"Super Fly" deserves its place in cinema history

BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS

Ron O'Neal stars as Harlem cocaine kingpin Youngblood Priest, who sticks it to the “man” – an on-the-take police commissioner played by producer Sig Shore. (Frame shots courtesy of Warner Archive Collection)

“SUPER FLY: WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION"


Blu-ray, 1972, R for violence, sexuality/nudity, strong language and drug use throughout


Best extra: “One Last Deal: A Retrospective Documentary” (2003)


LONG BEFORE director X’s “Superfly” and Trevor Jackson’s Youngblood Priest, director Gordon Parks Jr., and Ron O’Neal as Youngblood Priest set the world on fire. That was with the 1972 original.


Almost simultaneously with the big-screen release of “Superfly” 2018, viewers can get a simulated, big-screen effect of the original.


O’Neal stars as Priest, cocaine kingpin. Priest is a suave, debonair dealer in New York’s Harlem. He’s beyond fly, a term back in the day meant for anything choice, sweet, fantastic. But Priest is so beyond the stratosphere. Everything he does, how he looks, even the car he drives is super fly.


Priest’s “superfly” car, a Duhham Coach custom-fit ’71 Cadillac Eldorado.

Phillip Fenty wrote the screenplay for the movie, and hooked the movie up with O’Neal. Both grew up in Cleveland.


The story of how Fenty’s version of life on the streets in the early 1970’s came to be is fascinating. In “One Last Deal: A Retrospective Documentary,” Fenty, as well as other players (who were still alive 15 years ago), talk about scraping enough money together. To get the movie started, they got $53,000 from two black dentists who lived in Producer Sig Shore’s neighborhood and $5,000 from Director Parks Jr.’s dad, Gordon Parks Sr.


Super Fly deserves its place in American cinema history, as does Melvin Peebles’ 1971 “Sweet, Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song,” and Parks Sr.’s “Shaft” for introducing the genre “Blaxploitation.” The films were about the lives of African Americans set in urban America. These movies portrayed the nitty-gritty reality of a segment of the population ignored by Hollywood.


In the retrospective documentary, the discussion focuses on the film’s impact 30-plus years later. Shore talks about how the movie was first screened in the L.A. suburb of Westwood. It didn’t, uh, fly. Next was a co-screening with “Shaft” in Philadelphia, then Broadway. Fenty remembers winding lines of potential viewers, a sold-out box office and people ripping the door off the theater to get inside.


"Super Fly" has a gritty grainy texture throughout as Priest runs down a user who tries to rob him in a stairwell.

Priest tries a snort of coke from the cross around his neck.

Super Fly Youngblood Priest orders some drinks in a local Harlem bar with drug cohort Eddie, while Curtis Mayfield's real-life band performs.

Curtis Mayfield

It solidified to the Hollywood movie-making elite that there was a serious audience in African American movie-goers, who were ready to pay to watch black actors portray the characters they wanted to see.


In fact, Dr. Todd Boyd, University of Southern California professor of cinema and television and author of “Am I Black Enough for Your Popular Culture from the ‘Hood and Beyond,” says in the retrospective that not only was “Super Fly” the “best movie of that era,” but that Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack was the best soundtrack of its day.


After Mayfield read the 45-page script, he got to work on the songs. His soundtrack told Priest’s story, from beginning to end, from “Super Fly” to “Pusherman”, “Freddie’s Dead” to “Eddie You Should Know Better.”


Like Boyd says, in 1972, to watch Priest tell the white man off at the end was like “John Wayne riding off into the sunset for black people.” It resonated enough for Hollywood to stand up and take notice. And, to begin making movies for the African American market.


Priest chews out Fat Freddie for not bringing him his cut from cocaine sales and threatens to put Freddie’s wife on the streets to get the cash.

Priest and Eddie (Carl Lee) rap about their different philosophies of drug dealing on the streets of New York.

Priest and his main squeeze Georgia (Shiela Frazier) get physical in a bath tub scene.


VIDEO

Right from the beginning scene, the Warner 2K master is evident (1.78:1 aspect ratio). The camera zooms in closer to Youngblood Priest walking into a business on a Harlem street corner. You can see the clarity of the words on the sign, like Hair Dresse. Even Priest’s Cadillac El Dorado and its angelic hood piece sticks out. What’s great, though, is that the clean-up didn’t take anything away from the grit and authenticity of this film shot on the New York streets. It’s still about survival on the streets, garbage, prostitution, drug-dealing and all.


AUDIO

For anyone who fell in love with Curtis Mayfield because of this movie, you’ll be happy with the DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono soundtrack. It’s by no means as super fly as today’s Dolby mixes, but it certainly packs a punch when you listen to the Mayfield’s lyrics, “Oooh, Super Fly/You’re gonna make your fortune by and by/But if you lose, don’t ask no questions why/The only game you know is do or die/Ah-ha-ha.” Dialogue and street noises are also clear, but, still maintain the raw recording style of 46 years ago.


Priest drug cohort Fat Freddie gives Priest up after police interrogate him verbally and with slaps across his face.

Priest is learning martial arts to hopefully one day save his skin on the streets.

EXTRAS

USC professor Todd Boyd gives a decent commentary of the film, which deals a lot with how things were on the street back in 1972. He throws in some nice tidbits like how the Super Fly Cadillac actually belonged to a real-life street character, K.C., who was approached about using his car for the film. They liked him so much, they cast him in the film as a pimp. Talk about authenticity. This commentary was also recorded 15 years ago.


Finally, in addition to the original trailer, custom car designer Les Dunham discusses his tricked-out rides like the Super Flymobile for folks back in the 1960’s and 1970’s and how he made them classics. Viewers who know little about Blaxploitation and its beginnings or who have seen the 2018 critically panned version called “Superfly” can learn a little and be entertained as well.


Toni Guagenti


Priest fights for his life against the rotten-apple New York City cops.

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