Priest is a prince of the streets, a charismatic businessman who wants out of cocaine-dealing. But a mysterious kingpin doesn’t want Priest to change his ways. And that triggers murder, revenge and double-crosses that push Priest into a corner — and heat the neighborhood to flash point. Super Fly is one of the more enduring streetwise films of its era, due to the dynamic central performance of Ron O’Neal (Red Dawn, Original Gangstas), the sizzling score by Curtis Mayfield and the gritty direction of the late Gordon Parks, Jr. (Three the Hard Way, Aaron Loves Angela). Super Fly is super entertainment with an indelible message. It’s life on the edge, put together by talents who know just how sharp it can get.
In the pantheon of the Blaxploitation movement, Super Fly was considered a top-tier title, boasting the most recognition and all around favorable reputation second only to Shaft, which was rebooted once in the early 2000s and is being rebooted again next year. (Super Fly itself is currently in theaters in the form of a reboot/sequel with a cast of actors, outside of Michael Kenneth Williams, I’ve never heard of.)
Super Fly follows that age-old tale of a criminal/hero, in this case the bad-assedly named Youngblood Priest (Ron O’Neal), as someone tired of the game and who is looking to secure one last big hit before retiring from his life of crime for good. Of course, such things are never so simple. Super Fly’s plot isn’t wholly engaging, and its effort to look raw, gritty, and as realistic as possible leads the way for scenes to go on too long in an effort to capture their authenticity. (In fact, a real New York City pimp who lent the filmmakers his “tricked out hog” to use on screen eventually made his way into a scene playing…a pimp. His unpolished acting skills are prevalent, but, again, it lends to the authenticity.) And as far as the grit and rawness, one of the first scenes sees Priest chasing a would-be robber all the way back to the robber’s apartment where a woman and several small children cower in a corner on top of a mattress sat on the floor. Priest retrieves his cash and brutally kicks the man several times in the stomach, causing him to vomit — all the while, the chipped, peeling paint and dingy gray interiors of the apartment imbue that kind of New York nastiness that permeated much of 1970s cinema.
There’s also an emphasis on showcasing New York black culture with the appearance of Curtis Mayfield in a small, smoky club where our characters gather at one point. Long, unbroken takes of Mayfield performing one of his most well-known songs, “Pusher Man,” make up a large portion of the scene, with the entire club — including our hero — rapt with attention. In fact, “Pusher Man” is such a dominant presence in Super Fly that it’s used three different times.
Ron O’Neal is a striking looking actor, and his mixed heritage lends him an atypical look that was usually bestowed upon most of the male Blaxploitation characters of that era. It’s easy to dismiss his performance at first as uninspired and flat, but as time goes on you begin to see that O’Neal is manufacturing an almost untouchable mythical figure who knows only one emotion: fury. Cross him and he’ll make you pay, and in the scenes where he’s laying to waste a character who needs a furious verbal reprimand, he absolutely commands the screen.
Super Fly has rightfully earned its place in Blaxploitation history; it’s one of the few from the sub-genre that was able to transition from the screen and permeate pop culture, inspiring a long line of actors, hip-hop artists, and, as of this year, big-budget reboots.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Theatrical Trailer (HD)
- One Last Deal: A Retrospective Documentary
- Commentary by Dr. Todd Boyd, USC Professor of Cinema and Television and author of “Am I Black Enough For You: Popular Culture From the ‘Hood and Beyond”
- Curtis Mayfield on Super Fly
- “Behind the Hog” with Les Dunham
- Ron O’Neal on the Making of Super Fly
- Costume Designer Nate Adams Goes “Behind The Threads”
(Thanks to Movie Man’s Guide for the screen grabs.)
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