Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Superfly (1972) Stylish Soul Noir

Ok, so a sort juju magic formula was concocted.

Mario Van Peebles had a vision for a film, a film for the "black community" and with the sheer force of his personality he wrote, directed, edited, and scored Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song and it was an ace formula, the film was something new, raw, exploitative, good, and it made money.

On the other side of the country Gordon Parks did it more conventionally with Shaft. Parks, a 20 year acclaimed photographer for Life magazine had turned to directing and chose as the subject for his second film a unique novel by Ernest Tidyman. Tidyman, another refugee from the print world, freelanced, on a $1,800 advance from Macmillan mystery editor, a story about a black detective hero using the Sam Spade/Phillip Marlowe blueprint. Shaft, the novel sold a half million copies. Shaft the film, this time Hollywood financed, nicely fused together with a black perspective a white (i.e the Private Investigator character) and a black community's idea/essence of what was cool. It was scored by Isaac Hayes and J.J. Johnson, with cinematography by Urs Furrer.

1971 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado  along Park Avenue

Overhead shot

Nate Adams? left Make Bray? right

Gordon Parks Jr., son of Gordon Parks, on the other hand eschewed all previous conventions and based Superfly on a cool, a "super fly," Harlem drug dealer, Priest Youngblood from a story by Phillip Fenty. Parks Jr.'s film, rather than base his characters on "straight folk" with chicken shit jobs scraping by working for whitey for a living, made a realistic film about one the two lucrative (at the time) careers that an ambitious ghetto hood rat with no legitimate life lines, was left with by "the man," drug dealing or pimping. Jr.'s film was scored by Curtis Mayfield and cinematography was by James Signorelli.

Priest Youngblood (Ron O'Neal)

Superfly, forty years later if you think about it, was no different than all the great 1930s gangster flicks produced by Hollywood. The Public Enemy (1931), Little Caesar (1931), and Scarface (1932), where about the rise of the ethnic mobsters, Irish, Italian, and Jewish, who exploited the advent of Prohibition.

Lets break it down for ya. Youngblood (Ron O'Neal) is a successful coke dealer. He's got a lot of flow. He's at the top of his game. He's got everything he ever wanted. He susses out that nothing lasts for ever and he'll either end up cooling on a slab with a toe tag, or in Rikers Island. He wants to bail. Sell 30 keys in four months, make a million dollar score and ghost. He gets his main dog Eddie (Carl Lee) to go in on the deal, and gets his main man Scatter (Julius Harris) to help front some of the Gs.

Scatter (Julius Harris)
It all goes Noirsville when the crooked cops who "allow" the various dealers to operate for their "cut" find out that Youngblood is apparently a bigger dealer than Scatter. They tell Youngblood that they want him to be the new Main Man. The cops off Scatter with an overdose under the iron horse tracks in the Harlem canyon near 125th Street. They leave him in his rolls.


Park Avenue Viaduct pedestrian tunnel @ 103 Street same viaduct that Bobby Driscoll runs through in The Window 1949

Dutch Angle

Charles McGregor


Priest and Georgia (Sheila Frazier)


Curtis Mayfield

Polly Niles?

Dutch Angle

Under the "1" Train Broadway & 125th Street

Floyd Levine?

The Major Deegan

Harlem River

1971 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado along Park Avenue Viaduct

Sig Shore

Under the "1" Train Broadway & 125th Street

Eddie (Carl Lee) left

Dutch Angle

Dutch Angle


Dutch Angle

Nate Adams?

Gordon Parks Jr.'s very stylish direction is one of the first things you notice. As in Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song there are long musical interludes, where in Sweetback they are of Van Peebles running around Los Angeles, here they consist of sequences of Priest's 1971 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado driving around Harlem and montages of various drug dealing to Curtis Mayfield's Pusherman.

Another nice surprise that is more that just a Blaxploitation film. Definitely not PC, 9/10

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