Sun Ra-Space is the Place (1974) (NTSC)

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Released 1-Feb-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Musical Unseen Footage-Sun Ra "Home Movies"
Interviews-Crew-John Coney (Director) And Jim Newman (Producer)
Booklet-12 pages, three essays.
Rating ?
Year Of Production 1974
Running Time 81:12
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By John Coney
Studio
Distributor
North American Star
Stomp Visual
Starring Sun Ra
Ray Johnson
Christopher Brooks
Barbara Deloney
Erika Leder
John Bailey
Clarence Brewer
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI ? Music Sun Ra


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Prepare to be teleported into the world of the very righteous Sun Ra - that's Sunny Ray to his friends - a musician and free thinker who went missing while trekking through Europe with his Intergalactic Solar Arkestra in June 1969. While M.I.A. he's been enjoying the vibrations and alternate destinies of another planet, prepared to now reappear as an ambassador for the intergalactic regions of the council of outer space. Bathing in the serenity of his chosen idiom, Sun Ra hits upon the idea of transporting all of his fellow African Americans to his personal planet of tranquillity where they too can enjoy a life void of white folk. Cut to Chicago in 1943, and Sunny is playing his discordant piano ditties in a seedy bar when he is casually accosted by a brother in a suit. Suddenly Ra finds the brown note and empties the club, so that the two men can have a chat and a series of tarot-like card games between themselves.

    Meanwhile in Ra's funky music powered spaceship, he sets a course for earth with the intention of giving the black race some salvation. Right on! Upon his arrival he is surrounded by bizarre epileptic dancers and equally weird grim reaper characters who have mirrors for faces. A mob of people is gathered to welcome him home, as a strange Perspex helmet is placed onto the head of one of the reporters who is in attendance, causing him to collapse, after which he is rushed to hospital. The reporter recovers and begins contacting Sun Ra on the phone, discovering that Ra is recruiting people to travel with him via the intergalactic employment agency. The agency's premises is being monitored by the FBI, who are not surprisingly curious about Ra's activities. Ra and the reporter cut a deal that gives them equal share in all the profits of his earthly visit and subsequent albums. But has Ra sold out to 'the man', betraying his cause or is he still in the game for his fellow black brothers?

    If the above reads a little strangly, that's because it is. This is one of the most confusingly structured and bizarre films I have seen - and I've seen some pretty bizarre stuff in the last few years. It appears that this project began when the film's producer (Jim Newman) witnessed a jazzy Sun Ra live performance in the early 70s that was so thrilling that he decided to create a concert film. Soon, the director (John Coney) came on board as the film took a cheesy science fiction angle and became less focussed on the band's performance. I was not at all surprised to learn that Ra was given free reign over his dialogue throughout the production - scripting much of his preachy, indecipherable claptrap on his own and without intervention from the filmmakers. This is only part of what makes the film a confusing experience - there are many more factors combined here that result in what can only be described as a disjointed and cringe-inducing effort. On top of this, the film disappointingly ends in a crescendo of preachy waffle, accompanied by a freeform orchestra of noise and repetitive mayhem.

    As an artist, Sun Ra had a reputation for not playing with a full deck of cards, so to speak. He ran his band like a cult, governing the group as leader and forbidding its members from using drugs or alcohol. He took the philosophies contained in the film very seriously, and for that he deserves some respect - for even though his politics was dodgy at least he had the guts to speak out at a time when African Americans were struggling for a place in society.

    This film is nothing more than a curio from the 70s - with a confusing plot, disjointed editing, lame performances and laughable special effects - matched by an equally bizarre soundtrack. I wish I could say that this piece of cinema successfully blends comedy, sci-fi and blaxploitation, but it doesn't. Sadly, I think there are only two ways to watch this film - p***** or stoned. If you're in the correct viewing state you'll get the added bonus of not giving a hoot about the audio and video nasties that plague this transfer.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer is presented in 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. This film was originally presented in an aspect of 1.37:1 and as a result appears to be overly cramped on DVD. There are a great many shots that appear overly tight with cut off heads and pieces of action that appear off the edge of the screen. There are also many clunky reel changes that visibly shake the transfer, accompanied by heavy film artefacting, scratches and dirt.

    I should mention that this is an NTSC video transfer. Colours are a little bland and ordinary, with little to no intense vibrancy to speak of. The image appears to be overly bright, making skin tones and shadow detail ordinary to say the least.

    There are no MPEG compression issues to speak of.

    There are no subtitles on this single layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The only audio option is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack.

    The dialogue of the film is distorted on many occasions and difficult to discern a lot of the time. The accents and poor ADR combine to make this a challenging effort for any viewer.

    The soundtrack score - composed by Ra - is just weird and over the top, combining free-style jazzy instrumentalism with chants and assorted noises. The music comes across slightly muffled and is screaming out for a remix.

    There was obviously no surround activity or subwoofer response in this mono soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Sun Ra "Home Movies" (7:11)

    A member of the Sun Ra touring crew filmed these black and white home movies while the group were in Europe and other parts of the world. Some of this footage was later projected behind the band while they were performing. There is no location audio, so the video is accompanied by a Sun Ra studio recording which presents surprisingly superior quality to that of the film.

Interview with Director John Coney and Producer Jim Newman (8:42)

    The two gents express a lot of respect for Ra and his self designed mythos while they discuss how the blend of genres in this film came to fruition and the fun they had completing the special effects. This is a great and surprisingly intelligent look at the making of the film.

Booklet

    A twelve page two-colour booklet is included, featuring many photos and three excellent essays; Black Art and Glitter by Thurston Moore, Notes on Space is the Place by Director John Coney and Music as Fuel by John Szwed. The essays expand on the Sun Ra phenomenon and explain many of the more confusing aspects of the film. The booklet is a little too large for a standard Amaray case and it must be bent in order to fit correctly, making it heavily warped over time.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This NTSC disc is coded for all regions and is identical throughout the world.

Summary

    Space is the Place is a weird film that I found difficult to appreciate. Personally, I love almost anything to do with blaxploitation, sci-fi and jazz - but to combine them all into a film with Ra's preachy "redemption of the black race" ranting is just too much for me to tolerate. This is worth checking out if you love kitschy flicks from the 70s, otherwise just avoid.

    The NTSC video transfer is heavily artefacted by years of dirt and gunk, and the reel transitions are obvious. I have deducted one star for the transfer not being presented in it's original aspect ratio.

    The audio transfer is muffled and hard to follow.

    There are a couple of interesting extras included, which is great considering the age and obscure nature of the film.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Rob Giles (readen de bio, bork, bork, bork.)
Monday, May 31, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-525, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TX76PW10A 76cm Widescreen 100Hz. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.

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