Sunday, April 4, 2010

Three Sun Ra Films

Sun Ra (1914-93) was a mysterious figure in history of jazz. He was a fearsome avant-gardist and a traditional musician and leader/arranger at the same time. He and his Arkestra had a theatrical approach to jazz, in terms of social and political effects of this music - especially on Negros - combined with a futuristic view that was an ideal starting point for experimental filmmakers like Bland, Niblock and Coney.

Cry of Jazz

It's Sun Ra's first film. Directed by Edward O. Bland with an interesting semi-documentary/avant-garde oriented style that sometimes reminds us of early John Cassavetes films. As soon as film starts to talk , it turns to a silly political commentary on the world of American negro and an a lousy history of jazz. Featuring Sun Ra and his Arkestra (including Sun Ra, Julian Priester, John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, James Scales). The film editor is Howard Alk who later became Bob Dylan's editor in his ill-fated Eat the document project.

The Magic Sun (1966)

A short avant-garde film directed by Phill Niblock, with Sun Ra's jazz score and featuring rare Sun Ra footage, photos & audio.

Space Is the Place (1974)

An 82-minute underground film, made in 1972 and released in 1974. It was produced by Jim Newman, directed by John Coney, written by Sun Ra, Joshua Smith and features Sun Ra and his Arkestra.

The plot centers around Sun Ra arriving on earth with his Arkestra to spread his philosophy of the music of the universe and to take back as many black folks as he can to repopulate his home planet and fill it with "human vibrations". Ra's greatest adversary in his quest is The Overseer, incarnation of evil in the Black community who poses himself to be a community leader and a man of charity. But in fact, he is the tool of the power structure. Ra is also pursued by White government agents (presumably from FBI) who attempt to assassinate him. On the other hand, Jimmy Fey is representative of the Black people in entertainment industry and mass media.

In 2003, the movie was re-released in its entire 82-minute format on DVD, after a heavily-edited 63-minute version on VHS. The original cuts were requested by Sun Ra, which director John Coney attributed to Sun Ra's prudishness. The scenes indeed follow a racy "pimps and hos" narrative that is not entirely congruous with the rest of the film, and there was a notable backlash from fans of the original film. The fact that the director inserted these scenes without the consent of Sun Ra does in fact leave room for scrutiny, considering the absence of Sun Ra in the scenes themselves.

In the soundtrack of film Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Solar Arkestra are: Sun Ra, Kwame Hadi,Wayne Harris, Marshall Allen, Danny Davis, Larry Northington, John Gilmore, Eloe Omoe, Danny Thompson, Lex Humphries, Ken Moshesh, June Tyson. Music recorded in California in 1972.

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