George Kuchar's Holidaze

George Kuchar's Holidaze, 1994
December 23rd 2021

"This is one for the good days / And I have it all here in red, blue, green" sings Thom Yorke on Radiohead's "Videotape" (2007). The ballad alludes to having the better times of life recorded prior to heavenly/hellish judgment, proof of what had been good amid all else that passed. Although videotapes and even digital images are not forever, home movies are an animated index of our memories, far more reliable to replay than our own minds. They’re the gift that keeps on giving: the past that keeps on playing.

Or, as George Kuchar put it long before Radiohead, "It's all here in black and white plus monochromes and kodachromes and digitized delicacies." With more optimistic pep about recording life’s special moments, Kuchar is talking about his video Holidaze (1994) with its oversaturated and pixelated edit of ye olde American Christmas traditions, recorded during visits with friends. Although it has become an occasion for exchange, of good cheer and commercial goods, the holiday has its origins in Pagan celebrations of the winter solstice, a time to welcome the lengthening of days. By the 1980s and 1990s, Christmas was prime material for the newly expanding home VCR market: saccharin-sweet, familiar songs in the background; sparkling decorations; and loved ones generally appearing at their best, whether giving or receiving gifts on camera.

Holidaze offers a refreshing perspective on rote traditions, remaking this particular Christmas as a chimera of reality TV, homegoods commercial, and video game. Rather than remember Christmas as it was, Kuchar presents Christmas as he saw it in his editing software—we get to behold the magic George Kuchar saw in an otherwise regular gathering, which he presents as unintelligible pixelations, blown-out colors, frames within frames, intercuts of black-and-white holiday films, and a general feeling of channel surfing through the moods of a day that is mostly spent waiting around together.

As Kuchar visits his friends in holiday spirits, they still live their lives as usual: watching TV, complaining about stinky cat litter, being sick, listening to radio horoscopes, wondering if dinner is fully cooked, and more TV. The holidays come and go and always come back again, but Kuchar gives us something simultaneously hyper-realistic and cyberdelic about this particular occurrence. Like his friend Karen says about a box of Christmas chocolates, "The first couple made me kinda sick, but then I got used to them."

Holidaze, 1994 is streaming through December 23 on Le Cinéma Club. (As a holiday bonus, you can make drawings à la Holidaze, 1994 by revisiting Craig Hickman’s Kid Pix in its original 1991 version, complete with sound effects.)