Monday, 2 June 2008

Super Fly (1972)

Priest, the hero of the 1972 blaxploitation classic Super Fly, is a coke dealer who who wants to make one last big score and then get out. He doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, but he knows this is not it. He appears to have it all. He has the fancy car, the flash apartment in New York city, the cool threads, and two beautiful girlfriends - one white and one black. But as he says, he’d like to get out of this life before he finds himself having to kill someone, or someone kills him.

There’s a serious political edge to Super Fly. The life Priest leads is not one he would have chosen willingly, but as a black man he has few options. Blaxploitation movies were also among the first American movies to show the corruption and casual brutality, and the racism, of the police.

Made on a shoestring budget, this movie oozes style and energy and features a great soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield. Ron O’Neal plays Priest absolutely straight, and it works. This is not a cartoonish or campy movie. It’s also nowhere near as violent as you might expect. The impact of the film comes from the sense of people being trapped in lives that are slowly destroying their humanity, rather than from overt violence. The threat of violence is always there however.

First-time director Gordon Parks Jr does a fine job. His tragically early death in an air crash robbed American cinema of a very promising talent. The acting is terrific, with Carl Lee providing both menace and amusement in his over-the-top portrayal of Priest’s business partner. Shiela Frazier is impressive as Georgia, who loves Priest and struggles to understand his sense of alienation and frustration. There’s a very well-done love scene between Priest and Georgia that serves as a telling illustration of the way that sex was done so much better in the movies of the 70s compared to today.

And then there are the clothes! They’re truly amazing. Yes, they’re outrageously 70s, but they’re fun and they’re a great example of fashion being used as an expression of growing sense of confidence among urban blacks. And Nate Adams, who was responsible for the costumes, still has most of them (much to the horror of his wife) and proudly shows them off in one of the extras! We also get a brief interview with the guy who did the customising on the Caddy that Priest drives. In fact the extras are superb. Although it’s a budget-priced DVD Warner Brothers have given us premium selection of extras. It’s great to see a cult or exploitation movie getting such a respectful DVD release! Super Fly is both an important film and an outrageously entertaining movie.

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