Its 11:20 am
One of the nice surprises waiting for me when I returned home from California was a package from our undercover informant at Warner Brothers. “MP” sent a note saying “If you want to have street and film critic cred,you MUST see the classic “Super Fly” and not that remake shit either. Enclosed is a copy of the movie,courtesy of your friends at Warner Brothers Archive“.
Now I have never watched the original “Super Fly” but I have seen Ron O’Neal,the star of the film in other roles and I also have seen the late Gordon Parks,Jr. other classic blaxploitation film “Three The Hard Way”. So the chance to watch a true classic film that helped define a film genre,well count the cheetah and myself all in.
On the surface,”Super Fly”seems pretty straight forward. Youngblood Priest is a cocaine dealer in New York City. He enjoys all the fine things in life,women,sharp clothes,a couple of killer apartments,a fine whip and enjoys the highest quality of coke around.
But Priest wants out of the Life and starts making a plan to not get him but maybe his partner Eddie out as well. But there many factors and players involved that don’t want Priest to escape and are willing to kill to keep in him in place and making them big money.
I loved this movie for the most part. From the historical importance to the grittiness of New York City to classic Curtis Mayfield soundtrack,”Super Fly” is film that any serious music and movie fan needs to see and better yet,include in their collections.
The film was made for app. 60,000 dollars which was no budget even back in 1972. Two black dentists contributed 53,000 dollars while director Parks,Jr got another 5,000.00 or so from his dad. The filmmakers traded small roles in the movie to non-actors in exchange for the use of an apartment and the use of the Caddy that Priest drives in the film.
Curtis Mayfield recorded the soundtrack and also had a scene at local “spot” where his band was featured. The wardrobe budget was so small that leading lady Sheila Frazier wore her own clothes in the film. Yet the clothes were so cutting edge as was star Ron O’Neal’s hairstyle that they started trends as soon as the movie hit the theaters.
When I watched the movie with the commentary by Dr. Todd Boyd,he mentioned something that I picked up as well and that is that “Super Fly” almost appears a documentary. The reason it does is because of the budget,many scenes were done in one take as they didn’t have the money for multiple takes. The lighting suffers especially at night and Parks,Jr. included still photographs over Mayfield’s score to help pad the run time. He also did that with a love scene between Priest and his main lady Georgia. That scene ran for 5 minutes which was pretty long for a 90 minute film back then.
The acting is a little uneven,O’Neal and Julius Harris,who plays Priest’s mentor,Scatter,are the two best performers in the film. O’Neal had done a lot of stage work including several Shakespeare roles while Harris was just starting his run as one of the most dependable and steady character actors in the business including a major role in “Live and Let Die”. The rest of the cast was so-so with “Super Fly”‘s producer Sig Shore playing the “Mr. Big” of the film and not doing a bad job. Carl Lee plays Eddie,Priest’s partner who is lured by the big money to be made yet still owes his life to Priest,his loyalty will be sore tested. Sheila Frazier plays Georgia,his woman who encourages to break free.
The language in the film may appear rough and outdated by today’s standards with the words “nigga” and “nigger” being used quite a bit. Dr. Boyd in his commentary points out that the word had many uses and tones and that is how it was (and still is) back then. Culturally speaking,the language is a main part of the film and it was funny to hear the term “pop a cap in yo’ ass” being dropped back in 1972,decades before it popular in today’s world.
Is “Super Fly” a perfect film? While it was a huge hit for Hollywood and with “Shaft”,ushered in the blaxploitation era which saw many films aimed for urban audiences,it does raises some serious moral problems. For all the coolness that Priest carries,for all that swagger,he still is a dope peddler and he is getting rich off the broken lives his cocaine is causing. He wants “out” of the life but his plan is to flood his neighborhood with 30 kilos of pure misery and death for countless people. He and his partner blame “the Man” for forcing them into the Game which just comes across as a cop out for selling dope and sleeping at night.
Now when “Super Fly” was released,cocaine wasn’t seen as a major yet,that wouldn’t happen until the late 1970s. It wasn’t seen as a everyday average Joe drug yet in the photo montage that is shown,it appears that it was more widespread then one would believe. It was a serious problem but the folks back then,just like smokers in the 1930s through the 1960s,didn’t quite understand how terrible cocaine truly was.
This was one of the first modern films to actually glorify a criminal’s lifestyle…with all the gear,hogs,cribs,product and women Priest had at his beck and call,many audiences identified with the character and rooted for him,a trend that carries on through today in shows like “Sons of Anarchy” and “Breaking Bad” which celebrates the criminal and their crimes. Is this enough to derail the film? Of course not!! Its still a great film made with a ton of heart,love and soul and as I said earlier,anyone who considers themselves a “film buff” needs to have a copy of “Super Fly”.
“Super Fly” is rated “R” and has a run time of 90 minutes. Its packed with extra features including one of the best commentary’s I have heard by Dr. Todd Boyd.
You can score a copy of “Super Fly” by zipping over to the “spot” aka the Warner Brothers website.