Space is the Place & The Last Angel of History

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Space Is the Place
Science fiction, blaxploitation, cosmic free-jazz and radical race politics combine when Sun Ra returns to earth in his music-powered space ship to battle for the future of the black race and offer an ‘alter-destiny’ to those who would join him. Intentionally created as an homage to the low-budget science fiction films of the 50′s and 60′s, Space Is The Place became a visual embodiment of Sun Ra’s Afro-Egyptian myth of salvation in outer space. The special effects, outrageous plot line and apocalyptic message harmonize with the otherworldly score and a climactic live performance by one of the most innovative and profound groups in jazz history. Synopsis from Plexifilm. (1974, 85 mins, DVD).

The Last Angel of History

John Akomfrah, director of Seven Songs of Malcolm X, returns with an engaging and searing examination of the hitherto unexplored relationships between Pan-African culture, science fiction, intergalactic travel, and rapidly progressing computer technology.

This cinematic essay posits science fiction (with tropes such as alien abduction, estrangement, and genetic engineering) as a metaphor for the Pan-African experience of forced displacement, cultural alienation, and otherness.

Akomfrah’s analysis is rooted in an exploration of the cultural works of Pan-African artists, such as funkmaster George Clinton and his Mothership Connection, Sun Ra’s use of extraterrestrial iconography, and the very explicit connection drawn between these issues in the writings of black science fiction authors Samuel R. Delaney and Octavia Butler.

Included are interviews with black cultural figures, from musicians DJ Spooky, Goldie, and Derek May, who discuss the importance of George Clinton to their own music, to George Clinton himself. Astronaut Dr. Bernard A. Harris Jr. describes his experiences as one of the first African-Americans in space, while Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols tells of her campaign for a greater role for African-Americans in NASA. Novelist Ismael Reed and cultural critics Greg Tate and Kodwo Eshun tease out the parallels between black life and science fiction, while Delaney and Butler discuss the motivations behind their choice of the genre to express ideas about the black experience.

In keeping with the futuristic tenor of the film, the interviews are intercut with images of Pan-African life from different periods of history, jumping between time and space from the past to the future to the present, not unlike the mode of many rock videos or surfing the Internet. Synopsis from Icarus Films. (1996, 45 mins, DVD).

This screening is part of the Friday Film Forum, a series presented in conjunction with Professor Jacqueline Stewart’s University of Chicago course, “African American Cinema Since 1970.”

Black Cinema House | 7200 S. Kimbark Ave.