A rare screening for two oddities from Underground cinema stalwarts the Kuchar brothers: Mike’s 16mm effort Sins of the Fleshapoids (1965) and George’s Orphans of the Cosmos (2009). Fleshapoids is a 43-minute science fiction epic set in a future where the human race has become self-indulgent, depraved and lazy, lounging about on couches and waited upon by artificial humanoids the ‘fleshapoids’. The plot follows one of the latter, Gar (Bob Cowan), as he rebels and flees slavery to pursue his lover in the palace of Prince Gianbeno (George Kuchar) and Princess Vivianna (Donna Kerness), a couple locked in passive-aggressive war, who are going through their own crisis of infidelity. Mayhem ensues.
Fleshapoids is a riot of plastic jewellery, draped fabric and thrift shop tat repurposed to depict a future world of luxuriant decadence. As in much of the Kuchars’ output an old-school Hollywood glamour sensibility rubs up against their low-rent hairy-arsed tin foil reality. This is a sub-poverty row production shot entirely in Bronx interiors, cast from whatever local male and female hotties could be persuaded into it, in rich colour, but without synchronous sound. It has the innocent ‘let’s put on a show right here’ amateurism you might expect from such a youthful production, but also displays a flair for composition and lighting, and a sheer ambition that lifts it out of home movie status. There is a certain defiant swagger to it, utterly unreal but unconcerned, happy to use a painting and a few pot plants to suggest a palace exterior if they’ll do the job. It’s hard not to feel a certain delight when the narrator intones, in his best ‘welcome to the world of tomorrow’ voice, that ‘humans now live in a true paradise!’ as the camera moves over the plastic fruit and leopard skin to settle on the glitter-sprayed cast, who acquit themselves with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Cowan’s Gar moves in your traditional ‘I am a robot’ jerky fashion throughout (which none of the other fleshapoids do), George Kuchar is a vision of five and dime resplendence, and the script, (delivered through on-screen speech balloons and audio narration) runs the gamut from over-ripe to melodramatic and back again. The ending is outrageous and stupid and rather sweet. It has charm.
Orphans of the Cosmos was made by George Kuchar some 43 years after Fleshapoids, and is, objectively, pretty terrible on any technical level you would choose to judge it. A project made at the San Francisco Art Institute with his students, it tells the tale of some ambitious teens with their hearts set on a mission to Mars, who achieve their goal through dope money funding, only to unleash an extraterrestrial attack in the process.
Cosmos seems at times to have been assembled from the worst (only?) takes that George could get, so that flat readings, fluffed lines and quizzical looks off camera are de rigueur. The lush grain of 16mm has been replaced by video, but not high-end digital video, no; this appears to have been shot with the same camera and software package usually employed by the creators of cable television adverts for Crazy Larry’s Used Furniture Warehouse. Thus every other scene will be framed into hearts, or covered with symbols, or kaleidoscoped into fly’s eye vision. Occasionally this is used to some narrative purpose, but it often feels like he is using every setting on the menu randomly, possibly to win a bet. The thrift store aesthetic here continues in the extensive use of toys to stand in as zoo animals, spaceships and Martians, though the combination of these together with cheesy digital FX becomes increasingly confusing. Indeed the whole thing is a lot less coherent and a lot more repetitive than much of his previous output, and, frankly, the last 10 minutes or so of this 40-minute meisterwork had me baffled.
All this said, it’s clearly a bit of a goof, assembled in a hurry with whatever resources were readily to hand. The patented fruity Kuchar dialogue still raises a smile, and there are some disarmingly terrible musical interludes. I watched the whole thing with a feeling of tickled bemusement. It doesn’t fit the pattern or share the aesthetics of anything else in contemporary American cinema, but nor does it look like it cares. So, godawful then, but kind of fun.