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Dear Video Diary: Christmas with Anne Robertson and George Kuchar

Unique, prolific, emotional and funny, the filmmakers George Kuchar (1942 - 2011) and Anne Charlotte Robertson (1949 - 2012) both left behind many hours of moving image diaries, much of which is housed at the Harvard Film Archive. While the tones of their respective diaries are quite different, both Kuchar and Robertson cover similar leitmotifs, including food, the body, cats, family and the natural world. They also share the tradition of cinematically confronting the holiday season—a time that can be melancholy or festive, lonely or celebratory, and usually a bit of everything. Tonight we present a selection of their complementary, alternative visions of sugar plums.

Boston area Super 8 filmmaker Anne Robertson’s primary body of work is her Five Year Diary, an approximately thirty-seven-hour film which spans the years 1981 - 1997.  Begun a couple of years before she began graduate school at MassArt, Five Year Diary was conceived as a film that would document something everyday, a way to tell a story, to keep track of her life and to lose weight. For an artist who continually struggled with mental health issues, the diary also became a method of simply maintaining her sanity. When presenting the diary films to an audience, she often included performative elements, including her live narration over layers of prerecorded audio.

Cult and avant garde film star George Kuchar began making short comedic melodramas on 8mm and 16mm with his twin brother Mike as a teenager in the Bronx. After collaborations like Born Of The Wind (1964), they each eventually developed their own individual films and styles. George churned out classics like Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966), Eclipse of the Sun Virgin (1967) and The Devil’s Cleavage (1973)—influencing many young filmmakers like John Waters—and taught filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he operated his class like a demented younger brother of the Hollywood studio system.

When consumer home video became affordable in the mid 1980s, George started making video diaries. His Weather Diaries follow dramatic external and internal weather systems usually while holed up in Midwestern hotels. And like Robertson, Kuchar frequently focused his camera upon the festivities of winter; his oeuvre features over two dozen videos celebrating the rich foods and friendly frolics of the holiday season. – Liz Coffey

PROGRAM

  • Five Year Diary, Reel 3:  December 20, 1981 – January 9, 1982: Christmas & New Year ‘82

    Directed by Anne Charlotte Robertson.
    US, 1982, digital video, color, 25 min.
    Copy source: HFA

Reel 3 of the Five Year Diary, the first of many documenting the time around Christmas and New Year’s, focuses on the rituals of cooking, eating and dishwashing—themes found throughout the opus. The dense, entertaining soundtrack comes courtesy of the Super 8 sync sound film and from an additional cassette recording of one of the holiday family dinners.

  • Holiday Harbor

    Directed by George Kuchar.
    US, 2003, digital video, color, 14 min.
    Copy source: HFA

There’s lots cooking in the city-by-the-bay and the waters smell good too as the viewer sails off to Sausalito for home-made bread and gets an ocular whiff of oriental cuisine. The eyeball is treated to many tasty items as the Pacific itself churns like an overtaxed tummy in preparation for a blowout. There are Christmas lights and holiday fireworks and furry playmates being squeezed by the overstuffed. It’s all in good cheer and definitely good taste as the spinach pies flaunt their iron-packed punch to the gut and a bittersweet/hot & sour merriment stalks the salivating. – George Kuchar

  • Xmass

    Directed by George Kuchar.
    US, 2008, digital video, color, 7 min.

A California winter turns the left coast into a brew of foaming festivities while landlubbers leap for joy in the spray of salty slurpings. – GK

  • Song of the Whoopee Wind

    Directed by George Kuchar.
    US, 2008, digital video, color, 7 min.
    Copy source: HFA

A California Christmas season ushers in an array of holiday visuals designed to feed the hunger of soiled souls in search of truffle filled delights. A glittering seaport of electric lights helps the viewer to see through the murk of isolation as various species claw their way through the bountiful gifts that a rainy season delivers. Awash in joy and Juju statues, the unclean celebrate a rebirth dipped in chocolate as reptile and mammal unite in a dark hunger for foil wrapped ecstasy. – GK

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