In 1961 artist and poet Ira Cohen built a room in his New York loft lined with large panels of Mylar plastic- a sort of bendable mirror that causes images to crackle and swirl in hypnotic, sometimes beautiful patterns. Jimi Hendrix, who was photographed by Mr. Cohen, likened the effect to "looking through butterfly wings."
After a few years of experimenting with the technique in photographs,
Cohen, along with collaborator Bill Devore, invited friends from the
downtown scene — like Jack Smith, Henry Flynt and Tony Conrad — to make a
film. The finished product sets languid images of opium smokers (in
fantastic makeup and costumes) against a soundtrack of Tibetan, Moroccan
and Druidic trance music by Angus MacLise, the original drummer of the
Velvet Underground. A Village Voice reviewer said one left the film
"perched full-lotus on a cloud of incense, chatting with a white rabbit
and smoking a banana."
The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda takes place in a proto-ceremonial setting, in which actors dressed in pseudo-Orientalist garb gather around a human corpse (Cohen himself) to perform a ritual burial. The corpse rises from the grave and the crowd rejoices in this mystical rebirth. As the music changes, along with the setting, it becomes clear that this rebirth is but an entry into an acid-fueled dimension. The actors including Tony Conrad, Angus MacLise, Ziska Baum and others, interact in a world of intensified perception, distorted mirrors and blurred colors. Opium smokers are interspersed with distorted shamanic visions of elves, princesses, snake-men, nymphs and other creatures from the 1960s-era psychedelic-fairy tale psyche.
Mr. Cohen left New York in 1969, shortly after the film’s first screening, for art- and drug-filled travels in India, Ethiopia and Nepal. He roamed through the 1970′s and 80′s. While he was away, the film’s legend grew, even as the original few copies slowly disappeared.
Boo-Hooray - 2012 - 22 Minutes