TSPDT rank #654 IMDb
screened January 4, 2007 on DivX, South San Francisco, CA
First off, some links – including the movie itself! Like pretty much everything else on video, this 17 minute short has been posted on YouTube in two sections:
I did not watch the short online, but as a 200Mb Quicktime DivX file that ____ ____ gave me. These screen grabs are taken from that file – from the looks of it, the file was converted from a videotape.
I also want to link to a couple of useful articles about Kuchar and the short. The first is a three page overview of Kuchar’s career by Jack Stevenson on Bright Lights Film Journal. The second is Deborah Allison’s brief, film class-style overview of the short from Senses of Cinema.
I want to touch on something that’s the focal point of the latter piece, namely the issue of camp. While reading Allison’s argument for Kuchar’s short as “one of camp’s defining texts,” I thought back to my viewing of Lynch’s Wild at Heart and whether I had been obtuse to a camp quality to Lynch’s approach. I even spent a good chunk of time reviewing Susan Sontag’s seminal essay “Notes on Camp” to determine just how campy Lynch and Kuchar were, and just what I felt about camp to begin with. My friend Dan Callahan who writes for Bright Lights Film Journal once made the distinction that camp can never be self-conscious — if that’s the case then neither Lynch or Kuchar would qualify. However Sontag in her essay makes a distinction between “intentional” and “uintentional” camp – though she maintains that “The pure examples of Camp are unintentional; they are dead serious.”
I think back to what I wrote about Wild at Heart, its slapdash assemblage of nightmare moments, hammy performances and that parodical Hollywood ending, and I wonder if I could have been more receptive if I’d been wearing my camp glasses, like my buddy George here:
I’ve been accused more than once of taking things too seriously. But I have my reasons. After all, I come from a family that washes out zip-loc bags in order to reuse them. How’s THAT for campy?
And I guess that’s the kind of point I want to make. Just as real hip-hop — the kind that actually moves me — is based on actual experiences, not some prefabricated mythology about money, guns and hoes, real camp, has to be based on something authentic. The paradox is that there has to be something real at the bottom for the artifice to mean anything, to resonate. The camp that Lynch espouses in Wild at Heart (and Inland Empire to a lesser extent) is sprung from his own mind and couched in abstract types, figures and landscapes. It doesn’t touch as deeply down as Blue Velvet or Mulholland Dr., where the nightmares feel like those that may plague real people, whether in their dreams or in their actual lives. The ending of Wild at Heart is well and good as a one-shot parody of a Hollywood ending, but that in itself doesn’t make for a great movie or a great scene for that matter. What’s missing is a sense of emotional buildup over the course of the film that makes the ending matter. I suppose some would reply, “it’s not supposed to matter, idiot – it’s camp!” If that’s the case, then why should I care? I’ve got zip-loc bags to wash out.
Enough about Wild at Heart. Yes, it may be perverse to argue that the only good camp is the one worth taking seriously, but that’s what I want to do with Hold Me While I’m Naked. Because this movie is just too good, too poignant, and often too painful to be applauded merely as being a jokey, campy satire on Hollywood aspirations and aesthetics. I mean, look at this shot of poor George:
This shot wouldn’t be nearly as funny if that look on his face wasn’t such an earnest mix of determination and despair. This guy wants to make movies. It’s like William H. Macy’s bona fide campy line at the end of P.T. Anderson’s genuinely campy Magnolia: “I’ve got so much love to give – I just don’t know where to put it!”
Kuchar puts it into his film – and as much as he’ll mock compositions like this one on the left, it isn’t just simple self-effacement or post-modern nihilism. The point of camp isn’t emptiness. It’s about a tension, a critical sense of vertigo between the artist and his intended object – knowing that it can’t fully be attained due to cultural, material or personal limitations, and how to deal with that tension. It’s a situation fraught with anxiety that no heapings of ironic distance can fully efface. Thus he derides his own artful aspirations to Douglas Sirk, but the baseline earnestness of the effort can’t be fully concealed:
“I’d remember what happened during the period when I was making certain scenes, and how my life was going then-it was such a horrible tragedy; it was so awful (laughter)-and people were laughing. I’m not saying actual moviemaking is suffering. Movie-making is very interesting; you really feel alive” – Kuchar, interviewed by Scott MacDonald, 1988
In the end we’re left with utter, painful realism. Yes in real life he probably did wear that silly towel turban, and that’s precisely what is beautiful about it. Gloria Swanson’s flailing diva and Erich von Stroheim’s failed director in one.
“There’s a lot of things in life worth living, isn’t there?”