Director: Robert Mugge
Year: 1980
Time: 60 mins
Music: Sun Ra & His Arkestra
Eye of Sound: Just when A Joyful Noise is starting, the Helio Lord appears in a museum Egyptian exhibition and states that "knowledge is laughable when attributed to a human being". This could be taken as a wise, humble remark, but remember that Sun Ra claims not to be a human being. The film focuses on Ra at his most eccentric. There are many excerpts of live shows, private performances and rehearsals, but Mugge's intention was to tap into the Ra ideological framework rather than attempt a conventional musical documentary. From this point of view, it's not easy to assess Mugge's success in documenting that strange force called the Ark Myth. Ra presents himself as a catalyst, an agent who changes everything without being changed; he prescribes himself as a therapy against modern day alienation and proposes a personal mythocracy to transcend the vices of democracy and theocracy. Quite clearly, there are signs of acute megalomania - at least if you assume that he's indeed a human being. And sometimes we are left do decide if his whole cosmic narrative is a joke, a statement/performance, or plain simple pathology. Like any prophet worthy of the name, Ra has his retinue of followers and disciples. Musicians like John Gilmore, Danny Thompson and James Jacson narrate some episodes from their interstellar adventures with Ra and justify their surrender to their leader's idiosyncratic rules and visions - some with epiphanies, others with a humbling recognition of Ra's mystery. Like any good apostles for a higher being, these men seem to revel in their submission and proximity to the Helio Lord, and the Ark crew is portrayed like a bizarre mixture of trippy commune, spaced-out religious cult, and plain good old jazz orchestra. We don't get a clear picture of this uncanny cult, but it's also unclear if a more complete or coherent portrait was possible. Ra insists on eluding us; as he says, he's not a part of history, he's a mystery.  

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