Space Is the Place is an 82-minute 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. A soundtrack for the film was released on Evidence Records.
Originally released in 1974, Sun Ra’s odd neoblaxploitation sci-fi semirockumentary, Space is the Place, is a film about time, history, and black America. It is the cinematic realization of Ra’s cosmic harmonic consciousness linked to a searing indictment of the political and social realities of the African American urban experience.
The film opens on a spaceship moving slowly through the cosmos, while the soundtrack repeatedly intones, “It’s after the end of the world. Don’t you know that yet?” We then see the time-travelling Sun Ra wandering through a dense psychedelic forest of bizarre flora and fauna on a new and distant planet that, he decides, is the perfect place for the relocation of black America. In order to effect the dramatic transformation, Ra says: “the first thing to do is to consider time as officially ended. We’ll work on the other side of time.” Arriving in present-day (early-1970s) Oakland, Ra begins this work. Framed by apocalyptic notions of the end of times and, indeed, the end of history, the basic premise of the film is that the mystic trickster Sun Ra (playing himself) must battle with his malevolent counterpart, the white-suited Overseer (Ray Johnson), to win the soul of black America. It is a card game played in a desert wasteland that will decide the fate of the negro. Ra must simultaneously convince young African Americans that they should abandon earth and leave with him for the new planet. Having been kidnapped and tortured by the FBI and then dramatically rescued, Ra performs a special concert in the film’s climax from which the black audience members vanish one by one only to then reappear on Ra’s spaceship. As the ship takes off and disappears into space, the prophesied destruction of earth is relayed on video monitors to its occupants.
Characteristic of much of Sun Ra’s work, this mélange of genre and style locates music at the center of the black cultural experience as it offers a combination of critical social analysis and programmatic utopianism. Though characterized by the relatively low production values of independent film, Space is the Place also articulates many of the countercultural narratives and aesthetics of a number of mainstream films and TV series of the period such as Barbarella (1968), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Performance (1970), and NBC’s Star Trek (1966–69). There is, as well, an undeniably cartoonish element that gestures just as surely towards the Beatles’s Yellow Submarine (1968) and Sid and Marty Kroft’s H.R. Pufnstuf (1970). However, a much closer aesthetic and narrative analog is Ishmael Reed’s 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo which similarly collapses time and history as it locates the origins of black American culture in pharaonic Egypt. Indeed, Afrocentric tropes dominate Space is the Place visually and ideologically, as ancient Egyptian motifs are merged with Aquarian notions of rebirth, a Garveyite desire to return African Americans to the “homeland,” and extant black nationalist politics embodied in the Black Panthers and the radical politics of late-1960s Oakland.
Within Space is the Place, blacks are victims not only of white racist power structures (as embodied in two government agents and their employment of surveillance, coercion, and violence), but also of black-on-black exploitation as embodied in the Overseer, a kind of cosmic über-pimp who drives the Oakland streets in a bright red Cadillac supplying drugs, prostitutes and—most crucially—false consciousness. Arriving at a youth club Sun Ra tries to impress upon the kids that they are “not real” because, notwithstanding the images of Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver, and Malcolm X that cover the walls of the club, they “have no music that is in coordination with their spirits.” Though liberation can come only from the disruption of white time and history, it is music that will function as the principal medium through which consciousness will be raised. However, this utopian future will never be realized on earth. It is from space where Sun Ra has arrived and it is to space he will return bearing those he has rescued […]
Space is the Place (review)