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Space Is the Place (1974) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • Sun Ra--space-age prophet, Pharaonic jester, shaman-philosopher and avant-jazz keyboardist/bandleader--land his spaceship in Oakland, having been presumed lost in space for a few years. With Black Power on the rise, Ra disembarks and proclaims himself "the alter-destiny." He holds a myth-vs reality rap session with vblack inner-city youth at a rec center, threatening "to chain you up and take you with me, like they did you in Africa" if they resist his mplea to go to outer space. He duels at cards with The Overseer, a satanic overlord, with the fate of the black race at stake. Ra wins the right to a world concert, which features great performance footage of the Arkestra. Agents sent by the Overseer attempt to assassinate Ra, but he vanishes, rescues his people, and departs in his spaceship from the exploding planet Earth.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • A spaceship travels through space. Sun Ra Arkestra singer June Tyson says, "It's after the end of the world - don't you know that yet?" The shot tracks over a painting of a forest.

    Sun Ra walks through a forest, followed by a mirror-faced person. Strange alien life forms surround him. Sun Ra says the planet that he's on is different from Earth. He explains that he might bring black people here from there so they can thrive without white people.

    It's Chicago, 1943, in a bar with girls dancing on a stage. Sun Ra plays the piano, wearing glasses. The Overseer (Raymond Johnson), a black man in a white suit and hat, walks in with two women. The Overseer calls the manager over, telling him that the piano player "sounds like sh*t," and to "get him out of there, start the show."

    The manager steps onto the stage, whispers something to Sun Ra and says, "Let's hear it for the piano man, Sunny Ray!" He then announces the next group of dancing girls. The girls come out dancing. Sun Ra starts playing wildly, and the girls are ushered off of the stage. Glasses explode. Smoke wafts from the floor. People run away in a panic.

    Sun Ra and the Overseer are left sitting in the bar. The Overseer says, "I shoulda known you'd pull some sh*t like this," then asks Sun Ra, "You think you're ready for me?"

    Sun Ra and the Overseer are suddenly seated in a desert, facing each other and playing a card game with unsaid but clearly enormous stakes.

    Aboard the spaceship from earlier, the Arkestra plays a frenzied tune. Sun Ra steps to the controls of the ship. The ship's monitor shows that they are approaching Earth. Then, the monitor shows the Overseer driving a red convertible car with a girl beside him.

    It's 1972. Jimmy Fey (Christopher Brooks), a reporter in Oakland, California, announces that a landing from space will happen by Sun Ra and his Arkestra, and they will announce their plan to save the black race. The Overseer stands next to his car and complains that Sun Ra is late.

    The spaceship lands. The Overseer watches. Jimmy goes to it, accompanied by a crowd. The ship's door opens.

    Sun Ra and his entourage emerge from the ship, dressed in costumes with dancers dancing. A member of Sun Ra's entourage gives Jimmy a strange helmet which he puts on Jimmy's head. Sun Ra says, "I am the alter-destiny" and plays some bizarre music on a keyboard, affecting Jimmy. The crowd carries a groggy Jimmy away, who's not wearing the helmet anymore.

    Among other brief scenes, Sun Ra says a philosophical monologue mostly about music directly to the camera.

    Jimmy Fey is wheeled into the back of an ambulance that is driven away. The Overseer climbs into his car, saying, "Well, let's get it on."

    Two black boys sell newspapers with a headline on them about the spaceship's landing. In the desert, the card game continues.

    Two young black guys approach an unconscious drunk who sits in the doorway of a building. They admire his shoes, then they take them, stepping into the youth center. Inside the building, there are pictures of Black Power icons on the walls and a bunch of black youths singing, clapping, chanting and playing cards, pool and ping-pong.

    Sun Ra appears along with two costumed black people. He greets the youths, who stop what they are doing. The youths question Sun Ra, making jokes about his clothing. Sun Ra tells them he's not real, just like them, whom he says don't exist in their society - if they did, they wouldn't be seeking equal rights. He says that black people are myths, and he came from a dream the black man dreamt long ago. Sun Ra says he'll be here until he chooses which of them to take with him to outer space. One of them asks about a crystal in Sun Ra's hand. Sun Ra holds it up to the camera and there's a cut to June Tyson singing about "living in the space age."

    The Overseer pulls his convertible to a stop by the building. The drunk next to him wakes up and realizes he has no shoes on. The Overseer gives him some money.

    The Overseer and the two youths who stole the drunk's shoes play a game with some coins and talk. The Overseer bad-mouths and questions Sun Ra, then one youth argues with him that Sun Ra hasn't betrayed black people yet. The Overseer says that Sun Ra wants them "to buy his records." One youth responds, "Maybe." In the desert, the card game continues.

    An unconscious Jimmy Fey is wheeled through a hospital. A woman's voice calls a "Doctor Overseer" to intensive care. In a room, Tania (Erika Leder), a nurse, tells the Overseer that Jimmy - who lies in a bed - has been in a coma for three days. The Overseer responds, "Looks like we got another dead n*gger on our hands." The Overseer revives Jimmy by slapping him on his hands. The Overseer tells the nurse to get a friend because they're going to party tonight.

    The Overseer tells Jimmy to get on the phone with Sun Ra. In his spaceship, Sun Ra picks up the phone. Jimmy asks him if they can meet in the ship. While Sun Ra talks, two agents monitor the call. Tania and a black nurse, Candy (Barbara Deloney), arrive in Jimmy's room, then take off most of their clothes. Jimmy says he's aroused by the nurses, and the Overseer makes him leave the room, getting into bed with them.

    At the outer space employment agency, a man walks into the door. Sun Ra sits inside the place. The man explains his credentials to Sun Ra, and says that he's afraid of his family getting forced onto the street or onto welfare. Sun Ra gives him a speech about work on outer planes. The man thanks him and leaves.

    A black guy steps into the agency and has a conversation with Sun Ra. The black guy says he needs a job. Sun Ra asks him, "What have you been doing lately?" The guy replies, "Nothing, really, nothing." Sun Ra asks, "How long have you been doing nothing?" The guy answers, "Quite some time." Sun Ra responds, "You must be an expert at it." Sun Ra tells the black guy he'll get paid nothing for the work he does through the agency. Sun Ra has a talk with a woman who steps in next. Sun Ra is still being monitored by the agents.

    Jimmy steps out of his parked car, ready to meet Sun Ra. He is being watched by one of the agents. The other agent pulls a gun out of a van. Later, in Sun Ra's spaceship, Jimmy runs a deal by him and the two men shake hands.

    Sun Ra is driven through the ghetto with two members of his entourage while Jimmy Fey interviews him. Sun Ra explains his philosophies about black mens' place in society and music, as well as the "alter-destiny." The two youths from earlier listen to them on the radio, and debate whether Sun Ra has "sold out" or not.

    The contentious game in the desert goes on. The Overseer's card shows two black guys playing pool in a hall and talking. A very fat guy sits behind them, watching them.

    The Overseer pulls his car to a stop with Jimmy Fey and two women in it. They all get out, entering a brothel. The establishment's madam, Bertha (La Shaa Stallings), greets them at the door. The Overseer says he has "two big men coming." The group goes to an upstairs bedroom, where the women start to strip. The Overseer says to Jimmy, "Wait for me outside." A frustrated Jimmy leaves, then curses and protests beside a group of hookers.

    Two white men step to the brothel's door and are greeted by Bertha. She tells the women who came in with Jimmy and the Overseer that the men are aerospace technicians from NASA, and to have sex with them. The prostitutes start to party with the NASA technicians, but as it turns out, the men cannot perform sexually. One prostitute refers to the men as "punks." The Overseer and Jimmy barge in, spurring the NASA men to leave.

    The NASA men reenter the room where there are now three prostitutes and no Overseer or Jimmy; one of the men slaps two of the women around. Bertha steps in. The NASA men say their goodbyes to her, calling her a "n*gger," and they leave.

    The name Sun Ra is displayed outside a concert hall. Two agents look at the display, taking pictures of it. Inside the hall, Sun Ra works on some music. One guy says to another that Sun Ra has been working for four days and nights straight, asking when he'll take a break. Sun Ra says, "forces have been set in motion, forces that none of us can control."

    Back in the brothel, the Overseer, Jimmy and Bertha tend to the bloodied women.

    In the desert, the card game continues.

    In the hall, Sun Ra's buddy tells him to go home and get some rest, and that he'll pick him up in time for the concert. Sun Ra leaves. The two black youths from earlier see as Sun Ra is captured and loaded into a van that is driven away. They hotwire a car, then get into it, eager to rescue Sun Ra. To their surprise, the fat guy from the pool hall appears in the back of the car.

    These three guys drive to the rescue, as people sit in the hall waiting for the concert. The agents interrogate a tied-up Sun Ra about his powers, such as "transmolecularization." Sun Ra doesn't talk, so they put headphones on his ears playing corny music. The agents leave him there while they go get something to eat.

    The three youths find the agents' van and open a garage door next to it. They race up some stairs, kick down a door and find Sun Ra. They untie him. The eating agents see the three guys drive off with Sun Ra and run back to their van, pursuing them in it.

    The Overseer and Jimmy Fey talk backstage at the hall. The Overseer remarks that there's no Sun Ra, and tells Fey to send the audience home. The hall is crowded. Fey attempts to entertain the crowd at a microphone and the discontent audience chants, "We want Ra!" repeatedly. Fey introduces Sun Ra, who has made it to the place. Sun Ra takes a seat onstage behind some keyboards. The Overseer stands back, waiting for what he calls Sun Ra's "concession." Sun Ra and the Arkestra perform some electronic music, with him and June Tyson doing some chanting together.

    The two agents from earlier step backstage, one of them holding a handgun. He points it at Sun Ra. The two youths who rescued Sun Ra see this. They run across the stage, and one of them leaps between the agent and Sun Ra. The agent fires his gun, accidentally shooting the youth. The surprised Overseer walks away. The fat guy grabs the shooter and pulls him to the floor. The other agent points his gun at Sun Ra, who makes the wounded youth and his friend disappear, only to show up in Sun Ra's spaceship. The youth who was shot is somehow unhurt and blows bubblegum. Sun Ra magically transports the fat guy to the ship, then he disappears himself.

    The Overseer returns to the brothel, saying, "There's no way he can beat me this time." He greets two seated prostitutes, one of them bandaged due to her beating from the NASA man. She vanishes, then the other one does too, both of them appearing in Sun Ra's ship.

    At the pool hall, the two guys from an earlier scene see the door mysteriously open. They stop playing pool, then one of them drops his dope-shooting tools onto a table and steps outside through a crowd gathered around Sun Ra's ship. This guy tells Sun Ra that he did drugs because he felt he didn't fit in anywhere. Sun Ra lets him onto the ship. Jimmy is also allowed onto the ship, but Sun Ra says that he will take Jimmy's "black part" with him, allowing Fey to go without it. In the brothel, the Overseer calls for Jimmy, who appears in front of him, his speech sounding more stereotypically "white." Another bandaged hooker sits beside the Overseer. Jimmy escorts her out of the brothel. The Overseer yells, "RA, YOU SON OF A BITCH!" and storms outside.

    Sun Ra, surrounded by his entourage, says farewell to Earth, gets onto his spaceship, and it takes off. On the ship's monitor, we see the Overseer's car pull up to where the ship was. The Overseer angrily throws his hat down. Scenes of apocalypse can be seen on the ship's monitor.

    As the ship gets away from the Earth, the planet explodes.

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