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CHARLES BERNSTEIN

A Talk and Screening as part of George Kuchar
Sunday, September 30, 2pm

I, of the Cyclops (DV, 2006, 17:00)
Zealots of the Zinc Zone (DV, 2010, 27:00)
Webtide (DV, 2010, 23:00)

If you could have a famous writer, dead or alive, write an obituary for you and really puff you up to have been something you weren’t, perhaps, or otherwise take liberties with your memory, what writer would you choose? Luckily, when George Kuchar died in 2011, his friend, the critic and poet Charles Bernstein took up his tenure gracefully and without the hazardous liberty of light amendment.

In the closing of a remembrance in The Brooklyn Rail, Bernstein (and Susan Bee) wrote:

Over many past summers Kuchar would stay with Mimi Gross at her Provincetown house, just up the hill from where we stayed with our son Felix. At Mimi’s, Kuchar would watch long stretches of Fox TV (he didn’t have cable at home), beyond the pale as far as we were all concerned. It’s not that Kuchar had any more sympathy for Fox’s ideology than we did, but he was able to get much more out of it: he loved its pulp qualities, how entertaining it was, how ludicrous. It was for him a kind of freak show. So it was particularly delightful for him that on July 30, 2009, Fox ran a segment with ‘superstar’ anchor Megyn Kelly that attacked stimulus funding to the National Endowment for the Arts for supporting a movie series showing Thundercrack! (Kuchar wrote the screenplay for Curt McDowell), a film that was so disgusting, Kelly suggests, because it includes sex between a man and a gorilla (right click, save as: 1, 2).

Kuchar’s comment: ‘Megyn Kelly is sure attractive.’

Weirdos, kooks, outcasts: these are not the people in Kuchar’s films but the ones on national TV, paraded as normal. In Thundercrack!, Kuchar plays a circus truck driver who has fallen in love with the female gorilla in his charge. In the final, touching scene, we see the driver in bed with someone in a very campy gorilla costume.

From Baudelaire’s ‘À une mendiante rousse’ onward, artists have tried to find a way to portray society’s ‘others’ without voyeurism, pity, condescension, or romanticism. Kuchar in bed with an actor in gorilla suit is the perfect realization of the possibility of the pataque(e)rical as a quest for ‘otherworldly humanity’ (to borrow a term Kuchar uses in one of his last films, Lingo of the Lost).

A man with a movie camera: nobody’s done it better.

Mr. Bernstein will also read at the Smith Memorial Student Union at Portland State University on Monday, October 1, 6pm. Loud thanks to John Beer for bringing Mr. Bernstein to Portland.

Bernstein holds the Donald T. Regan Chair in the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania, and is the co-founder of Penn Sound, an archive for the preservation and distribution of contemporary poetry. He has taught at Princeton, Brown, and The University of Buffalo, and was a member of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E  poets. His latest book, Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions, came out in 2011.