Ira Cohen - The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda (Bastet/Saturnalia DVD)

I'm not planning on turning this into a movie-reviewing blog or anything but I think "The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda" has strong enough ties to the kind of musical content habitually covered here to make it a logical review choice. And if you don't agree, buzz off. Esp. since Ira Cohen's "Thunderbolt" is as much visual as it is auditory - can't say it'd be totally the same experience if Angus MacLise's stunning soundtrack was absent. I was initially very very very skeptical about buying this DVD based on the price alone - $30 U.S. ($35 Canada! And $40 anywhere else!) is pretty goddamn steep for what appears on the surface to be little more than a 20-minute film. But oh how wrong I was.
First, the meat of the meal: "Invasion" itself. The film opens with a sepia-tinted 10-minute intro seemingly disconnected almost completely from the remainder of the feature, depicting many half-naked woodsmen and women zombieing around playing instruments, burying eachother, digging up dirt, getting covered in mud, and all sorts of other prehistoric antics your mother told you not to do. The soundtrack at this point is like of a Herzog film, with stuttering tribal percussion and gentle in-the-distance wailing courtesy MacLise's Joyous Lake ensemble (featuring Tony Conrad, Henry Flynt, Helly MacLise and Loren Standlee among others). To the unitiated, it'll look like a bunch of naked hippie freaks. Heck that's probably what it looks like to the initiated too, whomever they may be. But in due time an actual title screen appears for "Invasion" and it's off to the races. A bunch of people lounging around in some sort of club scene/opium den (the Court of the Golden Emperor, sez the DVD booklet), all decked out in fantastically lavish costumes. There we see equally-fantastically-monikered characters the Majoon Traveler (Cohen), the Methedrine Cardinal (MacLise), and Lady Firefly (???) mingling about, sharing between themselves unrecognizable objects and odd ritualistic exchanges. It's interesting because first Cohen attacks our eyes with the colorful imagery already on screen, and then twists and bends it even further with the assistance of his patented Mylar Chamber (I won't explain it here but it isn't too different from what it sounds - imagine yourself as the girl with kaleidoscope eyes and you'll be on your way. It also helps to remember the influence Kenneth Anger's films had on Cohen). It's a double-whammy of retinal blasting and it's impossible not to enjoy every minute. After a quick cut the "Opium Dream" act ends and I believe "Shaman" begins, which takes place outside and goes from being almost entirely unaffected to swamped with mylar confusion, shapeshifting hues and scarcely recognizable shapes like trying to look through a crystal twenty feet thick. At this point the soundtrack of flute, tambura, hand-coaxed percussion, tapes and voices starts to reach a fever pitch as the final act "Heavenly Blue Mylar Pavilions" is launched and lives up to its ambitious name, drowning all forms in a dreamy, ecstatic blue melted-chrome aura that slowly creeps from the screen entirely, taking your third eye with it. Incredibly, intensely, impossibly fascinating bordering on total life-alteration. It must be seen to be believed and thanks to Arthur magazine's Bastet imprint, now it can be.
Even if the DVD came with nothing else but the feature film I'd have walked away happy, but we live in the age of the "extra" and this baby's no exception. I didn't have time to check everything out but I did scope the beautiful slideshow juxtaposing stills from the movie against Cohen's poem recitals. I instantly felt like I wanted to close my eyes and let Cohen's strangely soothing tone lull me to sleep but at the same time I didn't want to miss a single mind-boggling slide. You also get to watch Cohen's "Brain Damage", which according to Bastet is a new film created from never-before-seen 16mm outtakes and a soundtrack from Mahasiddhi - a name given to a collective comprising Cohen himself, Petra Vogl, Dave Kadden, Kevin Shea and Will Swofford. It's longer than "Invasion" at 30 minutes and a lot more incoherant, which I didn't think was at all possible. There was usually something to hold onto during "Invasion": not so with "Brain Damage" as lengthy stretches frequently pass with nothing immediately identifiable crosses paths with the viewer's eye. It's still great fun (and the poetry recited helps too) but not as eminently gripping as "Invasion". Also included is "Played for Real", a 15-minute documentary (okay documentary is way too strong a word) directed by Raphael Aladdin Cohen that shows just how far out Ira is as well as a preview/trailer for the Cohen-produced "Paradise Now" and alternative soundtracks to "Invasion" from Sunburned Hand of the Man and Acid Mothers Temple SWR. I haven't had time to listen to AMT's yet but Sunburned's is straight up ruling, possibly one of the best Sunburned tracks ever played (and you can get it independently from the film as a Three Lobed CD called, fittingly enough, "The Mylar Tantrum". The DVD also comes with a 16-page booklet featuring photos and text from Cohen, MacLise, Allan Graubard and Ian MacFadyen. Whew! And I thought it would be "only" the movie...
If you're like me and you've been sitting on the fence regarding the "Invasion" DVD, make the jump. Seriously. There aren't too many films around I'd shell out 35 clams for but I'm glad I did for this one. I'm still not sure why it had to be as expensive as that, but what're you gonna do? Totally, strongly, furiously, adamantly, persuasively recommended and the be-all end-all of the term "psychedelic" as far as I myself am concerned.


Blogger Shazzula said...

fantastic Ira Cohen!!

3/30/2008 10:04 PM  

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