Friday, February 24, 2017
Directed by Gordon Parks Jr. and written by Phillip Fenty, Super Fly is the story of a drug dealer who is trying to get out of the drug business and lead a straight life. The film is an exploration of a man wanting to get out of the dangerous underworld of crime and drugs as well as start a new life that will get him away from the troubles of the streets. Starring Ron O’Neal, Carl Lee, Sheila Frazier, Julius Harris, and Charles McGregor. Super Fly is a gripping and thrilling film from Gordon Parks Jr.
The film is the simple story of a drug dealer living in New York City who decides to get out of the business after too many run-in with junkies as he hopes to make some money and split it with his partner. It’s a film that explores a man who has made a good living dealing in dope and making some money but too many encounters with danger has forced to realize how small of a future there is in dealing. The protagonist of Youngblood Priest (Ron O’Neal) is a man that is quite flawed as he sleeps around with women and has a cocaine habit but is aware of the damage it’s doing around him as he’s got a lot of people working for him but some aren’t meeting their quota. The film’s screenplay by Phillip Fenty doesn’t just explore what Priest is dealing with as he’s aware that some of the people who are working for him are unreliable as they’ve got some bad drug habits.
Priest has a plan but knows he couldn’t do it alone as he turns to his old mentor in retired dealer Scatter (Julius Harris) for help as he hopes to make a million dollars in four months and split it with his friend Eddie (Carl Lee) and leave the game for good. Still, he has to deal with forces that want to stop which would include some corrupt police detectives that is led by its corrupt deputy commissioner Reardon (Sig Shore). While Eddie sees this alliance with the police as something that would help him and Priest become rich. Priest however doesn’t share the same view knowing that he’s still working for someone else and can never get out yet would eventually find a way to get out of their clutches.
The direction of Gordon Parks Jr. definitely plays into low-budget aesthetics where it is shot on location in the Harlem section of New York City as well as other areas of the inner city. Shot with mostly hand-held cameras for some of the chase scenes and some of the action, the film is definitely stylized which include a sequence of nothing but still shots photographed by Parks himself. The film does have Parks use some medium shots to capture the life at the clubs and in some of the locations in the inner city as well as use some extreme close-ups for a love scene involving Priest and his woman Georgia (Sheila Frazier). Parks does maintain something that is authentic not just in the locations but also in the chaos that is the ghetto where it is unruly but there is something about that is exciting as it has its own set of rules. Parks would use the locations to his advantage while creating something that play into ideas about the drug culture and how there are those outside of the ghetto that is really in control of the whole thing which would force Priest to be the man to stop all of that shit. Overall, parks creates a riveting and compelling film about a drug dealer trying to leave the game for a better life.
Cinematographer James Signorelli does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography as it has this grittiness in the camerawork to give it a realistic feel while its interiors are very low-key in its usage of light. Editor Bob Brady does brilliant work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts and montages for the stills sequence as well as some rhythmic cutting for some of the action. Costume designer Nate Adams does fantastic work with costumes from the clothes that the men wear as well as the style of clothes that the ladies wear. The sound work of Harry Lapham is terrific as it play into the chaos of the streets as well as the sounds of gunfire and such to play into the action. The film’s music by Curtis Mayfield is phenomenal as it is a major highlight of the film with its mixture of funk and soul with elements of orchestral string arrangements in the background is pretty much one of the finest music soundtracks ever made as it feature some incredible song with Mayfield also making an appearance in the film.
The film’s superb cast include some notable small roles from Henry Shapiro as a robbery victim who was robbed by one of Priest’s men, James G. Richardson as a junkie that tries to steal from Priest early in the film, Sig Shore as the corrupt deputy police commissioner Reardon who only appears in the film’s climax, Yvonne Delaine as the wife of one of Priest’s dealers, Polly Niles as one of Priest’s mistresses in Cynthia, and Charles McGregor as a dealer of Priest named Fat Freddie who owes Priest money as he would later get Priest into trouble. Julius Harris is excellent as Scatter as a former dealer turned restaurant owner who reluctant helps out Priest in giving him something that would give Priest a way out as he also copes with the corrupt detectives who want him out of the way.
Sheila Frazier is wonderful as Georgia as Priest’s girlfriend who is aware of what he’s doing as she also knows he wants out as she does whatever to help him. Carl Lee is amazing as Eddie as Priest’s partner who goes along with Priest’s plan to get out until he sees an opportunity to make even more money and be rich much to Priest’s dismay. Finally, there’s Ron O’Neal in an incredible performance as Youngblood Priest as a cocaine dealer who has seen a lot of trouble as he wants to get out of the drug game where he copes with his desire to make money to get out but also being forced to work with men who want to control him in every way.
Super Fly is a tremendous film from Gordon Parks Jr. that features an iconic performance from Ron O’Neal. It’s a film that isn’t just a fascinating film about the drug culture in the ghetto but also an anti-drug film that showcases some of the dark aspects of the drug culture where a man tries to get out of that world. In the end, Super Fly is a spectacular film from Gordon Parks Jr.
Gordon Parks Jr. Films: (Thomasine & Bushrod) - (Three the Hard Way) - (Aaron Loves Angela)
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