SPACE IS THE PLACE, d. John Coney (1974)
I could never really love anyone who doesn’t think Sun Ra is cool. I don’t mean that you have to have all his records, or be able to present a short documentary on him. You might even think that some of his music is atonal skronk, or a bit daft. But to watch the middle aged, slightly tubby Sun Ra, in his ornamental Egyptian headdress, his hands a blur, transported by the joyful noise (or terrible racket) he’s making, and not think ‘that’s cool’? Nah, we’re not destined to be best friends.
Ra grew up in hard times and in a hard place. He was an outsider all his life. To survive, he constructed a story about himself that placed him in a better, kinder world, a world where he was just visiting, bringing a message of love and friendship and equality. In this story it didn’t matter that he was black, or gay (or however he identified, if he even did), or a dreamer: he came from Saturn, they were all like that there.
Space Is The Place is an uneven attempt to blend some of Ra’s philosophy and otherworldly charm with elements of a Blaxploitation narrative. The resulting film fluctuates between boring and brilliant, but Ra and his band shine throughout like stars. Hearing Sonny talk, fluently, eloquently, utterly immersed in his 'role', is a wonderful experience. I was reminded that, in 1971, he gave a series of talks at Berkeley University. The subject? ‘The Black Man in the Cosmos’.