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Sun Ra And His Intergalactic Solar Arkestra In Space Is The Place

Daniel Kassell By

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Outer space is a pleasant place
A place where you can be free
There's no limit to the things you can do
Your thought is free and your life is worthwhile
Space is the place

~ Sun Ra



Faced with a society that ignored his talent solely because of the color of his skin and race, Herman "Sonny" Blount, known first as pianist/aranger for the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in 1946 and 1947, sought another world, established his own Saturn label in 1956 and released over 100 albums to expand his vision of mysticism by weaving stories set to avant-garde swing music that preceded Gene Roddenberry’s "Star Trek" plus "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" by decades.

This film's goal according to Director John Coney, "was to capture the great music and the self created myth of Sun Ra in the context of the struggle for power and self esteem by African Americans in the early 70's." . . . "We created a dramatic film in the form of a ‘50's sci fi, low budget epic." . . . "Sun Ra, always centered and serene, writing orchestral scores as we filmed, created a powerful myth and presence throughout the film.”

The Archestra’s traveling Light and Sound Coordinator Richard Wilkinson shot much of the historic footage while on tour in Europe and North Africa, some of which was projected behind the band during performances, such as the B&W shots of dancers in a desert temple or a Town Square.

Ra biographer John F. Szwed and author of Space is the Place: Lives and Times of Sun Ra summarized the film in accompanying press notes: "having been traveling in space for some years in a rocket ship propelled by music as fuel, Sun Ra locates a planet which he deems suitable for resuscitation of the black race. He returns to earth and lands in Oakland, circa 1972. . . . Sun Ra offers those who would follow him into space an ‘alter destiny’, but the Overseer, the FBI, and NASA who are after Ra’s Black Space Program ultimately force him to prematurely return to space where he witnesses the destruction of Earth."

? Ra’s Traditional Egyptian costume and Sphinx head-dress may distract but his message "to teleport the whole planet through music" is contemporary. He also reminds us that "Everyone suppossed to be playing their part in this vast cosmos". As you watch tune after tune Archestra tune, each with a poetic lyric, revealing Herman Blount's philosophy ask yourself, isn't this his rap set to music like in a 70's MTV video? You may recognize actors Johnny Keys ("Behind The Green Door") and Ray Johnson ("Dirty Harry") in this thirty year old film created using the 16mm Bluescreen technique. Now everything's all digital but still expect to be provoked by the dramatic message and amused by its simplistic childlike Saturday morning TV character as you watch this DVD released by Plexifilm, NYC.




Production Notes

Space Is The Place (1974, 82 minutes, color 16mm, 1.33:1 original ratio)
2003 Reissue

  • Studio: Plexifilm
  • Director: John Coney
  • Producer: James Newman


Features

  • The original director's cut with over 20 minutes of restored footage
  • Never-before-seen home movies of the Arkestra in Egypt
  • Deluxe booklet with liner notes by Sun Ra biographer John Szwed, introduction by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and essay by director John Coney
  • 16x9 anamorphic transfer enhanced for widescreen televisions

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