Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Super Fly"(1972)d/Gordon Parks, Jr.

Tonight, we'll take a look at director Gordon Parks Jr.'s premier effort, a coke-encrusted cult classic of seventies' blaxploitation  known primarily by the stellar soundtrack provided by the legendary Curtis Mayfield, who also lends his visage to the film while performing live with his band, The Curtis Mayfield Experience.His lyrics to soul classics like "Freddy's Dead", "Little Child Runnin' Wild", "Pusherman", and the title track vault the otherwise pedestrian urban fare within,  to a morally uplifting socio-economic commentary for the turbulent era.Utica native and classically trained actor Ron O'Neal delivers a memorable turn as anti-hero Youngblood Priest, a heady young coke dealer looking to deliver one last big score before exiting the dangerous drug game on his own terms.Unfortunately for O'Neal, who would ironically succumb to pancreatic cancer in 2004 on the very day his signature film was released on dvd, the same performance that gained him success as an actor would provide a stifling cinematic stereotype that he would never be able to climb out from behind.Also on board here are television staple Sheila Frazier as Priest's main squeeze Georgia, Carl Lee, as his business partner Eddie(who gets to deliver all the best lines here while O'Neal provides much of the action), the venerable genre fave Julius Harris as Priest's old powder connection Scatter, and Charles McGregor as the oblivious Fat Freddie.The son of Gordon Parks, Sr., whose Shaft!(1971) helped lay the foundation for the popular subgenre, Parks, Jr. does an admirable job in providing a provocative look at the hazards of ghetto life while maintaining a controversially non-judgmental stance on the criminality of the hustler's creed, represented here by the anticipatedly gaudy fashions, luxurious apartments, caramel-colored Carmelitas, and pimped out luxury sedans one would expect to encounter in a low budgeted ethno-action flick such as this. A succinct script allows for much display of Parks' visual style through establishing shots of walking and driving through slum neighborhoods that often resemble a pre-fab post-apocalyptic set, more than places of human habitation in America in the twentieth century, for sure.Moderately powerful stuff, indeed.
"It ain't the same without 'Mr. Bubble', baby..."
Priest(Ron O'Neal) is a successful young powder pusher who's willing to gamble his fancy designer vines, extravagant spread, gran'daddy Caddy, half a piece of dope a day habit, and loyal young filly Georgia(Sheila Frazier) on thirty kilos of llello from his main man Scatter(Julius Harris) , which he hopes to parlay into a million in cold, hard cash in a month's time with his overbitten weasel of a business associate, Eddie(Carl Lee), in hopes of abandoning the hustle for good before he gets iced by rivals on the streets, or worse,  incarcerated by overzealous thugs with badges and a penchant for racial insensitivity, dig?At first, everything is clumsily impotent-looking judo training, photo montages of cocaine abuse, and slo-mo sudsy tub fuck sequences that go on longer than that snazzy-assed Eldorado cat be wheelin' around in, for Youngblood, with a lengthy chase-thru-the-filth that nets a junkie pickpocket a designer boot to the skull on the floor of his ghetto hovel and some tough love for lazy earner Fat Freddie, who's forced to go out and mug for Priest's missing ends or face seeing his wife get turned out as a common streetwalker, thrown in for good measure.
It's not every day you witness white-on-white crime, and if it is, why don't we hang out more often, dammit.
Freddie unwittingly gets pinched while knuckledusting an easy mark with brassies on the street in broad daylight, and after the badges rough his shit up on the white-hand side, he bloodily divulges every last bit of info he's got on Priest's set up before getting himself smooshed by a car.To further define the hustler's stress levels, a group of black militants ridicules him over his lack of participation in the coming revolution, to which he assures them, that, when it finally goes down, he'll be right down front, killin' Whitey, not constantly putting a gold cross/spoon necklace full of nose candy into his nostrils.If only that white powder wasn't so damned oppressive and symbolic of the decadent decade...A rocky rendezvous with former mentor Scatter earns the old coot an arm full of lethal drugs when the mob muscles him out in favor of the new kid with the outrageous hair, fronting him the dope supply necessary to throw his master plan into action once and for all.With the knowledge of Youngblood's hustle, naturally, the cops orchestrate a sting and arrest...nah, just kidding, they suggest he partners them in on his racket on the grounds that he never leaves the game. What the hustler decides to do in the last reel, I'll let you discover on your own when you see it for your own damned selves.
They're right, things do go better with Coke.
To be fair, some dialogue exchanges are handled sloppily by Parks, giving them an air of artificiality that contaminates the film's reality in places.O'Neal's silly wig and epicene mannerisms only compound that problem, and when one adds the flagrantly inept camera placement during the slo-mo fight in the finale, it's not long before they're reminded that they're watching a low budget exploitation film, after all. Flaws notwithstanding, this is still memorable viewing for any fan of the sub-genre, beyond question, and compared to later entries like Abar the Black Superman(1977) or Super Soul Brother a.k.a./Six Thousand Dollar Nigger(1979), it may as well be Citizen Kane up there on the screen.O'Neal would direct the forgettable sequel, Superfly T.N.T.(1975), himself, but it would fail to make much of a splash at the box office.The film's producer, Sig Shore, would direct the second sequel, Return of Superfly, in 1990.Parks would helm Three the Hard Way two years later, and die at 44 in a Kenyan plane crash in 1979.Harris would turn up in  Larry Cohen's two slices of blaxploitation gold, Black Caesar and Hell up in Harlem(both 1973) as Big Papa Gibbs, and even King Kong(1976), as well as Raimi's Crimewave(1985) and Darkman(1990).You'll no doubt remember Charles McGregor from Blazing Saddles(1976).Real-life pimp K.C. loaned his unforgettable mack-tastic '71 Eldo to the production in exchange for a role in the movie, dig.Still, the most noteworthy aspect of this one has to be the Mayfield soundtrack.On the scale, I'm givin' Fly the only score The Man'll let me give it, which is:
 Biff! Zap! Powww! And his leather stays flawless, can you dig it, baby?


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