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A conversation with Mike Kuchar, underground art icon


At Open Space, the blog of San Francisco MoMA, Matt Borruso and Gordon Faylor talk to pioneering underground filmmaker Mike Kuchar. Along with his twin brother, George Kuchar, Mike was instrumental in the NY underground film scene of the 1960s and '70s, making campy, homoerotic films like The Craven Sluck and Sins of the Fleshapoids. Today Mike lives in San Francisco, and in recent decades he has taken up drawing and sculpture, carrying his erotic low-brow aesthetic into new media. Here’s an excerpt from the conversation:

BORRUSO: Do you storyboard your own films?

KUCHAR: For my own, no. I use instinct.

BORRUSO: Even for the older films, like Sins of the Fleshapoids? It’s just completely improv?

KUCHAR: Yeah. I don’t even know the endings. If I knew the ending, maybe I wouldn’t make the picture. I have to discover it. I have to see what I’m getting into. I knew I wanted to do a costume picture. I knew I liked Biblical epics, Hercules movies. And I also like science fiction, so I kind of mixed them all together. And then as you go into it, it starts to develop. You know, with a lot of pictures, you know what it is? Sometimes it’s like you’re on a psychiatry couch. You just start talking. It’s going to come out. All of the subconscious will come out. All you’ve got to do is start talking. Either that or just pick up a camera and start aiming it — and what you’re aiming at also has influence on how you’re using them or how the camera is depicting them. And it brings out feelings that you have for your subject, putting them into some kind of new form that’s emotional, that has its own kind of psychological drive. And as you keep, in this case, filming — or I guess it’s the same thing with painting — you bring out what’s in the subconscious, what’s there all the time. Those mediums open up the door for it.

And it could be a canvas or a screen. You begin to see what it is. It becomes clearer. All the motivations, all the drives. Sometimes with people, you know, there’s a certain way you desire to portray them or desire to put them in situations. It’s all subconscious, it’s all the libido — it’s all coming out. Then you see what you got and you see where it’s leading, and then you have to put the final structure to it and come to a certain conclusion, or to complete it in a way that feels fulfilled, you know? Then the control starts to come in, because you have to now give it a definite meaning or resolve it.

Image: Mike Kuchar, Dino, 1980–1990. Via Open Space.