Program Notes: The Legacy of Underground Filmmaker George Kuchar


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Sticker commemorating a George Kuchar screening event hosted by The Orgone Archive and The Andy Warhol Museum on April 5, 1996. From the Department of Film and Video archive at Carnegie Museum of Art.

Next Thursday, Andrew Lampert, Curator of Collections at Anthology Film Archives, will be visiting Carnegie Museum of Art to present Towering Turrets of Tomorrow Land: The Films and Writings of George Kuchar. Lampert’s visit is part of our ongoing DoubleExposure series, in which curators, artists, archivists, and experts come to CMOA to consult on our Time-Based Media Project and present on a topic in their wheelhouse. Lampert will be discussing his recent book on George Kuchar, The George Kuchar Reader (Primary Information, 2014); reading excerpts from the filmmaker’s personal notebooks, and showing five rarely seen 16mm works: Eclipse of the Sun Virgin (1967, 15 min.), Power of the Press (1977, 16 min.), Forever and Always (1978, 20 min.), and Yolanda (1981, 22 min.).

George Kuchar was among the many artists who visited the museum to screen and discuss films during the 1970s and 1980s. He was well-known for his campy, sardonic style, and today his name is synonymous with the development of US experimental film, especially the camp genre. Kuchar began making films as a child with his twin brother Mike and continued creating throughout his life, producing a body of nearly 350 films and videos. His art is often comical but ingenuous in its criticism of culture and daily life. Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966), which is perhaps his best-known work, depicts the dilemmas of an independent filmmaker as he attempts to film his lead actress naked while she resists his demands. Like his other films, it is self-reflective and critiques the artificiality of the filmmaking process. Kuchar was also well-known for his ability to produce art on little or no budget, and he helped generate a whole new genre of independent, low-budget movie-making—think YouTube and amateur film on the Internet. In preparation for Lampert’s program next week, we dug into the Department of Film and Video archive at CMOA to find artifacts from George Kuchar’s time in Pittsburgh and found some wonderful pieces of his legacy tucked away in our records.

Kuchar visited CMOA twice; the first time was in March of 1971, when he came as part of the Independent Filmmaker Series hosted by the Department of Film and Video.

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Poster advertising George Kuchar’s visit to Carnegie Museum of Art, March 9, 1971. From the Department of Film and Video archive at Carnegie Museum of Art.

According to the Program Notes in the archive, Kuchar screened Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966), Color Me Shameless (1968), Knocturne (1969), and Pagan Rhapsody (1970). Also included in the program was Mosholu Holiday (1967), but at the last minute, he switched it out for his newest film Portrait of Ramona (1971). Kuchar completed the film just a week and a half before his presentation at CMOA, and treated the audience to the first public screening. Afterwards, Kuchar gave a short talk on the film and ended up having a lively discussion with the enthusiastic audience. We have a recording of this discussion in the archive, and in the coming months, we will be making it available for listening on our online collections website.

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Sally Dixon and George Kuchar in Dixon’s office, c. 1971. Photograph taken by Robert Haller and from the Department of Film and Video archive at Carnegie Museum of Art.

We also have several posters promoting Kuchar’s visits, a host of photographs taken by experimental film scene aficionado Robert Haller, and folders full of letters exchanged between Kuchar and curators at the museum. Like many of the filmmakers who visited Pittsburgh during this time, Kuchar developed a cordial friendship with Sally Dixon, founder of the Department of Film and Video, and film curator at CMOA. In filmmaking circles all across the country, she had a reputation for being warm, welcoming, and terrifically supportive. She was well-known for opening her home to traveling artists in need of a place to stay.

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Letter from Sally Dixon to George Kuchar, March 10, 1971. From the Department of Film and Video archive at Carnegie Museum of Art.

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Letter from Sally Dixon to George Kuchar, May 16, 1972. From the Department of Film and Video archive at Carnegie Museum of Art.

George Kuchar returned to CMOA for his second visit in January of 1981 as part of the Visiting Filmmaker and Director Series to share some more of his new work. During the previous year, the filmmaker had been prolific, producing several 16mm films, four of which he screened at CMOA. The Program Notes list showings of The Woman and the Dress (1980), One Night a Week (1980), Aqueerius (1980), and The Nocturnal Immaculation (1980).

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Poster advertising George Kuchar’s visit to Carnegie Museum of Art, January 27, 1981. From the Department of Film and Video archive at Carnegie Museum of Art.

George Kuchar’s twin brother Mike Kuchar also paid a visit to the Department of Film and Video in the 1970s to screen some of his own films. In February of 1978, he presented a program of his independent works, as well as variety of early collaborations with his brother.

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Press release for Mike Kuchar’s retrospective as part of the Independent Filmmakers Series hosted by the Department of Film and Video. From the Department of Film and Video archive at Carnegie Museum of Art.

Join us on Thursday, February 5, 2015 from 6:30 to 8:00 PM in the CMOA Theater to hear Andrew Lampert read from George Kuchar’s notebooks and view some of this groundbreaking, independent film and video artist’s lesser-known creations. The event is free and open to the public. Lampert’s limited edition book, The George Kuchar Reader, will be available for purchase.