Mike Kuchar is an American underground filmmaker – the twin brother of George Kuchar, with whom he often collaborated. His work has varied from the deliciously lurid and camp – films like Sins of the Fleshapoids and The Craven Sluck in the 1960s, which mix genre convention and melodrama with vivid colour – and the more personal, introspective films that he has made in recent years.
In the late 1990s, Kuchar toured the UK with a selection of his work and the legendary arthouse / underground / porno extravaganza Thundercrack! (written by his brother). I caught up with him in the bar of the Cornerhouse in Manchester before the show for a chat – though only a portion of this was caught on tape, and most of that was subsequently lost. Here’s the previously unseen transcript of the only existing part of that conversation.
You’ve had quite a gruelling tour.
Yeah… I gave the spookiest responses and went off on a tangent with the first fella today, I hope I didn’t scare the shit out of him – I scared the shit out of myself. All of a sudden, I turned it into something else, I sounded like I was cracking around the edges. It was weird..
You’re doing a show pretty much every night.
How have the audiences been reacting so far?
I think they were fine. The films go on and I introduce them – I hope there’s something in my work people can relate to. I’m sorry, but they had to be made – I make my pictures… I make them with a certain discretion and a certain communicative process technically, to perhaps speak to a viewer, so a viewer can comprehend them. I use a vocabulary that reflects back either a narrative or a mood that I myself am particularly in or want the piece to be in, hopefully.
What spread of your work is being shown at these shows?
It’s not really a whole retrospective, that would take a couple of weeks. My work is highlighted at the Edinburgh fringe, and a little later on at the low budget short film festival in Hamburg. I like the word ‘fringe’ and I like the word ‘low budget’ put into these festivals. I feel comfortable with festivals with words like that in it.
It certainly suggests a removal from both the Hollywood mainstream and the more elitist art houses.
Yeah. My pictures have played in places with ripped sofas – informal, let’s put it like that.
Those are the places where you will probably find a more appreciative and sympathetic audience, rather than the art establishment venues.
Well, maybe they can relate to it. Maybe. Some seem to do, I seem to have fans here and there. Schlock is ‘in’ nowadays. Ed Wood is re-appreciated. I don’t aim to be schlock, but I’m working on schlock budgets. They are recreational activities, my means of expression, my means of inter-mixing with people – by people, I mean the cast.
What comes first to you – the cast or the story? I mean, do you work the idea around the people you want to interact with, or find them to fit an existing idea?
Good question. Sometimes the cast makes the movie. It dictates what the movie’s gonna be. Sometimes I have an idea and I want to start something and I have to search for someone to fill those parts. I usually find somebody, and then the next week find they’re moving or something, and I have to desperately recruit somebody else real fast. That doesn’t happen too often, most of the people are faithful. It’s a chemistry thing, and organic thing.
Where would you look for a cast?
They find me, or I find them through friends. I have people come up to me after a show and give me their telephone number, which is a beautiful thing to do, I think. And then I’d go and ask people, but I always have to be introduced to them, I can’t do that with a stranger. I can’t pay anybody. The money goes into finishing the product. Also, I’m shy. I have to have an introduction, it’s only appropriate. Then a relationship is already established.
There are people who want to appear in a movie, and who want to work with you because they like what you do.
Yes, absolutely. You give them things that you think they’d like to do. Things they could do easily, that’s not far off their character.
So they don’t need to act too much?
No. I mean, you manipulate them in how you photograph them and what you tell them to do. And editing is a wonderful band-aid, to fix it completely up and make it go – make their performances seem better. But I never care if the acting is not that good, because the whole idea of making movies is not real. It doesn’t matter if you’re aware of that. What’s real is the intent of the filmmaker.