Director: Ira Cohen
Time: 31 mins
Acid Mothers Temple
Eye of Sound: There is, at the beginning of this hippy-trippy cult film, a vague promise of a vague narrative line. But soon the acid starts kicking, and all hopes or fears of a plot of some sort disappear. The Thunderbolt Pagoda starts in a proto-ceremonial setting. Actors dressed in pseudo-Oriental clothes gather around a human corpse (Cohen himself) and perform a ritual burial in the muddy ground. Slow ritualistic movements lend the scene a dignified, if otherworldly, tone. Then the corpse rises from its grave, and the psycho-court rejoices in this mystical rebirth. The music changes and the setting and colors make it clear that such a rebirth is but an entry into an acid-drenched dimension. Actors from the Universal Mutant Repertory Co. (including Tony Conrad, MacLise, Ziska Baum and many others) are now living in a world of incensed perception, distorted mirrors and blurred colors. Except for opium smoking, action is no longer perceptible: the screen has been taken by distorted shamanic visions of elves, princesses, snake-men, nymphs and other creatures from the 60s fairy-tale psyche. Appropriately, MacLise's soundtrack is an acid soup in which ingredients morph into one another beyond recognition, and in which less is not more. Building a continuous racket of fast-beat tablas, minimalist sitar, distorted vocals, free-wheeling flutes, etc, it recalls the primordial, monotonous and saturated drive typical of everything MacLise ever recorded. While there are certainly more accomplished emic documents of the 60s lysergic culture, one could argue that the reason Thunderbolt Pagoda attained cult status was not so much its hypnotic, languid and somewhat mind-boggling visual and aural rhythms, but the ability to portray and reflect a collective druidical dreamscape that can be evoked or imitated but never truly restored.
Note: The file includes recent alternative soundtracks by Acid Mothers Temple and Sunburned Hand, as well as audio commentary by the director.