Saturday, March 21, 2009

SPACE IS THE PLACE


"Space Is the Place" is a movie in part based on Sun Ra and his band's outrageous psychedelic free-jazz from the 1970's. It is a very complex, multi-faceted film. You could look at it as a positive blaxploitation masterpiece, a plea for all the black race to make something of themselves. Some could see it as a call for all people to look inward, to turn themselves away from earthly distractions and explore their inner space and open their minds and creativity, which in Sun Ra's eye is the same thing as exploring and conquering outer space. You can look at his film as a psychedelic, futuristic sci-fi oddity, or see it as an excuse for Sun Ra and his band to perform live on film in full on primitive-futuristic attire. No matter which way you choose to view this movie, it is a must see.

"Space Is the Place" is about Sun Ra, who possesses super-human, mystical powers. He has created a beautiful utopia in outer space for people that are fed up with Earth and want to leave it behind. He comes to Earth in a rather apocalyptic fashion, waging a doomsday card game with a mystical evil pimp in the desert. The game is over the fate of the planet Earth. If Sun Ra loses, Earth stays. If he wins, the planet has got to go. The pimp represents all that is evil, and Sun Ra represents all that is good. This whole concept reminds me somewhat of the chess game with Death in Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal".

Of course, the card game is only one part of this film. It is worked seamlessly, almost dreamlike into all of the movie. Sun Ra is double-crossed and done in by the evil white man that always sides with the pimp. In between we have many shots of Sun Ra and his band playing, bizarre futuristic sets, scenes from the street, and the wildest soundtrack ever set to film. And of course Sun Ra survives, with the help of some street kids, and he is ready to defeat the pimp once and for all. What does this mean for the fate of our planet, and are any of us worthy to leave if Sun Ra wins this fateful card game? You must watch this movie to find out...

I love this one. There is one moment that is a classic. Sun Ra sets up an 'outer space employment agency '. When people walk in to inquire about a job, they ask 'how much will I be making?' Of course Sun Ra replies dryly "Nothing", and everyone walks away. I guess they won't be leaving Earth anytime soon. The only complaints I have is the acting is not that great. Sun Ra is not an actor. He is a musician. The flaws left by the acting are more than made up for by the music, imagery, and beauty of the film. This is one not to be missed.

I can't rave enough about the music from this movie . It is an insane yet focused free-space-jazz freak out, with the beautiful, eerie vocals of June Tyson holding everything together. There is a soundtrack available for this movie, but while it is exhaustive, it is missing a few of the movie's best musical moments. I would recommend picking up both.

Sadly, the movie is very hard to find. I have a VHS copy that I ordered by mail over ten years ago. It does not appear to ever have been released on DVD. If you can't find the movie, at least get the soundtrack. It's in print. Make sure you get the long version, pictured above.

Here's the first five minutes of the movie:


Watch Sun Ra - Space Is the Place - 1974.avi in Entertainment View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Here's a clip of Sun Ra recruiting for The Outer Space Employment Agency...watch it all the way thorugh. It's hilarious.



And here's just a regular street scene where Sun Ra makes an appearance.

2 comments:

T.L Bugg said...

This is a film I have long wanted to see being a fam of Black Cinema from the '70's and of Sun Ra. Your review only intensifies this and I will have to redouble my efforts to get my hands on a copy.

Steve Smith said...

If I remember correctly, I got my copy through Evidence, the label that puts out most of Sun Ra's material. I would try contacting them.