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December 15, 2015

Thundercrack!

thundercrack poster.jpg

Curt McDowell - 1975
Synapse Films BD Regions ABC

Following a reported five years of restoration work from the only complete print, Curt McDowell's cult film has finally been made available for home viewing. I did have the chance to see Thundercrack! theatrically in 1977, but from what I've read, it may have been just as well that I passed at that time. The version that played on the art house circuit may have been the 120 minute version, cut by the producers with no input from McDowell. Also, the quality of the sound, usually the weakest aspect of extremely low budget films, made parts of the dialogue unclear - and thankfully the Blu-ray comes with a choice of subtitles, including English for people like myself who try to be discrete, keeping the volume low especially when watching films loaded with sexual content.

Which brings up a much discussed point about Thundercrack! - is it art or porno or pornographic art? Even the legendary George Kuchar, McDowell's former teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute, who wrote the screenplay from a story by McDowell and Mark Ellinger, calls the film pornographic. The set-up is a parody of older films, a group of travelers are caught in a major rain storm, find shelter in the house of an older woman. Eventually, they are joined by a man driving a truck for a circus, carrying a lion, an elephant, and a gorilla. What transpires on everyone's part is an explosion of repressed libidos, and the graphic depiction of sexuality, primarily between consenting adults. George Kuchar was responsible for the most notorious coupling here, no doubt inspired by a screening in his youth of Curt Siodmak's Bride of the Gorilla from 1951. In this case, Kuchar plays the part of the bride.

On the down side, at 159 minutes, some of the jokes and double entendres wear thin with repetition. Apparently no one was willing to pare down any of the dialogue in Kuchar's screenplay. At its best, the black and white cinematography visually is reminiscent of Edgar G. Ulmer's films from the Forties, with the use of shadows, and filming people in close-ups in exterior scenes to disguise the absence of an actual set.

The Blu-ray comes with hilarious and essential documentary about George and Mike Kuchar, Jennifer Kroot's It Came from Kuchar, made in 2009, two years before George's death. It appears that there was an earlier effort to make Thundercrack! available, as the supplemental DVD has footage of star Marion Eaton, writer/composer Mark Ellinger, and self-shot video from George Kuchar, all from 2004. There is also a selection of several short films by Curt McDowell, all but one, "Loads", made prior to Thundercrack!, with the musical, "Boggy Depot" highly recommended.

Posted by peter at December 15, 2015 03:03 PM