Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Okay, so for the final installment of the Sun Ra series I've chosen to write about one of the neglected areas of Sun Ra's legacy - his work in film, which is more extensive than one might think. Everyone knows about Space is the Place, and most of us have probably seen A Joyful Noise, the two most famous documents of Sun Ra and his work in film, and, as important as they are, enough has been said about them that I can't really add a whole lot here. Instead, I've decided to offer up two of the more infamous pieces of Sun Ra and the film medium.
The first is The Magic Sun, an experimental film made by NewYork based composer Phil Niblock in 1966. The film is a strange 17 minute black and white silhouette sort of exploration of the songs "Celestial Fantasy", "Shadow World", and "Strange Strings". It's quite stirring, interesting in it's approach, and possibly, if you're so inclined to use such words, beautiful. Judge for yourself.

Next is The Cry of Jazz, released in 1959, and directed by Ed Bland. Forgotten (or, more likely, ignored) for over forty years, The Cry of Jazz has been described as not so much a film as a dramatized essay in which Bland narrates his own theory about the evolution and importance of jazz music, which many have considered quite controversial. I'm not going to get into whether or not Bland's theory is valid or anything like that, although that would be a very interesting discussion. For our purposes, The Cry of Jazz is important because the soundtrack to the film was provided by The Sun Ra Arkestra, and the images of the band playing in the film are the only known footage of the Arkestra from their time in Chicago in the late 1950s. Bland has said the main reason for asking The Arkestra to perform in the film is the fact that Ra owned all of the rights to his music. The film is only about 35 minutes long, and well worth watching. You can read an interview with Mr Bland here, if you're so inclined.
Any suggestions for another series on avant garde jazz? I'm all ears.

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