Sun Ra has always been an eccentric jazz musician and one of the fathers of psychedelic, freak out, music. Lately, many old and out of print music related films have released on DVD and Sun Ra’s 1974 movie, “Space Is The Place” has been released in an uncut form with special features and over 20 minutes of restored footage.
Claiming to be from another planet, Sun Ra has come to earth in a music-powered spaceship to battle for the future of the Black race. In a music film that crosses multiple genres, “Space Is The Place” is a mixture of science fiction, blaxploitation, cosmic free-jazz, radical race politics and some African-Egyptian mythology too. It’s definitely an odd film. With low budget special effects, the film is a strange mix of “Superfly”, concert documentary and 60s film “The Trip”.
It looks cheap but the plot (as wild and thin as it is) is unique and creative. Sun Ra finds a planet where Black people can thrive and returns to Earth to battle The Overseer, a supernatural being who is exploiting the Black race. Sun Ra and the devil-like Overseer (Ray Johnson from “Dirty Harry”) play an odd card game as they sit at a table in the middle of a desert…
Directed by John Coney, “Space Is The Place” is both a cult film and a music film, aimed for a specific audience and does not have mainstream appeal. This movie is really for Sun Ra fans, who will really appreciate the talented Intergalactic Solar Arkestra performances, or fans of 70s blaxploitation. Some say that this is a jazz version of “Superfly”. And while Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack to that movie is heartfelt and earnest, “Space Is The Place” is more free form and spaced out.
As a blaxploitation film, it is not very violent and does not exploit women. It just looks and sounds like a blaxploitation film and deals with similar racial and social issues that some blaxploitation films attempted to deal with. The slang, the outfits, the premise, and the special effects, all come together to form a 70s B movie. The costumes look silly and cheap at times, but many of them are imaginative, especially the Egyptian inspired outfits of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. It’s amazing that Sun Ra kept that huge helmet on his head for so long…
The bonus footage is a new and very important aspect to DVD viewing. In the “Space Is The Place” DVD, extras include never seen before home movies of Sun Ra and his Arkestra, as they roam around Egypt’s pyramids. You cannot help but think what some of the local people thought of this merry cult as they traveled around. Although the home movies have some beautiful scenery, it is pretty useless unless you are a fan or huge Sun Ra collector or fan, but the inclusion is welcomed. There is also a very interesting interview with director John Coney and producer James Newman reflecting on the making of the movie, which was recorded recently for the DVD release.
As a film, “Space Is The Place” is an enjoyable mess. As a DVD, it is a must for Sun Ra fans and collectors. Unfortunately, it is not in DTS sound, but the skips and pops in the film’s soundtrack add to the nostalgic feel of the film. For years, the movie was only seen on badly dubbed bootlegs so this version is a 100% improvement.
While Sun Ra may never be fully understood or appreciated, “Space Is The Place” serves as an excellent introduction to him and his music. The imaginative (although admittedly thin) plot does make the film watchable and even enjoyable on some level, it’s definitely more creative and interesting than just a band playing live. Still, many people will simply not get it and dismiss the film as b-movie garbage; but for fans of the intergalactic jazz man or those who like something a little different, it’s an essential purchase. Get into your music powered spaceship and blast off into an unknown dimension.
Space is the Place (1974)
Dir. John Coney
Stars: Sun Ra, Barbara Deloney, Raymond Johnson, Erika Leder, Christopher Brooks
Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Blaxploitation, Music