Film Review: Super Fly (1972)

Stagnant plotting and glacial-speed editing define this 1972 Blaxploitation feature from director Gordon Parks Jr. Starring Ron O’Neal as the ridiculously named central character, Priest Youngblood, Super Fly is a movie where nothing much happens and adds very little to the conversation regarding the socio-economic status of African-Americans that was so eloquently expressed through other entries of the genre (particularly the 1973 feature Black Caesar).

Youngblood is a fairly successful drug pusher prowling the streets of the Big Apple in some of the snazziest threads in cinema history. However, despite having a fairly secure and lucrative lifestyle, Youngblood is also intuitively aware to the inherent risks of his vocation and the need to extract himself from the drug trade through any means necessary.

An interesting dilemma (how to break from the lure of criminality when existing in an unreceptive society) arises from this set up. Yet the potency of Super Fly’s message becomes highly diluted through its infuriating aesthetic choices. The film contains a myriad of confounding sequences and scenes which far overstay their welcome. One egregious example of this lies with Parks’ apparent fixation on the 1971 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado that Youngblood drives throughout the film. There are so many wanton shots of this car cruising throughout the city that often times the whole rhythm of the film itself feels threatened and broken. Worse still is that Parks shoot some of the conversation pieces (such as when Youngblood approaches an older veteran of the drug trade for more product) in a listless, amateurish fashion.

Far more successful are the scenes where less emphasis is placed on the dialogue. One great scene involves a chase where Youngblood tears after a strung-out junkie who has mugged him. What makes this scene so powerful is the cinematography, which captures the urban horror of early 1970′s Harlem. With its focus on derelict, crumbling tenements and the cracked streets teeming with rubble, waste and roaming packs of stray dogs, this action scene communicates far more eloquently about the film’s message than anything existing in its half-baked and incoherent script.

Ultimately, Super Fly has a lot going for it – including the presence of Ron O’Neal, whose “take no shit” attitude is completely enjoyable to watch. Also, the film is bolstered by the inclusion of Mayfield’s funky “Super Fly” tune – although, because it runs like a refrain throughout the film it can tend to become a tad wearisome. Finally, the movie is great time-capsule of a pre-Giuliani New York City and the scenes which focus on the city itself speak strongly about the plight of the disenfranchised at the time. However, not everything in this film is rosy – far from it. The film is in need of serious, serious editing and a stronger script. It contains many scenes of absolutely stupefying length which really cripple its overall effectiveness.

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