May 22nd, 2011: Space is the Place

What It’s About: Sun-Ra lands his spaceship in Oakland, discovers his people living in ghetto conditions, and attempts to free their minds.  He’s opposed by the Overseer (Raymond Johnson), who fights Sun Ra for the minds of the people.  He’s also chased by NASA goons.  Eventually Sun Ra wins from the Overseer the right to perform a concert for the people-but is this just another one of the Overseer’s tricks?

Why Watch It Today?:  Sun Ra, the star and co-writer of today’s film, was born Herman Poole Bunt today in 1914.  After World War Two, Blunt changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra, which he later shortened to Sun Ra, after becoming interested in both outer space and Egyptian mythology.  Sun Ra became a cult jazz figure, who lead his Solar Arkestra and performed with early electronic keyboards while dressed in pseudo-Egyptian garb.  Space is the Place is his film response to the Blaxploitation film cycle and to the upheaval of the 60s and early 70s.  The film is one of a kind, moving between sending up some then popular Blaxpo tropes, art house influences (the constant games with the Overseer recalls Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, for example), science fiction and Sun Ra’s personal philosophy.  The film has sometimes hilariously amateur actors, on location shooting in Oakland, and jazz performances, but also low-fi space scenes and other special effects.  There has never been a film like Space is the Place before or since, and watching it is a wildly entertaining ride.

Where to Get It:  Netflix (rental only)

A clip where Sun Ra receives a less than dignified reception in a local community center:

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