Sep 27, 2015

Eclipse of the Sun Virgin

While Hold Me While I'm Naked (1966) and A Reason to Live (1976) are oftentimes considered two of the filmmaker’s very best films, George Kuchar’s Eclipse of the Sun Virgin (1967) certainly holds a special place in my heart simply because it was the very first film that I saw by the seemingly quasi-autistic auteur that made me realize that he was more than just an obscenely outmoded amateur film director who flooded the American underground with his shamelessly neurotic experiments in excess, eccentricity, and senseless scatology. Arguably Kuchar’s most innately esoteric and experimental film as an anti-linear montage piece, the film is a sort of quasi-sequel to the filmmaker’s most well known and revered cinematic work, or as he stated himself, “ECLIPSE OF THE SUN VIRGIN was the follow-up to HOLD ME WHILE I'M NAKED, in which I try to get into the character's mind. The character was me of course. I did it in a more dreamlike way. NAKED was about the experience of what's happening; SUN VIRGIN was more enigmatic. When it first came out, no one could make head nor tail of it, but now people understand it—which scares me. I didn't totally get it 'til years later. Someone saw it and said this is a gay picture, and I thought, he's right. I had no idea at the time, twenty years ago.” Indeed, the film is a piece of semi-cryptic Catholic cocksucker guilt where the auteur fittingly plays the lead and displays his sense of disgust while in the company of fat grotesque girls while, at the same time, he longs to be with some greasy Guido guy of his dreams. Featuring an almost all-Hebraic cast of morbidly obese Divine-esque Jewesses, wops and Yid dorks, as well as Kuchar as himself in the lead role sporting all-black Scorpio Rising-esque leather motorcycle outfit, Eclipse of the Sun Virgin reveals that the filmmaker's preferred communication with girls is by way of belching and farting and his interest in boys is almost religious in a sort of ritualistic Catholic homoerotic sense where the lead character worships young men in a fashion not unlike how sexually repressed nuns pray to the image of Jesus on the cross. Of course, when it comes to both genders, Kuchar does not have the testicular fortitude to pursue any sort of meaningful physical relationship and instead attempts to impress his would-be-sexual-conquests with screenings of vulgar medical footage. A film with a sort of distinct dream logic that seems to be set more in the director’s terribly sexually repressed fantasy realm than any sort of tangible reality, Kuchar’s all-too-brief 13-minute experiment in middle class repression is indubitably one of the most idiosyncratic, enigmatic, and truly quirky queer themed films that I have ever seen and I say that as a fan of the oeuvre of Teutonic dandy Werner Schroeter. Indeed, the film makes anything that John Waters has ever done seem hopelessly contrived and insincere by comparison. Additionally, the film makes anything Jack Smith has ever done seem like the obnoxiously abhorrent aesthetic ravings of a hyperactive poof philistine queen. Most importantly, Eclipse of the Sun Virgin is more thoughtful and intriguing than anything directed by the majority of so-called Structural filmmakers like Paul Sharits and Hollis Frampton that were working during the same era, as a playfully perverse piece of highly personalized preternatural cinema with a deep and bizarrely darkly joyous soul. 

 George Kuchar plays a college graduate who is plagued by Catholic guilt, fat obnoxious sisters (all of whom are played by fat and swarthy Jewesses despite Kuchar’s own Slavic Catholic origins), and a low tolerance for alcohol. At the beginning of the film, a drawing of Jesus Christ is juxtaposed with a frigid sounding woman narrating, “he that shall lose his life for me, shall find it” from Matthew 10:39. In the next shot, a framed college graduation photo of Kuchar is juxtaposed with the same woman narrating, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” from Matthew 19:21. In the next shot, Kuchar is featured attempting to drink liquor out of a coffee mug, though he has a hard time swallowing it and seems to almost barf it up. From there, we witness a bizarre scene where Kuchar’s Hebraic homeboy Larry Leibowitz plays piano while his mother Frances Leibowitz plays on a different piano that is positioned in the opposite direction. Out of nowhere, Mrs. Leibowitz grabs on old framed portrait of her and her son when he was just a small lad and stares at it intently as if disappointed that her little boy is a now a little mensch with sexual urges. In what is the first overtly homoerotic scene, Kuchar stares like a goofy gay goofball at a somewhat gawky guido boy named Joe Zinzi as if he wants to devour his dago dong, but the filmmaker becomes afraid of the wrath of god when he notices that his little friend is sporting a large crucifix necklace. Indeed, guido Zinzi will homoerotically haunt Kuchar for the rest of the film, but so will Christ and his deep-seated Catholic background. Somewhat strangely at almost the three minute mark of the film, it is insinuated that Kuchar might actually be dead as the Jesus portrait from the beginning of the film closes to reveal a leather bound obituary reading “In Loving Memory” on the cover. Humorously, a storm knocks the obituary down and exposes that it was being propped up in a half-ass manner by a bottle of Right Guard deodorant. Whether Kuchar is dead or not is questionable, but it seems fairly undeniable that most of the characters in the film, including the protagonist, seem like sexually repressed phantoms that live in some sort of alternate dimension for forsaken perverts that lack the fleshy goods and charisma to obtain a mate. 

 As the film progresses, Kuchar continues to attempt to hold his liquor but he ultimately ends up spitting it back in his blue coffee cop. When Kuchar ends up going outside, the film ends up taking an all the more mystical tone that only gets all the more bizarrely esoteric as it progresses. After a segment where the matronly narrator states, “Only as your pride slowly crumbles will you get the glimpse of true humility,” Kuchar uncovers a mirror that is covered with pieces of fruit and closely stares into it in a scene that is certainly a hilarious allegory for homosexual narcissism. At this point in the film, Kuchar begins a temporary excursion in so-called heteronormality and tries in vain to attempt to court a somewhat chubby girl that sometimes has a parakeet resting on her shoulder who he watches playing Beethoven on a piano while seemingly like he is bored to death. When Kuchar attempts to pick a rose for the girl in a scenario one might interpret as his abject failure at attempting to live as a heterosexual man who courts women, he ultimately fails pathetically and merely pricks his finger instead to the point where blood is gushing out of it (not long after, the girl also receives a bloody finger). In another scene that illustrates Kuchar’s decided disinterest in the fairer sex, the protagonist is featured sitting on a stuffed animal adorned bed while sporting leather-fag biker gear and keeping his distance from his would-be girlfriend, who is admiring herself in a compact mirror and seems to be waiting in vain for her hapless beau to peck her on the lips. In a preternaturally potent montage that sort of feels like an experiment in subliminal pop art, shots of the pseudo-girlfriend displaying where she pricked her finger on a rose are juxtaposed with Kuchar checking out his guido pal Zinzi, who gives him a flirtatious knowing smirk. Notably, during this montage, Kuchar is sporting the leather biker outfit and a pair of black sunglasses, which one might interpret as the sort of idealized macho homo that he wishes he was. In the same montage, Kuchar is also featured stealing a Beethoven bust and throwing it into a dirty above ground pool in a scenario that seems symbolic of the protagonist’s sacrifice for sodomy (after all, Kuchar’s female ‘love interest’ was featured in a previous scene playing Beethoven on the piano). After Kuchar tosses both the Beethoven bust and a partly deflated beach ball in the pool, the girlfriend is featured sobbing hysterically while staring at a goofy portrait of the protagonist.  Naturally, Kuchar and his little fake girlfriend are not featured in another single scene together for the remainder of the film, thus confirming that the poof protagonist has rid himself of any heterosexual pretenses that he might have had before and has accepted the fact that he is about as straight as a circle.

 After his failed girlfriend cries to the point where her face is literally soaked with tears as if someone hit her in the face with a water balloon, Kuchar is depicted calling a fat Jewess on the phone and belching into the receiver when she picks it up. Hilariously, the heavyset Hebrewess responds to Kuchar’s fairly powerful burp by farting so loudly that she causes the bed that she is lying on to shake. From there, the viewer is forced to endure the unsightly sight of fat, Divine-esque Jewesses applying lipstick, smoking cigarettes, and playing with kitty cats, among other things that seem to make a mockery of femininity and the so-called fairer sex in general. For whatever reason, during this truly grotesque kosher chick montage, a random photo is spliced in of a young black bourgeois mother staring lovingly at her young daughter as she prays in a scene that—whether intentional or not—seems to hilariously highlight the absurdity of the American negro's devotion to the white man's brand of Christianity. In a scene that may or may not be of Kuchar as a child, a boy is depicted playing with a cardboard toy ‘skeleton-plane’ in a scenario that hints that the filmmaker is dead and that he is now merely floating back and forth through time (which would explain the overall dreamlike nature of the film). After the surreal skeleton-plane scene, Kuchar trips an obese Jewess and causes her to spill coffee on the cover of a comic called “Teen-Age Love” featuring an attractive young man and woman embracing on the cover. Of course, the spilled coffee scene seems to symbolize Kuchar’s rejection of all-things-heterosexual. In the end, George screens footage of a man showing off his rather large and flexible Adam's apple, as well as surgery footage. While screening the footage, Kuchar spends more time watching his friend than the actual film, thereupon indicating that he has finally embraced his homosexuality, even if he has yet to physically act upon it. When the surgery footage ends, Eclipse of the Sun Virgin also fittingly ends. 

 Notably, in a segment from a lecture in the documentary George Kuchar: The Comedy of the Underground (1983) directed by David Hallinger, Kuchar states regarding the genesis of his film and why he decided to make a sequel to Hold Me While I'm Naked, “I had myself in the picture and there were all these trilogies coming out… Antonioni’s was coming out with trilogies… Satyajit Ray was coming out with these trilogy movies…So I wanted to make one so I put myself in another picture called ECLIPSE OF THE SUN VIRGIN. ECLIPSE OF THE SUN VIRGIN hit more closer to home. Some of you may realize that…those that know me…that it came close to home. So therefore I had to change it…I had to make it more ambiguous and have the plot line more like a dream…So that it doesn’t tell that much.” Of course, while absurdly esoteric for a Kuchar flick, there is no doubt while watching Eclipse of the Sun Virgin that it is an extremely personal film about homosexuality and the seemingly innate neuroticism that accompanies it, especially if you had a strict religious upbringing like the filmmaker, who never quite let go of his Catholic roots as his films readily demonstrate (in fact, at various points in his career, Kuchar has credited Catholic iconography and ritual as influencing his distinct aesthetic sensibilities as a filmmaker, which is especially apparent in his highly confessional video diary Temple of Torment (2006)). Interestingly, Kuchar would once state in a somewhat self-deprecating tongue-in-cheek fashion regarding Eclipse of the Sun Virgin, “I dedicate this film poem to the behemoths of yesteryear that perished in Siberia along with the horned pachyderms of the pre-glacial epoch. This chilling montage of crimson repression must be seen by the victims of perversity, regardless of sex or age. Painstakingly filmed and edited, it will be painful to watch, too.” Of course, considering his strong Catholic background and the era he grew up in, it is easy to see why Kuchar had some major hang-ups regarding his homosexuality, which his mother was apparently not too glad about, or as the filmmaker once confessed in regard to some of his seemingly traumatic personal experiences, “I made a transvestite movie on the roof and was beaten by my mother for having disgraced her and for soiling her nightgown. She didn’t realize how hard it was for a 12-year-old director to get real girls for his movie.” Although quite different aesthetically speaking, Eclipse of the Sun Virgin is quite comparable to Gregory J. Markopoulos’ masterpiece Twice a Man (1964) in terms of being a sort hyper hermetic homo ‘coming out’ film that depicts the depression and sense of despair that results from being a young gay man from a fairly normal middle class background. 

 While Kuchar once confessed, “I don't see myself as a gay filmmaker....I don't think other people see me as a gay filmmaker either because certain of my films don't deal with that—and because I don't grab my student audience and fondle them on the side. Curt [McDowell] felt the gay scene was a ghetto,” Eclipse of the Sun Virgin is unequivocally an innately gay film directed by a filmmaker of the extra queer persuasion and, interestingly but not surprisingly, it also happens to be what is probably the most difficult, offbeat, baffling, and just plain curious work that he ever made. Incidentally, the same also can arguably be said of gutter auteur Andy Milligan whose first flick Vapors (1965) is not only his only overtly gay and least exploitative film (even if it features a dangling cock at the end), but also easily the most artsy fartsy and idiosyncratic flick that the AIDS-ridden sadistic sod filmmaker ever sored. Undoubtedly, what films like Eclipse of the Sun Virgin, Twice a Man, and Vapors demonstrate is that repression and persecution of homosexuality at least had some positive consequences, as it resulted in truly groundbreaking art that reflects the height of human misery and melancholia from a sort of highly introverted gay perspective. Of course, what makes Kuchar’s films different from works like Twice a Man and Vapors is that it manages to create a sort of delectably disharmonious marriage between camp and pathos, which seems totally oxymoronic upon hearing but makes total sense in the wonderfully wayward world of Eclipse of the Sun Virgin, which is probably the only film ever made that makes gay self-loathing seem like a quite merry experience

-Ty E

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