SFAI Remembers George Kuchar, 1942 - 2011
It is with great sadness that the San Francisco Art Institute announces the death of George Kuchar, a longtime professor and influential figure in experimental and underground filmmaking, on September 6, 2011 following a battle with cancer.
“For nearly 40 years, George’s remarkable spirit and no-holds-barred approach to filmmaking have inspired students at the San Francisco Art Institute and the film community worldwide,” said President Charles Desmarais. “The SFAI community is deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague, teacher, and friend, but grateful to have worked with and learned from this inimitable artist.”
George’s wildly original vision—tawdry yet tender, perversely humorous, and deeply personal—fueled a body of work spanning more than 200 films and videos, as well as paintings, drawings, comics, and writing. Beloved by generations of students, George had taught at the San Francisco Art Institute since 1971, where with minuscule budgets he and his students in “AC/DC Psychotronic Teleplays” and the sequel course “Electro-graphic Sinema” made such melodrama parodies as Creeping Crimson, Hush, Hush, Sweet Harlot, and Dialog of the Devil Dolls.
“George's Electro-graphic Sinema class is one of the great true-life myths of the San Francisco Art Institute,” said Jeannene Przyblyski, Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs. “Cinematic excesses aside, George brought countless students into the collaborative, collegial, improvisational, and ingenious world of making the most out of making do that defines underground filmmaking. I will very much miss waking up at night worrying about what might be going on in Studio 8.” Added Film Department Chair Lynn Hershman Leeson, “Our beloved DIY genius has left a remarkable legacy of inspired humor, profound courage, and intuitive grace.”
Born in New York in 1942, George began making 8mm movies in the 1950s with his twin brother, Mike Kuchar. They soon became central to the underground, avant-garde film scene, screening work alongside Andy Warhol, Kenneth Anger, and Stan Brakhage. Notable films include Sins of the Fleshapoids (1965); Hold Me While I'm Naked (1966), ranked as one of the 100 Best Films of the 20th Century by the Village Voice; and the notorious Thundercrack! (1975), which George made with longtime collaborator Curt McDowell. Called “legends in the world of experimental film” by Roger Ebert, the Kuchars have influenced filmmakers including Todd Solondz, Gus Van Sant, David Lynch, Brian De Palma, and John Waters, and theorist Gene Youngblood named George one of the great artists in the history of the moving image. (Watch a selection of George's work on UbuWeb.)
George's film and video work—which comprises 8mm and 16mm films, the SFAI-made “class pictures,” the long-running project “Weather Diaries,” and a series of video diaries—has screened around the globe in cinemas, festivals, and major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Pompidou Center in Paris. His latest Electro-graphic Sinema films, Lingo of the Lost and Empire of Evil, will screen in the New York Film Festival at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in early October. An exhibition of George’s work is planned for SFAI’s Walter and McBean Galleries in Spring 2012.
George is also the author, with his brother, of the memoir Reflections from a Cinematic Cesspool (1997), and the subject of the documentary It Came from Kuchar (2009), directed by his former student, SFAI alumna Jennifer M. Kroot. George’s honors include a Frameline Award (shared with Mike) presented as part of the 2009 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Chicago Underground Film Festival, the Los Angeles Film Critics Award, the Maya Deren Award for Independent Film and Video Artists from the American Film Institute, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Fleishhacker Foundation.
George is survived by his brother, Mike Kuchar. Condolences may be sent care of Mike Kuchar to the San Francisco Art Institute, 800 Chestnut Street, SF, CA 94133. Donations in George’s memory may be made to the San Francisco Art Institute to support student work in film. Details of a public memorial service are forthcoming.
The New York Times
San Francisco Chronicle
The Bay Citizen
The Village Voice
Bright Lights Film Journal
Excerpt from the book Radical Light
Los Angeles Times