Sun Ra: Space Is The Place John Coney

The crazy, celestial Sun Ra cult film celebrates its 30th anniversary release with this director's cut. More than 20 minutes of footage has been added to the original's 63-minute running time, fundamentally changing the version that has been in circulation for over a decade. Made in the early '70s, Space Is The Place is part explanation of Sun Ra's Afro-mysticism and part concert footage. Ra faces the charismatic Overseer in a card game — echoing the chess match in The Seventh Seal — to win the hearts and minds of Earth's Afro-residents. Ra is, well, himself, a messenger from the cosmos who lands in Oakland preaching that Black people are invisible on Earth (shades of Ralph Ellison) and must fulfil their alter-destiny. The Overseer wants to prove him wrong and NASA's agents are out to get him. Ra's Arkestra produces music that echoes his spiritual quest — featuring the incredible John Gilmore, Marshall Allen and June Tyson, the viewer will tune in to the music of the spheres as well. The plot, which barely made any sense in the original cut, is rendered more linear here, with character motivations made clear at last. However, this isn't necessarily a good thing — the original was so baffling from a musical, plot and filmic perspective that it captured Ra's essence while not necessarily clarifying it. The director's cut fixates Space Is the Place as a product of its time — as a blaxploitation and '50s sci-fi homage. Ra's music is less integral to the new version, and serves as a break from the increased sex and chase sequences rather than as a central focus. Another aspect that seems to have suffered is the film quality: Rhapsody Film's original video featured hyper-saturated, surreal colours, but here the colours seem washed out in an inferior transfer, which seems odd given that it's a director's cut. Nevertheless, this will be more widely available than ever before and the curious should definitely experience some Ra in their lives. He's got a tight rap. Plus: interview with the director and producer, essays, rare Sun Ra home movies shot in Egypt. (Plexifilm, www.plexifilm.com)