Thundercrack! is a blu-ray release that cult movie fans have been awaiting for years. The trouble of putting a release for this film came in many forms: it was hard to get good elements and also difficult to get a complete version of this oft-recut project together. Thankfully, Synapse prevailed and has produced a home video edition of Thundercrack! that defies the odds and looks better than anyone could imagine. Even better, they’ve stacked the release with hours of extras that are eye-opening in more ways than one.
The transfer is impressive here, particularly when you consider how difficult it was to get usable materials together. As disc producer Don May, Jr. details in his liner notes for this set, it was taken from the only complete 16mm print of the full-length theatrical version and said print had gotten beat up over forty years. It is presented in its original Academy (1.33:1) ratio and benefits from extensive clean-up done on it: aside from a few bits of overt element damage, it looks amazingly clean. The black-and-white cinematography has a velvety richness to it and the details are often surprisingly vivid.
The lossless mono audio brings some extra clarity to what has always been a murky mix – and the addition of optional English subtitles is a big help for fans in deciphering all the dialogue.
Synapse has made a similarly heroic effort with the extras: this is a blu-ray/DVD combo where the blu-ray has its own extras and the DVD bypasses a standard-def presentation of the film to devote itself entirely to extras different from those on the blu-ray. As a result, there are several hours of material for Thundercrack! fans to sift through that will help them gain a new understanding of this one-of-a-kind cult movie.
The blu-ray hosts two big extras. The first is an 84 minute audio interview with filmmaker Curt McDowell that is presented as an alternative audio track on the main feature. It’s an engaging listen, with the articulate McDowell speaking freely about his thoughts on his film school and its students, his D.I.Y approach to this art form and his feelings about art and politics.
The other extra on the blu-ray is It Came From Kuchar, a feature-length documentary about the lives and work of George and Mike Kuchar, who became self-made legends of underground filmmaking before going off in their own directions. It’s a warm, frequently witty portrayal of these two mavericks, who tell their story in their own words and cover plenty of ground on their biographies, the ’60s underground film scene and their artistic obsessions. Testimonials from famous fans like Atom Egoyan and John Waters are also included, along with glimpses of George Kuchar guiding his college class through a crash course in filmmaking a la Kuchar. It’s a nice little primer on two artists who are still unsung in the mainstream art world.
This set’s DVD is stacked high with its own array of supplements. It starts off with the film’s theatrical trailer, which sells both the sex and the underground weirdness as Kuchar supplies some wild, purple-prose narration. Kuchar also appears in a 10-minute interview that is really one of his trademark video shorts, packed with colorfully bizarre visual effects. He discusses the film, McDowell and memories of the shoot, with the most interesting part arriving when he describes how his philosophical differences with McDowell about sex informed the film’s storyline.
Marion Eaton appears in a six-minute video segment where she reads a letter that covers her take on the character, what drew her to the role and a nice tribute to the filmmakers. Mark Ellinger appears for his own sitdown: in just under 9 minutes, he talks about developing the storyline with McDowell, his misgivings about how the film was treated and his love for the challenges of post-production work. McDowell and Eaton both appear in an episode of San Francisco Bay Area Filmmakers where they both make a case for Thundercrack! as being an art piece instead of pornography. Both are engaging and intellectual as they discuss the work.
Next up is a series of footage compilations. The first is a 30 minute outtakes and behind-the-scenes reel that offers snips of scenes with and without sound as well as a saucy bit of clowning around between crew members. Next up is 18 minutes of sex scene outtakes: these explicit bits give you an appreciation of how difficult is to choreograph real sex for the camera. The last of these reels is nine minutes of audition footage, featuring both eventual cast members and unknowns. Almost everyone disrobes for the camera to prove their comfort with the film’s subject matter.
The DVD closes with a collection of the short films that Curt McDowell made at art school prior to making Thundercrack!, five projects that range from three to twenty minutes in length. They’re all artsy, sometimes funny and frequently sexually explicit. The most memorable entries in this section include the self-baring Confessions, which involves McDowell giving a confession of his teenage sexual dalliances to the camera before creating a collage of sex, experimental footage and interviews of friends, and Loads, a no-holds-barred cinematic diary of his sexual encounters with a series of gay-for-pay San Francisco hustlers (Waters references this film in It Came From Kuchar as something intense to leave even him feeling taken aback).
In short, Synapse’s special edition of Thundercrack! is one of the most amazing releases to come out on blu-ray this year, offering an excellent restoration of an underground classic and a set of extras that give you a detailed portrait of the artistic mavericks who made it. If you have any interest in Kuchar’s work or underground film in general, it’s a must-buy.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Thundercrack!, click here.