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    Ira Cohen – The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda

    Ira Cohen - The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda.

    The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda is a 20-minute art film directed by Ira Cohen in 1968. It features a bit of straightforward footage that alternates with a whole lot of trippy, twisted mylar reflection and split screen techniques. The stars of this show are grotesquely attired humans who are completely covered in outlandish, over-the-top, Eastern-inspired costumes, make-up and masks. As they writhe around in a seething fairytale opium den full of equally bizarre and intricate backdrops and surroundings, these troubadours of the visual cortex blow bubbles, taste butterflies, light up opium pipes with a demonic candle and dance the day away in a most surreal way. And when the mylar scenes kick in, the proceedings explode into infinite kaleidoscopic dimensions of hyper-reality. It’s breathtaking and breathgiving all at once. And it looks not so much like it was filmed in the ’60s, but rather some sort of strange, eternal dream state.

    Then there’s the music by the Joyous Lake, who completely launch the film into orbit with the most beautifully floating soundtrack of all time. An ever-undulating miasma full of spirit chanting and moaning, droning organ and tamboura, hammered dulcimer, limp string quiver, murky guitar and tape echo, sprightly flute levitation and whistling recorders is all held together by the overpowering pitter-patter of Angus MacLise on bongos, conga and tambourine. Moreso than in any film I’ve ever seen, the music and visuals of The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda meld together perfectly in an absolutely seamless, organic whole. This disc also includes an eight-minute intro lensed in sepia tone featuring the bizarre cast of characters from the main film conducting some sort of burial ceremony in a muddy creek bed. But, as the motley assembly celebrates the burial via a little dance and song with horns and hand drums, it all goes awry when the corpse rises from the mud–and the dead–and terrorizes the woodlands with his naked, mud-caked body and crazed, bulging eyes.

    The bonus features include a director’s commentary, a slide show from the mylar chamber over which Ira Cohen recites his poetry, and Played for Real: Ira Cohen, which contains numerous short vignettes of a recent, grey-bearded Ira singing, dancing, wearing crazy wigs and generally going nuts in his apartment and around town. Last but not least is Brain Damage, 30-minute psychedelic film assembled in 2006 comprised of multiple layers of various and sundry scenes–including a few outtakes from Invasion–that all swirl together into a kaleidoscopic, ever-changing visual stew. The soundtrack includes Ira intoning more poetry and singing, plus some churning, improvised musical backdrop by Mahasiddhi. A stunning 16-page color booklet full of stills from the film sprinkled with Ira’s poetry and copious liner notes wraps up this excellent, exhaustive document.

    Label: Arthur / Saturnalia Catalog Number: None Format: DVD Packaging: Clear plastic case Country: United States Released: 2007 More: Amazon, Wikipedia, YouTube

    Text ©2009 Arcane Candy

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