Brooklyn émigré George Kuchar, along with his twin brother Mike, is the paterfamilias of sleazy underground filmmaking. After all, he's been active in this realm from the tender age of 12, when the duo forged a new genre with campy, threadbare 8mm epics like The Wet Destruction of the Atlantic Empire (1954) and later trashfests like The Naked and the Nude and Sins of the Fleshapoids. Kuchar is a familiar figure on the local indie scene, teaching at the S.F. Art Institute and working out of his loft in the Mission. With his latest digital video epic, Secrets of the Shadow World (1998-1999), he expands his well-known obsession with all things earthly and fleshly into the demimonde of UFO paranoia. Secrets, monumental by Kuchar standards at 140 minutes, was funded by a Rockefeller grant, but even his patron isn't safe from Kuchar's sleight-of-hand: the Rockefeller credit is twisted and twirled, drenched in a rainbow of colors.
Most "UFOlogists" are desperate to prove the mere existence of Area 51, the Roswell alien, the "men in black," Sasquatch, et al. Kuchar is more interested in the sex habits and bathroom functions of our extraterrestrial pals. Using the conceit that he's making a movie about UFOs, he interviews all manner of crackpots and deviates, who under the director's simpatico spell, come off as more endearing than crazy. Author John A. Keel tells him "We have an airplane that's completely invisible"; a student describes the horror of finding "a Sasquatch turd," which occasions one of the director's more lurid orations; and other friends talk about their operations, cannibalism, and cats. Kuchar's style is endlessly digressive and playful, constantly alive with visual puns and riotous color. He also secretly, gleefully undermines his interviewees. While the alleged cannibal friend is disavowing such ghoulishness, and Kuchar seems to be listening sympathetically, the camera lens slowly fills up with drops of blood. Of course, he can also be the most helpful of friends, telling his old buddy Florine Conners, who's just finished vividly describing her operation, "You need a hot lobster!" At some point yet to be determined, Kuchar's mind wandered; happily, it never came back.
Secrets of the Shadow World plays Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Yerba Buena Center Theater, 700 Howard (at Third Street), S.F. Tickets are $3-6; call 978-ARTS.