During the 1950s, avant-garde jazz keyboardist Herman Blount changed his name to Sun Ra, embraced Egyptian myths, and claimed that he came from Saturn. He went on to reinvent big band jazz with his 12-piece group, the Arkestra. A movie seemed like the logical extension of his on-stage persona.
In John Coney's tripped-out film, a live performance of the Arkestra serves as backdrop for a wild storyline: Sun Ra's music-powered spaceship lands on Earth, where the outrageously costumed musician is on a mission to save the black race from the coming destruction of the planet. The clash of gritty urban race politcs with the heady sixties vibe of cheap special effects and Sun Ra's far-out speechifying makes for an odd brew, but it's all held together beautifully by the Arkestra's swinging polyrhythmic grooves.
More than just a curious document of unique artistic expression during a crucial cultural moment in American history, "Space is the Place" is still an involving, amusing, even thought-provoking film. It's certainly the grooviest movie about a crew of black spacemen clad as Egyptian gods who want to take their people to Saturn I have ever seen.
The DVD, released by Plexifilm, features the restored 82-minute director's cut of "Space is the Place," never-before-seen home movies with Sun Ra and the Arkestra frolicking near the pyramids, a video interview with the director and producer, as well as a booklet with photos, an introduction by Sonic Youth's Thurston moore, liner notes by Sun Ra biographer Johnm Szwed, and an essay by director John Coney.