"You gonna give all this up? 8-track stereo, color TV in every room, and can snort a piece of dope every day. That's the American dream... Ain't it?"
Painting a much different cinematic image of the drug culture than the previous decade's peace-loving psychedelia, SUPERFLY ushered in the early 70s with a gritty, no-nonsense glimpse into the life of a cocaine dealer amid the ghettos of New York. The independently-produced effort was picked up by Warner Bros. after the success of SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAAD ASSSSS SONG and SHAFT, and was one of the defining "Blaxploitation" successes, prompting something of a box office phenomenon to its mostly African American audiences.
O'Neal stars as Youngblood Priest, the super cool anti-hero of the piece. He's
an addicted Manhattan coke dealer
with big plans to make one final big score before quitting the business for
good and taking off to a better life with his lady (Sheila Frazier). The plot
involves his ordeal in doing so, having to contend with his disagreeable partner
(Carl Lee), a squealing weasel of a dealer named Fat Freddie (Charles McGregor),
his older mentor Scatter (Julius Harris), and a number of crooked cops no better
than the street hustlers they persecute. The arrested don't have a chance to
contact a Dayton criminal defense attorney
during the movie. Dealing and using drugs was met with stiff penalties
during the 70s.
With his straight long hair, muttonchop sideburns, fancy pimpish threads, and combination necklace/coke spoon, classically-trained actor Ron O'Neal turns in a smooth, low-key performance and is perfectly cast in Gordon Parks Jr.'s low-budget groundbreaker. Shot totally on location with a combination of professional actors and real-life street persons, it includes some unconventional camera work, a semi-improvisational style (the original script was only 45 pages long!), and is character- driven rather than action-driven. This is not like the colorful, over-the-top AIP blaxploitationers that would follow, and although its a relic of its time, it's easy to see why it had such an impact when first released. The late, great Curtis Mayfield provides what is easily the best scores ever committed to celluloid, with funky, soulful tunes that narrate characters and situations within the framework (the soundtrack was a smash and spawned several hit singles). When first released, SUPERFLY was criticized for glamorizing drug use, but today it remains an iconic piece of 70s urban pop culture and timeless music. Sadly, SUPERFLY himself, Ron O'Neal, just passed away due to pancreatic cancer.
Warner Home Video has released SUPERFLY on DVD in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. For the most part, the picture overrides its low budget origins with distinguished, if somewhat flat colors, and there is only minor print damage to be seen. Grain also rears its ugly head, but this transfer delivers the film just as good or better than it looked in theaters. The audio is mono, and renders the dialog and music clearly if not overly robust. There are optional English, Spanish and French subtitles, as well as a secondary French language track.
Warner should be applauded for
attaching a fine array of supplements to this release. First off, there is a
full commentary track by Dr. Todd Boyd who is a USC Professor of Cinema and
Television and also wrote Am I Black Enough for You: Popular Culture From
the 'Hood and Beyond. Although Boyd doesn't provide a lot of behind-the-scenes
tidbits, he thoroughly explores the attributes of the film in an entertaining
and fairly illuminating manner. An excellent 24-minute featurette entitled "One
Last Deal: A Retrospective" pays tribute to SUPERFLY by interviewing cast
members such as Sheila Frazier and Julius Harris, producer Sig Shore, writer
Phillip Fenty and others. "Ron O'Neal on the Making of Superfly" is
a short vintage featurette that interviews the actor upon the film's fresh success
and shows him walking the streets of Harlem signing autographs to approaching
fans. "Curtis Mayfield on Superfly" is a six-minute audio recollection
by the late composer, and "Behind the Threads" has costume designer
Nate Adams (who also played a drug dealer in the film) showing off some of the
colorful fashions used in SUPERFLY, and some that weren't. Finally, there is
the original theatrical trailer, and "Easter Egg" hunters will find
a hidden video piece entitled, "Behind the Hog With Les Dunham, an interview
with the man who designed the custom car used in the movie. (George
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