
Waters told the New York Times that the Kuchars were “the people who made me want to make movies. They were the first ‘experimental’ filmmakers I ever read about when I was 15,” he added. “They were giants. They inspired four to five generations of militantly eccentric art fans. To me they were the Warner Brothers of the underground.”
George Andrew Kuchar was born in Manhattan and graduated from the School of Industrial Art (now the High School of Art and Design) in Manhattan. He briefly worked drawing weather maps for a New York TV station, then made a stab at drawing comics. Positive reviews of his early movies led him to a career as a full-time filmmaker.
He moved to San Francisco in 1971 to take a position as an instructor on filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute; only this year, when illness prevented him from continuing, did he depart. His students at the institute became actors in his films.
The 2009 documentary “It Came From Kuchars,” by Jennifer Kroot, a former student of George’s, explored the work and influence of the brothers.
In 2007 New York Times reviewer Holland Cotter said, “When the day arrives — and it will — to appoint an official United States cultural ambassador to Outer Space, Mr. Kuchar is the obvious choice. I will say no more. See his films. He is beyond enigmatic. He is ‘it.’ I salute him.”