The sheer magnitude of Sun Ra’s output can be daunting. But the truth is, there’s no right or wrong way to begin—just put on your spacesuit and blast off (John Szwed’s recently reissued Space Is the Place biography will provide an excellent map for your travels on the spaceways). But don’t just stick to the records. Sun Ra was nothing if not a multimedia artist who understood the power of a spectacle.
Arkestra concerts were immersive affairs, involving wild, handmade costumes, films, light shows, choreography and more. Over the decades, a few filmmakers tried to document these disorienting, ecstatic and often-indescribable performances. Judging from eyewitness accounts, it’s likely none of them got even close to capturing the real thing. But here are a few of the most successful attempts.