Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 11 July 2004
Source Plexifilm DVD
In a scene loosely drawn from his past, free jazz artist Sun Ra helms a piano in a Chicago nightclub. The result is a cacophony that deters the club’s patrons, breaks glass, and mysteriously induces smoke. Sun Ra completes his set and observes the chaos he has “provided.” Such a reaction of misunderstanding, gathering from Sun Ra’s expression of expectation following this action, is a familiar endorsement. For one, it is creatively evocative of the polarizing artistry of Space is the Place’s leading actor/musician. It is a clever circumstance exclusive to this grainy and dated ’70s artifact.
In a far less evocative manner, this scene also cites the film’s self-imposed debt to blaxploitation cinema. The context is unique, as the genre’s polemics are appropriate to the polarizing tendency of Sun Ra’s music (detractors, in this context, can qualify as racist). Like his clear predecessors Shaft and Sweetback, Sun Ra is an activist for racial equality. Likewise, Space is the Place has the requisite style and sexuality of its genre, and spares the violence and generic title score.
As a genre film Space is the Place is a near-facsimile and may have been dated upon its release in 1974 (it followed Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song by three years). To its benefit there is the aspect of space travel, which is foreign to blaxploitation despite its prolific versatility as a genre. The film opens with Ra on a foreign planet, commenting on how the locale would sanction the black race. He returns to earth to recruit a debut colony. This premise is biographically accurate (Sun Ra famously claimed to be from Saturn). In added consistency Ra also penned all of his dialogue. According to the film’s director and producer, the artistic investment of their star was more critical and exacting than their tasks in marketing him. This is an organic, realistic detail in a film constructed from familiar genre elements.
Accordingly, Space is the Place thrives upon the contribution and music of Sun Ra. The film’s derivation is rendered irrelevant. It is a rare and mystic ’70s cult artifact which, save for a meager video in the early ’90s, has been virtually unseen in its lifetime.