Warner Bros. // 1972 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // February 20th, 2004
That Shaft, he's a bad muth...err, sorry. Wrong movie.
Yo. What is happenin', my bruthas and sistas? I'm here to introduce you to a man known as Youngblood Priest (Ron O'Neil, Original Gangstas), but to me he'll always be know as the Superfly. Priest has carved out a niche for himself dealing cocaine on the streets, ya dig? He's got himself a cozy apartment, a wardrobe full of sheik threads, and more bouncing booty than you can shake a stick at. But Priest is getting tired of his life of crime. He dreams of something better, something that will take him away from the cocaine, the dope, and the danger of the streets. Priest lets his partner (the late Carl Lee, Gordon's War) in on a final score he's looking to execute. If he can make the sale, they'll walk away with one million dollars in cash, enough for Priest to retire from his career as a mid-level pusher. Word up! But with a big score comes big dangers. Many of Priest's friends and foes don't want him out of the business (for various personal and professional reasons), which means Priest may have to dodge more than traffic, if he wants to get out alive. What's a jive talkin', mack daddy pimp to do? Baby, there's only one option -- even the score!
I've been waiting to see Superfly for a long time. I've recently become a fan of the genre affectionately referred to as "Blaxploitation," introduced to me in college when my dorm neighbors would crank up the theme song from Shaft ("Damn, that Shaft...he's a bad mutha! Shut yo' mouth, I'm talkin' 'bout Shaft!"). I'm sure there are all kinds of cinematic theories and historical facts I could run through on the genre, but frankly, that ain't my bag, baby. I'm here to tell you that Superfly is a movie that features a protagonist on overdrive; O'Neil officially gets the Samuel L. Jackson look and act alike award of 1972. The film is filled with scenes of Priest walking around in his pimpin' jacket and super cool automobile, always sporting a facial expression that says, "you mess with me and I'll stomp on your balls." Granted, most '70s films of this sort had that same exact theme (see: Coffy and the wonderfully titled Shaft In Africa), but something about Superfly makes it stand out from the crowd. Maybe it's because of Curtis Mayfield's groovy soundtrack featuring tracks that talk about makin' sugar sweet love and pushing on the streets. Or, maybe it's Gordon Parks, Jr.'s (Three the Hard Way) tight, gritty direction, featuring scenes filmed with a steady cam to give it a more realistic feel. Or, maybe it's just too hard to pass up dialogue like, "Dig it, dope peddler. We're out here building a new nation for black people. It's time for you to start payin' some dues, nigga!" Rumor has it the original screenplay was only 45 pages long, and it shows. There are multiple, overlong montages of people walking, working, and being just plain "fly." Yet I can't help but recommend this movie for those who enjoy their action with a heavy helping of '70s flair. Superfly may not be the crowning achievement of the genre, but it's pretty darned entertaining. Word!
Superfly is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Ugh. Don't expect any miracles, when it comes to this video transfer. Superfly looks only slightly better than a VHS copy, most likely due to its budget and age. There is a massive amount of grain and dirt, as well as shots that appear out of focus, shaky, or just plain warped. I don't think we can really fault Warner for this, though I think they may have been able to do a bit of cleanup work. The colors and black levels are sometimes good and sometimes not. It's all a crapshoot, depending on what scene you're watching. But rest easy knowing this is probably as good as Superfly has ever looked. The soundtrack is presented in a dull Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in both English and French. Blah. Hey, couldn't Warner at least have produced a decent Dolby Digital 5.1 mix? That Curtis Mayfield soundtrack is just SCREAMING for surround sound! Ah well, at least most of the dialogue, music, and effects are clear of any major distortion. Also included on this disc are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Happily, Warner has put together a better-than-usual package for this first ever DVD release of Superfly. The best is a commentary by Dr. Todd Boyd, a USC professor of cinema and television. You know you're in for a treat when the commentator introduces himself with "Dr. Todd Boyd. Internationally known, nationally recognized, and locally accepted. And like Ron O'Neil in 'Superfly,' I always have some Superfly shit." This is one of the more entertaining commentaries available, with Boyd discussing almost every aspect of the film's story and history. "One Last Deal: A Retrospective" offers some insight into the film's cultural impact and includes interviews with various cast members, crew, and TV/film critics. "Ron O'Neil on the Making of Superfly" is a vintage interview with the star, while "Curtis Mayfield on Superfly" is a short radio interview with the composer. Finally there is a short featurette on the clothes in the film ("Behind the Threads"), as well as a theatrical trailer for the film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary Track by Todd Boyd
* "One Last Deal: A Retrospective" Featurette
* Vintage Interview with Ron O'Neal
* "Curtis Mayfield On Super Fly" Featurette
* "Behind The Threads" Featurette
* Theatrical Trailer