So much more than just a legendary pianist and bandleader, whose jazz pedigree goes all the way back to playing with Fletcher Henderson in the ‘40’s, the late great Sun Ra made art in full. Forgoing commercial sensibilities that ultimately kill in favor of those that actually benefit community, Sun Ra incorporated costume, dance, and theater into a symphonic eruption of cultural living by example. His Arkestra, featured in the Mystery, Mr. Ra video touring
in 1984, embodied the shamanic message Sun Ra wished to bestow upon mankind. France
In Sun Ra’s own words, “I’m on a mission because I’m telling the truth all the time, another kind of truth, not the kind that will kill you, and not the kind that will save you, but the kind that will make you adjust yourself to the kind of reality you should have instead of this despicable one you’ve got.” Filmmaker Frank Cassenti lays it all out, both the performances and the behind-the-scenes commentary, which together show exactly how committed Sun Ra was to challenging his audience to honestly confront the absurdities of their unquestioned existence.
“You’ve lost your celestial rights,” Sun Ra implores. “You can’t go to Jupiter. You can’t even go to Mars. You are chained and bound to the planet Earth.” And according to Sun Ra, since we are each “children of the Sun”, that’s a horrible shame for sure. The video splits its dialogue between French and English languages, and neither are as audible as would be hoped for with a documentary. But if you follow Sun Ra’s words close enough, he drops knowledge as persistent as it is paradigm-shifting. And of course, the musical segments are extraordinary.