Sep 22, 2015

Hold Me While I'm Naked

Just like with Andy Milligan about three years ago, I never thought my taste in cinema would grow so low to the point where I would actually come to appreciate the work of the “the Mozarts of 8mm Cinema,” the Kuchar twins, especially belated brother George (The Devil’s Cleavage, The Mongreloid), whose singular quasi-autistic trash aesthetic finally began to appeal to me rather recently after I saw a screenshot from his extra experimental montage-based short Eclipse of the Sun Virgin (1967)—a work once described by the auteur as something that, “must be seen by the victims of perversity, regardless of sex or age. Painstakingly filmed and edited, it will be painful to watch, too”—and decided that I must watch it immediately. In the almost repugnantly perverse yet addictively playful short, Kuchar absurdly appears in a leather biker outfit that is quite similar to that of the eponymous gutter stud in Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1964) and hangs out with a couple morbidly obese Jewesses that surely inspired John Waters to make ‘Divine’ his main diva. Needless to say, after wallowing in Eclipse of the Sun Virgin, I needed to see more Kuchar and ultimately naturally decided on his 17-minute experimental micro-melodrama Hold Me While I'm Naked (1966), which is regarded by many, including the various politically correct film scholars who pretend to like his films because they believe they are useful to their sterile LGBT agenda (even though the modern ‘homo friendly’ world would never ever produce a single Kuchar, Anger, or Markopoulos, as their films are expressions of suffering and longing and not banal issues like gay marriage), as his magnum opus and was incidentally made at the same time that his brother Mike was assembling his lo-fi sci-fi masterpiece Sins of the Fleshapoids (1965), which he also starred in. An absurdist film-within-a-film that authenticates the director's remark that “I work best under terrible pressure” as work that had its genesis in an aborted film and was inspired by real-life in that big bosomed lead, Donna Kerness, decided to quit production, which forced the auteur to completely change the entire flick and ultimately sire something that is thankfully much more personal, Kuchar’s bizarrely kaleidoscopic piece of histrionically melodramatic metacinema tells the story of a perennially lonely and sexually repressed filmmaker who begins to lose what is left of his mind and dignity after his busty yet seemingly half-brain-dead lead heroine abruptly decides to quit the production because she is tired of exposing her juicy jumbo jugs on camera. Notably, Kuchar once somewhat mockingly reflected regarding his own film that it was, “A dazzling ruby in Kuchar’s jewelry box of cinema gems and gossamer garbage. Financed with unemployment checks…[it] goes beyond the erotic into the world of hyper-neurotic, a world which exists behind the filmmaker’s shower curtain.” Indeed, not only does the film reveal Kuchar to be a hyper-neurotic self-flagellating homo that wishes he got more cock than his leading lady, but also an obscenely guilt-ridden pansy momma’s boy whose mother seems to carry around his testicles in her purse. A rare cinematic work that is just as intrinsically campy as it is melancholic and thus makes the viewer laugh when they should probably cry and vice versa, Hold Me While I'm Naked is pseudo-Sirkian in an almost psychotic way that makes it quite clear that Kuchar is unequivocally one of the most self-denigrating, enigmatically eccentric, and benignly unhinged filmmakers who has ever lived.  Of course, Kuchar is not Rock Hudson as the male lead, but a character that makes the titular human turd in Napoleon Dynamite (2004) seem like what ghetto-dwelling American negroes describe as a ‘pimp.’

 Hold Me While I'm Naked begins with Kuchar, who plays an overtly autobiographical character named Phillip, directing a farcically frantic chase scene where he shouts to his lead actress Donna Kerness while she is running away from some unseen entity that she should look “scared” because her “life is a stake.” In a display of his true carny-esque gentlemanliness, Kuchar also shouts to Kerness while directing her, “This is your greatest portrayal. You’re a star and this is going to be your biggest picture. Keep running.” After finishing shooting the scene, human goober Kuchar smiles in a charmingly goofy fashion and waves in approval while still holding his film camera. In the next scene, Kuchar films Kerness and a man that is embracing her behind a stained glass window and while he describes her first take as “wonderful” and “almost just perfect,” he then tells her that they have to reshoot the scene with her bra off, “because the mysticism of the stained glass window and the profanity of that brassier do not go well together.” While Kerness immediately sheds her bra and has no problem shooting the scene, she decides it is the last straw in terms of having to shed her flesh for the particularly perverse looking fairy filmmaker, especially after he announces after shooting the scene, “Terrific! That’s it for today. Tomorrow we do the massaging table scene and maybe after that, if we have time, we’ll do the scene where you’re found naked in a fallout shelter and there are those radioactive welts on your side.” 

 After wrapping up shooting for the day, Kerness and her onscreen/offscreen lover continue to makeout behind the stained glass window while Kuchar proceeds to walk home by himself while looking like a pathetic impotent loser in a scene that seems to underscore the filmmaker’s nonexistent sex life and overall emotional impoverishment.  While walking home, Kuchar happens upon a little bird sitting on a tree branch and he is so entranced by its natural beauty that he somehow manages to magically pick up the little creature without it flying away and then proceeds to kiss it in a scene that misleadingly makes the viewer think that the filmmaker is headed towards a brighter and more beautiful future, but of course that's not how things work out when you are a goofy gay loser who lives with their mother.  Meanwhile, Kuchar’s leading lady Kerness melodramatically moans to her lover, “I’m sick and tired of being naked in almost every scene. I’m not going to do this picture anymore, he’s like some kind of erotic parent,” to which he fittingly replies, “A neurotic parent is more like it.” Ultimately, Kerness pleads to her discernibly horny white knight beau, “Just take me away from him” and then calls him the filmmaker and lets him know that she is quitting the film. Instead of getting mad at Kerness for quitting and, in turn, destroying the picture he has dedicated his life to making, Kuchar meekly asks her on the phone, “You’re not going to finish the movie?” and then slowly puts his phone down on the receiver and then stares out of his window in a pathetically forlorn fashion as if he is staring into oblivion.  It becomes quite apparent at this point that, without filmmaking, Kuchar's life is meaningless and he has nothing to live for.  In between inexplicably applying red lipstick to the plastic lips of unclad vintage baby dolls that are lying next to him in bed, Kuchar makes various attempts to find new actors but, as a man with a hilariously flat affect, he is not a very good salesman, especially when people have better things to do like fuck. When Kuchar calls up one longhaired hippy dude and declares like a senile bible salesman, “Yes, there happens to be an opening in my new film for you and a girl of your choice. I have a great role for her,” the silly looking beatnik bastard finds himself hanging upon on the filmmaker after his girlfriend gets his mind focusing on more important things by taking her bra off. Indeed, the two hippies have such passionate sex that they cause power-lines outside to seemingly shake. 

 In a montage that seems to highlight the fact that Kuchar is a man with an undying sense of loneliness and sexual repression who has hit rock bottom because the one thing that helps him to partially fill the void that is his life, filmmaking, has been taken away from him, shots of the filmmaker lying on the ground entangled in reels of film is intercut with scenes of hippies fucking.  Naturally, as the film progresses, Kuchar's idiosyncratic montages only get all the more merrily melancholic.  In what is the most (in)famous segment of the film, a montage of Kuchar taking a sad lonely shower is intercut with scenes of the filmmaker seemingly daydreaming about his ex-superstar Kerness ecstatically making love to her man in a shower. Notably, Kuchar is strangely wearing a similar translucent dress as Kerness while taking a shower, thus indicating the filmmaker is fantasizing about being her and making passionate love to rough macho men in the shower. While showering, Kuchar seems to lose it and begins banging his head against the shower wall like some sort of lethargic mental patient who refuses to take his meds. At about the same time, the corpse of the little bird that Kuchar kissed at the beginning of the film appears at his window and then the film cuts to a shot of the filmmaker kissing the cutesy winged being and it subsequently dying as a result of his literal kiss of death, thereupon arguably insinuating in an allegorical fashion that the auteur believes he is some sort of corrosive force who only has the capacity to debase and destroy, hence his fetish for pornography and getting girls naked. At the end of his shower of sadness, Kuchar’s mother (played by his real-life Ukrainian peasant mother Stella Kuchar of Anita Needs Me (1963) and Ascension of the Demonoids (1985)) starts attempting to open the bathroom door and then yells to her son in an exceedingly bitchy fashion, “Phillip, it’s me, Mom. Get out, for Christ's sake. You’ve been in there an hour. The food’s gonna get cold. Get out already. I’m sick and tired of hanging around this house all day. I wanna get out too. Now remember, put the bathmat on the floor so you don’t get any water all over the bathroom. Come on, hurry up! The food is getting cold.” As demonstrated by the fact that he stares at the bathroom door in a somewhat disturbing fashion while you can hear his heart beat, Kuchar seems afraid of having to simply leave the room and confront his mother, who is undoubtedly largely responsible for his autistic behavior and remarkably low self-esteem, among other things. Somewhat curiously, when Kuchar does finally leave the bathroom, he is dressed like a middle-aged woman, thus hinting that he takes after mommy dearest and is more or less becoming her. After his mother serves him a pathetic looking pork chop dinner that she serves on a paper plate (I guess Kuchar's mother was too lazy to wash dishes), Kuchar abruptly breaks down the fourth wall by staring into the camera and declaring to the viewer, “I guess there’s a lot of things in life worth living for…isn’t there?” 

 In a rather insightful segment featured in the documentary It Came from Kuchar (2009) directed by Jennifer M. Kroot, Hold Me While I'm Naked heroine Donna Kernness states while fiddling with a lollipop like it is a cock, “I was in the beginning of HOLD ME, but I was feeling weak because I was on Prednisone, so I called George…and you know how he is, he says, ‘ok Donna, ok Donna.’ He was devastated…I know he was, but he’d never show that. He went on to finish the movie. I think what it turned into was his devastation, along with his other devastations about things in his life that maybe bothered him. We were laughing at and yet crying at the same time when he’s lying on the floor with film all over his face…the cuttings of movies and calling people who are saying, ‘Oh, no, no…I can’t see you now” and they’re all having their own personal sex life. And what is he doing?! He’s twirling in the shower with his mother calling him to eat his pork chops.” Indeed, despite being less than 20 minutes long, Kuchar’s films is one of the patently pathetic self-pity parties ever sired on celluloid, yet it also one the greatest, most idiosyncratic, and joyously bittersweet self-pity parties as the pure and unadulterated expression of a seeming autistic queer who fantasizes about being a dreamy diva that every macho man desires yet is ultimately too strange to even appeal to the average AIDS-ridden tearoom sod. Of course, most viewers of the film will probably be asking themselves how Kuchar got so screwed up and socially inept in the first place and thankfully the film at least partially answers that question, albeit in a campy hermetic homo way. Aside from the film’s various references to Catholic guilt, Kuchar makes it quite clear by casting his own mother in an repugnantly bitchy role that she is largely the reason he suffers from ludicrously low-esteem and is so intrinsically plagued with such a debilitating case of neuroticism that he makes Woody Allen seem like a strong and stoic Waffen-SS soldier by comparison. In fact, Kuchar has such a preternatural relationship with his mother that when she died, he filmed her wake and even got a shot of his then-98-year-old aunt crying at her casket for his singularly morbid short Currents of Destiny (2007).  In that sense, I think Kuchar used his camera as a short of shield-cum-safety-blanket that made it somewhat easier for him to deal with the more emotionally and psychologically difficult things in life. After all, he also documented his good friend and collaborator, filmmaker Curt McDowell (Thundercrack!, Loads), while he was on his deathbed dying of AIDS for his video piece Video Album 5: The Thursday People (1987) and you can tell while watching the footage that he surely did not do it for exploitative reasons. As a man who proclaimed in the doc It Came from Kuchar, “...But you know, adults are weird, you know. I think all kids understand that,” it seems that Kuchar always saw himself as a child and this sort of childish innocence and naivety is certainly apparent in his films.

 Indeed, judging by the uncompromisingly confessional, almost self-destructively and nihilistically autobiographical, and radically retrograde ‘home-movie-esque’ yet meticulously stylized essence of Hold Me While I'm Naked, it is hard to imagine that, aside from more obvious influences like John Waters and Nick Zedd, that the films of Guy Maddin, who notably appears in the doc It Came from Kuchar and cites The Devil's Cleavage (1975) as one of his favorite films, would exist today.  Additionally, the overtly mechanical and intentionally contrived bird scenes in the film almost certainly influenced the conclusion of David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986). Undoubtedly it takes a certain striking degree of social retardation and pathological cinemania to churn out a film like Kuchar's where life and cinema become one and the same, with the filmmaker's perturbingly pathetic life ironically obtaining crude yet captivating poetic meaning in its celluloid form. In its recklessly daring expression of real ugly and less than flattering pathos, impotence, and despair, Kuchar’s truly short but sweet melodrama managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible by giving camp artistic credibility. Somewhat shockingly, the film was even included in the popular but somewhat uneven film reference guide 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (2003) edited by Steven Jay Schneider. Directed by a superlatively scatological fellow (notably, John Waters has acknowledged that the shocking ‘shit-eating grin’ conclusion of Pink Flamingos (1972) was probably inspired by the turd scene in Pagan Rhapsody (1970)) who seems to suffer from an inverted Oedipus complex and a love-hate relationship with some of his leads that was probably inspired by his desire to live vicariously through them, Hold Me While I'm Naked ultimately unwittingly reveals the cocksucker essence of ‘camp’ and how it is merely an exaggerated expression of the how the homo—an abstraction from the mainstream that is innately incapable of truly understanding the heterosexual mind—perceives and interacts with the world, especially in regard to sex and cinema. Of course, what makes Kuchar a braver filmmaker than his contemporary Jack Smith and disciple John Waters is that his films, especially Hold Me While I'm Naked, are hopelessly personal and incriminating, hence their singular charm.  I also must not forget to note that I have never noticed a gay filmmaker with such a shameless big titty fetish, but I guess that is what happens to you when your father introduces you and your twin brother to pornography at an early age. Surely, one almost gets the impression while watching Hold Me While I'm Naked that Kuchar thought that if he looked at enough massive mammary glands, it might turn him straight (notably, at the end of his career, Kuchar seemed to sexually mature and became obsessed with filming the shaved granny pussy of elderly diva Linda Martinez in works like The Fury of Frau Frankenstein (2005)), which is just one of the many interpretations that one can get while watching the film, as a work that tests the bounds of cinematic tastelessness in a way that is, unlike most campy trash, anything but soulless.  Indeed, if there is a celluloid heaven, Kuchar is probably filming Pasolini right now getting run over by a car driven by Fassbinder while Curtis Harrington commands a UFO that is hovering in the background.

-Ty E

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