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Superfly (1972)

Action & Adventure and Cult Movies movie directed by Gordon Parks Jr.

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I'm your Pusherman.

  • Aug 27, 2012
***1/2 out of ****

Priest (Ron O'Neal) is a NYC cocaine dealer trying to figure out where he stands in both the business and in life. On the business side of things, he is successful and reasonably wealthy; but he'd also like nothing more than to get out of it all-together and start a new life elsewhere with his girlfriend. Of course, when Priest (whose first name is Youngblood) expresses these desires to his friends and colleagues, they practically laugh in his face. As Priest's business partner Eddie (Carl Lee) says: "You're gunna give all this up? Eight Track Stereo, color T.V. in every room, and can snort a half a piece of dope every day?" To both Eddie and Priest; this sounds very much like the idealistic "good life".

We get an understanding of why Priest would want to leave the business. Early on, he's about to do a pick-up when two junkies assault him right there at the friend's place. This is just one thing that contributes; another thing might be the violence that concerns the trade. Priest's mentor Scatter (Julius Harris) has retired from dealing coke, and serves as an inspiration for the life that maybe Priest himself would like to live one day. But his friends are forever able to persuade him to stay with the business and most of the plot chronicles his downwards spiral as he fails to escape the white, powder-like nightmare.

A lot of the film has to do with the mood-setting. The city is established as dark, unrelenting, but more or less home to the kind of people that make up the story's colorful cast. The shooting script was only 45 pages total, which explains the abundance of "street shots" and similar stylistic tricks, which help to give the film its authenticity. It's a rare movie that actually cares deeply about the cultures it is talking about and provides a sympathetic portrayal of its characters, who would otherwise be anti-heroes (a lot of them still are, but we can somehow identify with Priest). It's an otherwise simplistic and familiar story that is taken to new heights with its honest ambition alone.

Director Gordon Parks Jr directs the material with an iron hand, although he's clearly not the only one at the reign. O'Neal's performance is absolutely dynamic, and his troubled drug dealer character is one for the books. Another key factor to the success of "Superfly" is Curtis Mayfield's original soundtrack-score, which is very commanding at times and takes over some of the film's best scenes; such as the one in Scatter's restaurant where Mayfield in his band are physically present and performing, and another still photograph montage showing Priest and his fellow dealers doing the deed after they've struck up a deal with the New York fuzz. There are other great scenes involving inspirational speeches and Priest's problems.

The film was controversial for its time, obviously because of the "graphic" on-screen cocaine usage, which is aplenty. The critics initially labeled the film as exploitative and supportive of the abuse and business of the drug; although the filmmakers denied these claims saying that their intent was the complete opposite to whatever the detractors saw. In my opinion, it's not a pro-coke or pro-crime movie at all; it's trying to show that the life associated with the drug can be very cruel and dangerous. If anything, I think the film serves to convince people not to tread these waters. It's one of those things where, I assume; once you're in, you can't get back out. The film conveys this message through compelling images, music, and style; and what better way to do so? It works as a great slice of entertainment as well as a thoughtful historical piece; historical in the sense that it left its mark on exploitation cinema as one of the smartest and most influential for the genre.

While the film possesses some of the bare essentials of a Blaxploitation film - sleaze (a gratuitous bathtub sex scene) for instance - it is also more intelligent than most. Don't be deceived by what you are presented with. "Superfly" has cars, girls, sex, drugs, and R&B music; and while it embraces its stylistic flourishes to the fullest, there's a lot more to it than the credentials of cool. I can recommend this one highly because it's not only fun, but also tragic and kind of sad at the center of it all. You may still find yourself questioning whether it's promoting or criticizing this lifestyle; but just remember that just because a film is showing something in its most stark form doesn't mean it believes in it.

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More Superfly (1972) reviews
review by . November 15, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
This movie is outrageous. Gordon Parks Jr.'s "Superfly" is interesting enough with its cliches of drug pushers, users, pimps, hos, and the dismal life in the ghetto. Good performances are given by Ron O'Neal as Priest, the drug pusher who wants to do the unthinkable -- get out of the business, and Julius Harris as Scatter, Priest's former connection to "The Man". After a little "help" from his friends Priest discovers he can only trust his woman, Georgia (Shelia Frazier). But, Priest has masterminded …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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About this movie


The pinnacle of blaxploitation movies, the 1972Superflystars Ron O'Neal as a drug dealer who wants out of the business but decides to take out some enemies in the process. With its criminal hero, one might almost think this could be an existential crime movie, but no...it's really just an effective piece of pulp with a strong performance by O'Neal, grim settings, cool direction by Gordon Parks Jr., and a famous soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield.--Tom Keogh
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Director: Gordon Parks Jr.
Screen Writer: Phillip Fenty
DVD Release Date: January 13, 2004
Runtime: 93 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
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