Super Fly (1972)
By: Stuart Giesel on September 18, 2012  | 
DVD
Warner Bros. | Region 1, NTSC | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 1.0 | 95 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Gordon Parks Jr.
Starring: Ron O'Neal, Carl Lee, Sheila Frazier, Julius Harris
Screenplay: Phillip Fenty
Country: USA
External Links
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One of the landmark blaxploitation films of the 70's, Super Fly may not appeal OCD-addled modern audiences used to quick cuts, jerky camerawork and CGI. Super Fly is gritty, grounded in reality, and proves itself to be surprisingly exploitation-free when you compare it to other blaxploitation films of the era.

Youngblood Priest (a career-defining performance by Ron O'Neal) is a streetwise dope seller who is sick of the business and wants out for both him and and his girl Georgia (Sheila Frazier). It seems to be a fool's dream, because his business partner as well as the Mob - to whom Priest still owes a debt - don't want anything to upset the good thing they have going. With the cops shaking him down, Priest turns to an old friend and mentor Scatter (Julius Harris) for help, looking to organise a large purchase of cocaine for one last big sell.

And that's it as far as plot goes. It's pretty threadbare stuff (in the Making Of it's explained that the script was a mere 45 pages) but it's in the execution that Super Fly works its magic. Yet as with the script, when you get down to it there's nothing magical about the execution of Super Fly, but all the elements just happened to click together to form a satisfying whole. As is typical for ultra-low budget productions, some of the acting is weak (though not O'Neal, who's fantastic in the title role) and there are some slow spots - there's lots of footage of transitions from scene to scene, cars parking and driving away, all in the aim to pad the 45 page script into a feature length film. Some of the interior scenes feel very staged, and editing is hit and miss.

So it sounds terrible, but it really isn't. First and foremost, Super Fly - like some of its brethren - provides a fascinating snapshot of a period that no longer exists, a valuable time capsule of New York and its denizens in the early 70's. Like Taxi Driver, it lets us glimpse into a dark, dangerous yet fascinating place and at a set of characters that were most assuredly a product of its era. The costumes are a sight to behold - though admittedly stylish, the thought of anyone wearing Priest's pimped-out clothes these days would be incomprehensible unless you were a desperate and talentless attention whore, yet at the time the film apparently set quite a standard for fashion. Priest's car, an Eldorado Cadillac, practically owns the streets through its monstrous silver magnificence. Priest himself should be an awful person - he's a drug pusher after all - but he's painted as a decent man in a dirty business, doing what he has to do to get by and not liking himself for doing it. Though there are a few scenes of violence involving Priest, he's hardly the main culprit; after all, he'd much rather spend his time snorting coke off his cross pendant and making love to Georgia than beating down someone who owes him money.

Rather than come across as a sleazy glimpse into the life of a degenerate as it might very well have been, director Gordon Parks Jr. and writer Phillip Fenty have made something that more approaches a Shakespearean tragedy. There are three dynamite scenes that stand out (if you don't count a slow-motion fight by the water and a slow-motion round of lovemaking). Priest chases a mugger through the bowels of Harlem and in one impressive shot does some Jackie Chan-style manoeuvring over a chain link fence and up a ladder. Priest confronts the main bad guy with some choice words that apparently had audiences stand up and applaud. And, in the film's highlight, there's a superb photographic montage set to Curtis Mayfield's wonderful "Pusher Man" theme song.

Ah, the music. Curtis Mayfield's songs and score to Super Fly is what John Williams's score to Jaws was; so immediately recognisable as a classic and ingrained into the on-screen visuals, that the film would be unthinkable without that particular music. Hell, the lyrics to the various songs actually mirror the plot of Super Fly. Mayfield himself appears in a scene in a bar singing "Pusher Man". How Mayfield didn't win the Oscar that year - after Isaac Haye's win for the theme song from Shaft - is baffling. What won that year? *checks IMDB* Hm, apparently it's a film called Limelight and a song from The Poseidon Adventure. *cough*

Super Fly may not be much outright fun compared with something like Coffy or Foxy Brown, but it's a different sort of film; though not humourless, it's pretty damn serious, and it still holds up today as a wonderful shot of inner city life in New York in the early 70's. In the iconic character of Priest the film gave a cinematic voice to people who didn't have one. Giving Super Fly the tag of 'blaxploitation' is actually doing it a disservice; there's nothing exploitative about Super Fly. I liken it more to a gritty quasi-documentary on the sort of street life that doesn't exist any more.
Video
The picture's probably as good as you're going to get, but it's still pretty damn crude. Exterior shots have a lot of grain, but that adds to the gritty realism of the picture. Interiors are soft, and there are lots of artifacts to go around, but this was never going to be a gorgeous looking picture.
Audio
The film's English mono track is, like the picture quality, decidedly bog-standard and nothing more, yet the excellent soundtrack still retains its punch.
Extra Features
Audio commentary by Dr Todd Boyd: Boyd, a professor of cinema and television, provides a spirited commentary for Super Fly. Although there are a few dead spots, it's an interesting dissection of the street life shown in Super Fly, but there are times where he simply restates what's happening on screen.

One Last Deal - A Retrospective: An interesting look back at the legacy of Super Fly, including interviews with surviving cast and crew and social commentators.

Ron O'Neal on the Making of Super Fly: A short interview with Ron O'Neal.

Curtis Mayfield on Super Fly: An interview with Curtis Mayfield on his legendary score and songs for Super Fly. This is an audio interview only.

Behind the Threads: Costume designer Nate Adams shows us some of the clothes from Super Fly.

Behind the Hog: Les Dunham shows us the sort of cars used in Super Fly.

The disc also contains the Theatrical Trailer.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
One of the most noteworthy and successful blaxploitation films of its era, Super Fly isn't boobs-and-bullets fun like Coffy. It's still entertaining, though some modern audiences will be turned off by its more deliberately slow pace. Well, those people can go to hell. A great performance from Ron O'Neal and a superb score by Curtis Mayfield have ensured Super Fly's legacy, and it's a must see for genre fans.

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