The Cry of Jazz/The Magic Sun DVD reviews [Unheard Music]
Mar 8, 2005, 19:00
THE CRY OF JAZZ directed by Edward O. Bland; Unheard Music/Atavistic THE MAGIC SUN directed by Phil Niblock; Unheard Music/Atavistic
We are truly blessed that so many wise folks were in the right places at the right times and managed to capture Sun Ra on film before he shuffled back home to Saturn. 1974's Space is the Place (reviewed in Your Flesh #48) and 1980's A Joyful Noise are each a must-see for anyone even remotely interested in the myth and music of this unequalled genius. Now the Unheard Music Series, Atavistic's indispensable jazz CD-reissue arm, takes a bold step into the visual realm with this pair of forgotten flicks featuring Ra and his Arkestra.
Using jazz as a metaphor for black American plight, '59's The Cry of Jazz is a riveting artifact from the dawn of the civil rights era. Although director Edward O. Bland based this 35-minute indictment of white America on his book The Fruits of the Death of Jazz, the film's message is wholly eclipsed by the corn-filled, simplistic dialogue and stiff, sub-Joe Friday delivery of its nameless cast—extremely reminiscent of the ancient science films we all had to sit through in elementary school. (Bland also undermines himself by pontificating that “the Negro,” to use the movie's own parlance, created jazz with no outside influences—but later points out how the beboppers looked to European composers like Ravel and Debussy for bop's melodic changes.) But while Bland's core points are each a given, what makes this too-cool document worth your time are its arresting, blown-out black and white look and what must be the earliest existing footage of, as he's referred to in the film, “The Sun Ra.”
The Magic Sun, from 1966, was made in New York during Ra's residency there. Shot in super-high contrast black-and-white negative (title stock?), these riveting 17 minutes are filled with trippy, extreme close-ups of Arkestra members playing and are accompanied by the band's typically out-there sonics. Extras include four lengthy, photo-enhanced home recordings of Ra espousing his famously “Universe-al” philosophy.
Sure, it would've been more cost-effective to buyers to have both these films on one disc. But scarce material like this doesn't necessarily re-emerge according to anyone's schedule, and sometimes it just needs to be released as it presents itself. Or would you rather Atavistic just sat on these treasures, waiting for the magic day when enough rare Sun Ra footage materialized to give The Sopranos: Season I a run for its money? Thought not. [Unheard Music/Atavistic]