Video Diary Number 5 is an hour long video diary shot by George Kuchar while he teaches a course in San Francisco, puts on a retrospective with his brother, and grapples with the slow death of his friend and fellow filmmaker Curt McDowell (Thundercrack). Like its title states, this is a directs video made on a consumer level video camcorder with the entire production being edited in camera. For those you demand slick veneer or those abhor navel gazing films George Kuchar gives little reason for you to embrace his video diaries. Fans of Kuchar and fans of lo-fi, do-it-yourself productions may feel just the opposite. There is no middle ground for this sort of work.
While the camera work and the editing may be as crude as Kuchar himself there is a homemade charm that flows through his video, just as it once flowed through the 8mm films he and his brother shot. Rife with self-defacing humor and a candid openness that allows him to display the most disgusting of body functions on camera Kuchar’s work exhibits an antidote to cleaned-up, self-censored Hollywood image or even the image of most independent productions. If Kuchar is presenting a slice of life it is certainly not the sort most would document nor present to the greater world. In a way his life is just as boring, uneventful, and drab as the lives we all inhabit. Even with the drama of Curt McDowell’s death, a tragic lose brought on by the AIDS virus, the emotion is rather subdued and not the expected melodrama that plays so heavily in Kuchar’s campy 8mm films. Curt tries to look his best. He attempts to die with dignity and Kuchar refuses to exploit his pain or making him a posterchild for some cause. Kuchar gives McDowell the dignity he deserves and though Kuchar is happiest when he is telling others how the annual film festival will be in Curt’s honor, his sense of lost is rather apparent. But here, the pain is internal, a place the camcorder cannot fully document.
Unless one is a fan of autobiographical work or a fan of George Kuchar there is little reason to check out this gem. However, when watching a piece that could easily be dismissed as the lackadaisical daily recordings of an underground film legend it is important to remember that few people could leave themselves so exposed. Kuchar is not afraid to sound foolish or even look foolish and in this there is a sense of liberation for the viewer – a reminder that we all hide behind something and that we all censor ourselves in a crowd. Kuchar may not be presenting the typical view of a hero, but in a way this image of his life and the death of Curt McDowell is very heroic.