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  Space is the Place Brother From Another PlanetBuy this film here.
Year: 1974
Director: John Coney
Stars: Sun Ra, Raymond Johnson, Christopher Brooks, Barbara Deloney, Erika Leder, La Shaa Stallings, Sinthia Ayala, Clarence Brewer, June Tyson, Morgan Upton, Walter Burns, Tiny Parker, Sam Bankhead, Jack Baker
Genre: Weirdo, Music
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The musician Sun Ra (as himself) has been missing on Planet Earth since 1969, but that is because he was transported off the globe by his music and onto another far off in outer space. Wandering its garden-like strange foliage, he realises this would be a perfect place to bring his black brethren away from the troubles and turmoil of Earth, somewhere to settle and start again, though he recognises that not every one of his race is suitable for this journey. One man in particular offers an obstacle: The Overseer (Raymond Johnson) who is pulling the strings in the American black community...

Sun Ra was one of the great eccentrics of twentieth century music, a jazz composer and leader of his self-styled Arkestra which would play his cosmic tunes to appreciative audiences, whether they believed his arcane pronouncements or otherwise, and to be fair his beliefs were so "out there" that many found his ideas easier to indulge than actively go along with as some kind of gospel. So there were few who truly accepted his most famous claim, that he was a being from Saturn, but his fans didn't mind as his music was so spaced out and vivid that it was possible to be transported by it should you be in the correct frame of mind, however you wished to attain that level.

But as with many a pop or rock musician, Sun Ra fancied a go at the movies to spread his message of empowerment, and Space is the Place, his most celebrated musical acheivement, was chosen to be made into a film. Unfortunately for him, working with director John Coney he wasn't too pleased with the results and took it out of Coney's hands to fashion his own shorter cut of the movie. Which is the definitive version was dependent on your thoughts about whether Sun Ra was aware what he was doing or not, and it was true the actual meaning of this was hard to grasp, as if he knew what he was on about yet was having trouble translating that to a wider audience, though whether something so esoteric could ever do that was open for debate.

Certainly the material Sun Ra objected to rendered this closer to an especially nutty blaxploitation flick with its broad depictions of its characters which had them posing as pimps or prostitutes, an attitude to race and gender which didn't appear half as progressive as you might have hoped for a film that intended to expand your consciousness. The Overseer was undoubtedly the villain of the piece, in one scene orchestrating his forces of society and the netherworld against Sun Ra, and in other taking a more hands on approach, such as the scene where his new disciple, radio presenter Jimmy Fey (Christopher Brooks, who didn't half have a strange filmography) lies comatose in a hospital room when he wakes him up by slapping his palms and offering him the services of two nurses (Barbara Deloney and Erika Leder).

Even more problematic was not just the way that everyone apart from Sun Ra was deeply inconsistent, so later on the two ex-nurses, now The Overseer's prostitutes, are beaten up by two NASA engineers visiting them in a whorehouse which did not speak to much sexual liberation, not to mention a view of NASA which was unflattering to say the least, the main beef with them being the lack of black astronauts. As if to make up for this, Sun Ra offers a way out for his fellow African Americans, but other races seem to be going along as well, confusingly; you'll note the mixed audiences in the concert footage - was he planning to leave half his fans behind because they weren't black enough? Not that the majority of his aficionados thought he was really going to a different planet, though he gets his wish at the end of the movie when he flies off in the spaceship he arrived in with his Arkestra, feeling there's nothing more to be done presumably: when you see the last scene you'd be forced to agree.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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