SATURDAY

Strange as it may seem, the most straightforward element of Sun Ra’s ’70s blaxploitation fantasia Space Is the Place is Ra himself: plump, calm, with a voice like your grandpa. Even before the opening credits, the avant-jazzman—fresh from his fried-eyeball spaceship—starts wandering a distant planet clad in Sphinxlike headgear and cape. Bright orange hands stretch out and blossom between petals, a worm creature floats by, and there is Ra guiding the weirdness, talking to some mirror-headed thing in monk’s robes. The man who brought you electric-piano riffs on monorails and purple moons, the man who later deemed Star Wars to be “very accurate,” is doing a really good Willy Wonka as he one-ups Marcus Garvey. The black race’s salvation, he says, depends on moving to another planet via “isotope teleportation” or “transmolecularization.” When Ra floats down to Earth to rescue his people, it’s not the first plot to ask the avant-garde to save the human race. Nor is it the last to try to coax a savior from a critic’s soggy bedside sock—be it as boring as Masked and Anonymous or as misguided as any project that introduces Bowie to scripted dialogue. But, thank goodness, Space Is the Place is not tedium in real time. Get past Ra outwitting racist NASA operatives and Ra battling a pimp called the Overseer (a pair of naughty nurses are introduced as “hot lunch”), and you’ll notice that he’s playing with stereotypes, trying at uplift, and showing us how far we are from fixing it all—a message filtered through Ra’s electric shades and his sincere belief in the role (if you want to call it a role). The film screens with Ted Leo’s Dirty Old Town at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 13, at the Warehouse Next Door, 1017 7th St. NW. $8. (202) 783-3933. (Jason Cherkis)