George Kuchar: The 8 mm. Manifesto
(This article is posted to honor filmmaker George Kuchar, who passed away just this week. As an artist, he was a pioneer and a visionary and the impact of his legacy on the film world is too great to comprehend. But, we try.)
On Friday, Dec. 11, 1964, several filmmakers met at a meeting hall called the Eventorium in NYC to participate in a symposium called 8 mm.: Avant-Garde of the Future?.
Speaking on the panel were Lenny Lipton, Alfred Leslie, Serge Gavronsky and Mike & George Kuchar. Two members of the panel are not primarily known for working with 8 mm. Leslie, co-director of the legendary film Pull My Daisy, filmed primarily — and maybe exclusively — in 16 mm; while Gavronsky is a poet and novelist.
As for the others, a decade later, Lipton would go on to literally write the book on this particular film gauge, 1975’s The Super 8 Book. And the Kuchar brothers were known, up until this point, for exclusively using 8 mm. to make campy homages to Hollywood melodramas in the Bronx neighborhood where they had grown up in the ’50s.
Although the 8 mm. film format had been around for a few decades to appeal to the amateur home movie market, the American avant-garde film scene hadn’t fully embraced it and worked primarily in the more popular 16 mm. That the Kuchars favored 8 mm. was a result of them developing their craft outside of the downtown underground film scene. The first cameras they used were 8 mm. home movie cameras, one loaned to them from an aunt and one given as a gift by their mother.
In ’64, though, their reputation had spread far enough that they were warmly embraced by the downtown crowd even though their style of parodying mainstream fare mostly differed from the more experimental styles that were then popular in the avant-garde.
Ironically, at this symposium discussing the future of using 8 mm. film in the avant-garde where clearly the Kuchar brothers were the main experts in the format, George took this opportunity to write a manifesto that both reveres the 8 mm. format, but also announces his leaving of it.
The manifesto was published in the Village Voice in Jonas Mekas‘ “Movie Journal” column on Dec. 17, 1964. The manifesto was then reprinted in the book collection of those columns, from which the Underground Film Journal has reprinted it in full below.
This is a very colorful manifesto, filled with wild imagery, ideas and humor that could only spring from the unique, inventive mind of George Kuchar. And, at the end of it, George announced the making of his first 16 mm. film, which he did complete in 1965.
Here is George Kuchar’s 8 mm. Manifesto:
Yes, 8 mm. is a tool of defense in this society of mechanized corruption because through 8 mm. and its puny size we come closer to the dimensions of the atom.
We in this modern world of geological dormanticity are now experiencing an evolution evolving around minutenocities. We no longer think big except in the realm of nuclear bombardment, and therefore it is not unusual to find human beings with little things. Eight mm. is one of these little things, but 8 mm. becomes enormous when light from a projector bulb illuminates to a great dimension the abnormalities of the psychotic.
In the hands of a potential pervert, this medium becomes like a sculpture of clay with a base of yeast. Sprinkle a few smatters of liquid upon this sculpture and it will blow up and expand to startling and gargantuan proportions. But, as you will see, the clay shell that envelopes the overall piece of work will crack and make dirt everywhere.
The inner beauty of the work will be revealed while at the same time the film-maker will crack and eventually commit suicide. Looking upon the face of one’s own evil is enough to bring the sting of acid to an esophagus that has previously experienced only buttermilk.
That 8 mm. will become avant-garde is a contagious disease-breeder because we are all avant-garde to the point of annihilation, and only when we face the after-effects of total deformity can we then think more clearly and cry because we couldn’t concentrate on moral isolation.
Who are we to ask whether 8 mm. will be the avant-garde of the future when only God and the Vatican know for sure? Moral issues of this nature should never be left for the filthy hands of the beatnik to twist into pretzels of degeneracy. Let the beatnik and the frustrated executive twist 8mm. film into his own image and thereby give others a chance to sniff the world of narcotics and total spiritual breakdown.
Having worked with 8 mm. for twelve years, I have seen what it can do to a person. The creative intellect undergoes a great revolt and the bars of restraint are ripped from the casement of sanity until everything is a whirlpool of incandescent pudding. Eight mm. has taught me to think more clearly and to express myself in direct terms. Like my religion, I was born into 8 mm. because my aunt had loaned me her movie camera and then my mother bought me one for Christmas. Now I’m going to make a 16 mm. picture called Corruption of the Damned, and I’m making it in 16mm. because I can’t make it in 7 mm. Therefore I’m going up instead of down, which has been the usual trend in my life of wanton pleasures. I enjoyed working in 8 mm. and I’m enjoying 16 mm. and if both were taken from me I’d enjoy vegetating because a life of stagnation is one of disease and only through disease can we realize what sickness is.