Sep 28, 2015

The Craven Sluck

Naturally, as a result of my recently acquired obsession with the films of George Kuchar, I decided it was about time that I dig through the somewhat less impressive oeuvre of the filmmaker’s less prolific but seemingly all the more gay twin brother Mike Kuchar, whose 20-minute darkly comedic sci-fi-melodrama hybrid The Craven Sluck (1967) aka Madonna seemed like a worthy introduction to his films, especially since it stars his pathologically dorky sibling in the outstandingly against-type role of an abusive womanizer who exploits the undying loneliness of an over-the-hill blonde bombshell who is suicidal due to the fact that her less than handsome workaholic hubby no longer wants to acknowledge her existence, let alone hump her the way she needs to be humped. What I have immediately discovered upon watching a couple of Mike Kuchar’s films is that he is a somewhat more genre conscious and slightly less personal filmmaker than his twin, whose largely autobiographical auteurist works oftentimes reek of sardonic self-loathing and self-destructive obsession. While the brothers initially co-directed amorously appealingly titled works like I Was a Teenage Rumpot (1960) and Pussy on a Hot Tin Roof (1961) together as teens and were soon lovingly described as “the Mozarts of 8mm Cinema” (in fact, avant-garde gatekeeper Jonas Mekas once described their work in The Village Voice as, “Pop Cinema at its best pop”), the two eventually began directing their own individual auteur pieces when they graduated from using consumer grade 8mm to 16mm film stock after Mike bought a 16mm camera, or as George states in the documentary It Came From Kuchar (2009) directed by Jennifer M. Kroot in regard to their failed collaboration on Corruption of the Damned (1965) and their subsequent parting of ways as a twin directing team, “He [Mike] bought a Bolex and we launched our career[s]. The first picture was CORRUPTION OF THE DAMNED. That was a big 16mm movie. Then Mike abandoned that because he was more interested in Hercules type movies and I was left with the CORRUPTION OF THE DAMNED and I finished that. And that was our first 16mm film.” Incidentally, the first films that both brothers created after going their separate ways as filmmakers were also the films that would be regarding as their greatest masterpieces, with George directing the semi-autobiographical self-reflexive experimental melodrama Hold Me While I'm Naked (1966) and Mike directing the ultra lo-fi sci-fi micro-epic Sins of the Fleshapoids (1965). Despite directing their own individual films, George would continue to be an important ingredient in Mike’s cinematic works as the main leading man of most of his brother’s films. Undoubtedly, what is somewhat ingenious about The Craven Sluck is that Mike managed to get his brother George—a hopelessly neurotic homo who had about as masculine charm and charisma as a plastic pink flamingo lawn ornament—to pull off the seemingly unlikely role of a portraying a charismatic lowlife beatnik alpha-male that manages to con various strange beautiful (and not-so-beautiful women) into falling madly in love with him despite the fact that he is married to a manly pill-popping cripple. A playfully degenerate piece of eccentric extramarital excess where a big bosomed blonde that looks somewhat like a poor man's cross Jayne Mansfield and Anita Ekberg learns the hard way that carnal crimes do not pay, especially when cheating on your husband with a debauched beatnik bastard with a Beatles-esque mop-top, Kuchar's little film ultimately makes a major mockery out of the once-timeless institution of marriage, heterosexual monogamy, and romance in a fashion that can be appreciated by any man, be they are hetero or homo, who has ever had to deal with the problems associated with lovelorn female hysteria.  In other words, Kuchar seems to have made The Craven Sluck as a means to brag about the fact that he, as a proud poof, does not have to deal with the problems that bored and/or whimsical dames cause.

Instead of opening with proper credits that involve inter-titles appearing on the screen (apparently, Kuchar assembled the film in a hasty fashion so that he could finish it in time so that it could play at a gay film festival), The Craven Sluck begins with salacious publicity shots of female lead/‘glamour puss’ Floraine Connors juxtaposed with an off-screen narrator (Bob Cowan, who also portrays two of the characters) orally reciting the credits in a goofy fashion (for example, a pin-up photo of the female lead is juxtaposed with the narrator stating, “Also starring the extremely lovely and talented Bob Cowan, not pictured here”). Protagonist Adele (Floraine Connors) has been married to her sub-average-looking husband Brunswick (Bob Cowan) for seven years and their once apparently steamy love affair has stagnated so drastically that the latter is more interested in reading The Wall Street Journal than looking at his wanton wifey’s rather large tits, which are fairly hard to not notice. As Adele somewhat hysterically thinks to herself while her hubby ignores her as the two sit at their kitchen table, “He makes me ashamed of my torso and ignores my womanly charms. If this is how our marriage has turned out after all these years, I want no part of it. When he leaves for work, I’m going to kill myself.” Indeed, while still strangely wearing her bra and skirt (I guess Kuchar could not convince Connors to lose her clothing and completely expose her bare bazoombas), Adele gets in her bathtub and absurdly attempts to drown herself by merely lying down and holding her head under the water, but she is ultimately saved just in the nick of time when her husband unexpectedly comes home after forgetting to bring his beloved fountain pen with him to work. Somewhat humorously, Brunswick pays such little attention to Adele and her brazen behavior that he does not even realize that she was trying to kill herself and instead berates her by complaining, “For heaven’s sake, Adele! You could have at least fed the dog before you took your bath!” and then thinks to himself, “When will that peroxided woman face up to the responsibilities of being a wife?!”  Of course, Adele is the sort of wayward woman that should have become a pin-up model or go-go dancer instead of a housewife, which is a ‘job’ that is innately at odds with her psychology as an exhibitionist with a seemingly potent sex drive who cannot stand sitting around an apartment all day while there are tons of hot men roaming the streets that she would love to show off her giant udders to.  With seemingly nil interest in having children, Adele certainly personifies what Otto Weininger described as the ‘prostitute archetype.’

Luckily for her, at least initially, Adele’s dog (played by the Kuchars’ real-life pet ‘Bocko,’ who played the eponymous lead of George’s classic short The Mongreloid (1978)) will both literally and figuratively lead her to a new and much more exciting path in life, or so it seems at first. Indeed, when Bocko runs away while Adele is walking around a park, a vaguely handsome young man named Morton (George Kuchar) whose ostensibly good-looks she has been admiring comes to the rescue and helps her to catch the renegade canine. An effetely dressed young bargain bin beatnik who is sporting a pair of extra queer cowboy boots, black leather-pants, and unbecoming suit jacket, Morton gives off the impression to Adele that he is a chic and sexually potent young gentleman of the sensually adventurous sort who makes her husband seem like an insufferable rotting old fart by comparison, so naturally the protagonist more or less instantaneously falls for him without really thinking twice about the consequences. While sitting at a park bench and sharing food with Morton, Adele thinks to herself, “Oh, I’m having such a wonderful time…its been years since I’ve had someone to talk intelligently to. I think I’ll tell him what I’ve always wanted to be: A movie actress…desired by a million men.”  Somewhat revealingly, while fantasizing about being a famous actress, the film cuts to a sort of fetishistic dream-sequence featuring Adele doing burlesque oriented glamour poses where she shakes and flashes around her extra fleshy jumbo jugs, thus highlighting the character's rather moronic sense of vanity. Of course, Adele is rather saddened when she has to eventually part ways with Morton, but she never stops to think that her new loverboy is an abusive degenerate who likes roughing up his crippled wife, or as the narrator states, “Little does Adele know about Morton’s private life. Florence, Morton’s wife, suffers from severe headaches due to a serious bicycle accident in which Morton was at fault.”  Before parting ways, Adele and Morton kiss in a sickly goofy scatological montage that inter-cuts shots of dog Bocko defecating and that wickedly lampoons a famous kissing scene from Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life (1959).

Indeed, when Morton gets home from his amorous play-date with Adele, he reveals a very different side of himself by doing all he can to ignore his ugly crippled wife Florence (also Bob Cowan, albeit this time in Divine-esque drag), who is popping pills while hilariously reading the latest chic leftist literary vomit in The New Yorker. When Florence dares to annoy him while he is watching an episode of the sci-fi adventure TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968), Morton roughs her up by pushing her on the ground and then shoving her onto a sofa. Obviously someone that encourages his wife’s seemingly highly deleterious drug addiction, Morton also gives Florence some pills and has her swallow them with a coffee mug full of toilet water before going out again to hunt for some more sexy street cunt. Naturally, when Morton happens upon a young blonde babe named Marilyn Marmoset (Donna Kerness of George Kuchar's masterpiece Hold Me While I'm Naked)—a character who, as the narrator notes at the beginning of the film, has a surname that is curiously the, “same spelling as the African tree monkey”—while prowling the streets and stalks her all the way back to her apartment (in fact, Ms. Marmoset even unlocks her door so that he can walk right in), he decides break off his planned rendezvous with Adele, who he lies to by telling her that he has to attend to a sick uncle who has supposedly, “been stricken with a severe case of gassy stomach and is in considerable pain.”  Unfortunately for her, Adele learns the truth when Morton's wife grabs the telephone from him and reveals to the protagonist that her dashing love interest is a deceitful scumbag who is banging various other dumb broads.  To make matters ten times worse, a UFO invasion hits NYC only seconds after Adele gets off the phone with the dime-store Don Juan, thus the protagonist has to put her lovelorn despair on hold. While Adele declares, “Good Lord, we’re being attacked by flying saucers from another planet. I must flee to safety!” and immediately begins attempting to find sanctuary around the city, she is soon zapped by a UFO ray and completely vaporized shortly after leaving her apartment, thereupon conveniently abruptly concluding the heroine's story and, in turn, the problems associated with her domestic despair. In the end, the narrator snidely states regarding the ostensible moral of the story, “So, as we near the closing of our story and see how the little pieces of life fall into their true meaningful places, we can’t help but think to ourselves: God really…uhuh…came…uhuh…knew what he was doin…uhuh.”

Apparently, auteur Mike Kuchar was so embarrassed by The Craven Sluck after completing it that he initially refused to screen it, or as the filmmaker once stated in an audio commentary track for the film, “I developed a complex...I thought maybe this might be the sloppiest picture ever made. And I started to repress it, like for years…And I never really put it into many shows after it had its release.” It was not until the film was warmly received when it was screened at retrospectives in both Germany and England that Kuchar actually began to finally embrace and respect his own film, thereupon leading him to conclude that he is not exactly the best judge of his own work. Of course, as a campy work featuring both a fat fellow in drag portraying an abused housewife and an unloved wife who attempts to off herself in a bathtub, The Craven Sluck has almost certainly influenced the infamous Manhattan Love Suicides (1985) segment Thrust in Me (1985) co-directed by Richard Kern and Nick Zedd where the latter filmmaker dresses in drag and portrays a girl her kills herself in her bathtub, only for her corpse to be mouth-fucked by her emotionally negligent beau (also portrayed by Zedd in a scenario that seems to pay homage to the scene in John Waters' Female Trouble (1974) where Divine literally fucks herself by portraying both a male and female character during a rape scene), who interprets her act of self-slaughter as an attempt at emotional blackmail and reacts accordingly by deriving pleasure from her death.  While Kuchar's film might not be as graphic as Thrust in Me, it is certainly a cleverer and more competently directed work that demonstrates Zedd is merely a poor heterosexual imitator who lacks the charm, cinematic literacy, and class of his filmic forebear.  Certainly one of the most tastelessly charming titled works ever made (although the word has multiple meanings, ‘sluck’ is typically seen as another word for ‘slut’ and is a portmanteau of ‘slut’ and ‘fuck’), Kuchar’s film is ultimately a mockery of heterosexual romantic love and marriage that is both sardonic and even scatological in its satirizing of high Hollywood melodramas like Sirk's Imitation of Life, as a work that not only dares to feature a UFO appear out of nowhere during the last minute or so and zapping the female heroine to death but also features a dog defecating in a seemingly painful fashion while the female lead and her new extramarital beau kiss, thus underscoring the pettiness of both romance and personal problems in the context of the world at large.  After all, what would seem more frivolous to a gay man than the romantic qualms of a big boobed blonde bimbo with the IQ of a gnat.  In the end, The Craven Sluck ultimately proves to be a highly therapeutic experience in that it gives the viewer the opportunity to witness the singular novelty of seeing some annoying airheaded female lead randomly killed under rather absurd circumstances, which is a fantasy I have always had ever since I was a kid as a result of those rare occasions where I was forced to watch a Hollywood romantic-comedy or kitschy big budget melodrama.  Indeed, call me a cynic, misanthrope, and/or sadist, but I would delighted to see Casablanca (1942) conclude with a Nazi UFO appearing out of nowhere at the end and vaporizing both Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid while they are saying goodbye to one another during the all-too-famous airport scene.

-Ty E

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