George Kuchar, a legendary figure in New York's underground film scene, also applied his wildly original sensibility to video. With his twin brother Mike, Kuchar produced a prodigious body of Super-8 and 16-mm films in the 1960s and 1970s — idiosyncratic narrative psychodramas and pop cultural parodies that are charged with perverse humor. In the mid-1980s, Kuchar acquired an 8-mm camcorder and began producing an extraordinary series of video diaries, chronicling a singular, ongoing personal history.
Exhibiting the rawness of video verite and the theatricality of fiction, his self-narrated tapes record close-up observations of the personal routines and social interactions of Kuchar's daily life. Infused with humor and melancholy, these documents of the banal and intimate details of the everyday are punctuated with Kuchar's conversations, wry monologues, introspective musings and muttered asides.
Significantly, these low-budget, low-tech tapes are edited completely "in-camera," with no post-production. Kuchar's unorthodox methodology is to record single events in real time and then insert or overlay subsequent "scenes," an ingenious strategy that results in a quirky, textured layering of narrative time. This direct, spontaneous use of low-end technology heightens the diaries' unmediated intimacy and subjectivity.
With an eccentric presence that pervades these "home videos," Kuchar veers from the scatological to the sublime in his close-up forays into the kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms of friends and family across the country. These remarkable video journals often resonate with an unexpected poetry. For example, Weather Diaries, in which Kuchar observes weather and food from dreary motel rooms in Oklahoma, reveals alienation and loneliness in the rural American landscape.
Kuchar's almost Proustian accumulation of detailed observations of ordinary life ultimately chronicles not only a personal diary, but a social history of time and place. Scrutinizing his immediate environment, turning the camera on his own "unclean obsessions and ugly, ugly dreams," he uncovers the dramas of the everyday. Writing in Cinematograph, Steve Seid refers to Kuchar as "the roving reporter of the Self, negotiating his social environment."
In recent years the extremely prolific Kuchar also produced a series of works with his students at the San Francisco Art Institute, in which they construct outrageously theatrical narrative pastiches of pop cultural genres such as melodrama, horror films, and high camp.
Writes Kuchar: "George Kuchar was born in New York City in 1942 and is one of a twin (Mike Kuchar is the other half). At an early age the twins made pictures on paper and on 8-mm movie film, and later attended the High School of Industrial Art in N.Y.C. (which is now the High School of Art and Design). Employed in the world of commercial art in Manhattan, George Kuchar was later laid off from work and never went back to that snake-pit; instead, he embarked on his movie career full-time. Having been introduced to the avant-garde film scene in the early 1960s, he acquired an audience for his low-budget dramas and was hired by the San Francisco Art Institute to teach filmmaking. In 1985 he began making 8-mm video diaries and has completed about 50 works in that medium. The works are edited in-camera and there are no post-production embellishments to bloat the budget, so the low-budget tradition continues in full swing."
Kuchar's film and video works have been screened internationally. He lived in San Francisco until his death in 2011.