Saturday, November 6, 2010

Super Fly (1972) & Super Fly T.N.T. (1973)

          Blaxploitation drama Super Fly has so much flavor and grit that it’s tempting to cut the picture slack despite its shortcomings. Vividly photographed on the streets of Harlem, the movie has atmosphere to spare, and the dialogue is so frozen-in-amber ’70s that almost every scene captures the period’s singular patois: “I got somethin’ real heavy to lay on you, man,” or “You don’t own me, pig, and no motherfucker tells me when I can split.” The storyline is nervy as hell, because the protagonist, Priest (Ron O’Neal), is an unapologetic coke dealer looking to make a giant score so he can leave hustling behind; whereas many blaxploitation flicks feature righteous dudes trying to keep drugs off the streets, Super Fly makes a provocative sympathy-for-the-devil statement. As Priest’s partner says in one of the picture’s best exchanges about the drug trade, “I know it’s a rotten game—it’s the only one the man left us to play, and that’s the stone cold truth.”
          The movie’s strongest elements are several driving funk/soul tunes by Curtis Mayfield, who performs onscreen in one sequence, and Priest’s pimp couture: silky mane, giant sideburns, Fu Manchu moustache, wide-brimmed hats, garish leisure suits, floor-length coats. But even with such vivid flourishes, Super Fly is slow going. O’Neal isn’t particularly charismatic or skillful, and director Gordon Parks Jr.’s style is amateurish: He spaces action scenes too far apart, employs utilitarian camerawork, and lingers on aimless bits like a poorly shot sex scene and a long montage of still photographs taken by his famous dad, Gordon Parks Sr., who kick-started the blaxploitation craze by directing Shaft (1971).
          A year after Super Fly scored at the box office, O’Neal returned to the character, and took over as director, for Super Fly T.N.T., which boasts some thoughtful dialogue by screenwriter Alex Haley but can’t overcome a sluggish storyline and dirt-cheap production values. The dull first half of the picture is set in Rome, and the slightly less dull second half is set in Africa, where Priest takes up a new trade as gunrunner. Random highlight of the sequel: Future Benson star Robert Guillaume belting out a full-length rendition of the operatic aria “O Sole Mio” in a Roman café. Go figure.

Super Fly: FUNKY
Super Fly T.N.T.: LAME

1 comment:

Tommy Ross said...

I actually never saw this. Until last night that is, thanks to your blog I decided to check it out and I'm glad I did. Thumbs way up, 70's o rama baby! My take on this flick is a lot of mediocre ingredients just happened to mix together in the perfect combination for a great result, and the music and photography were already great things that held it all together like glue.