No Mothafucka Tells Me When I Can Split: Super Fly (1972)

Well it has officially been the longest amount of time I have spent away from the blog since its inception.  Usually, I have some reason for a two to three day split that is tied to being out of town or simply not having a film with which I feel passionate enough to devote a few paragraph to at any great length.  This most recent stepping away though is wholly due to the notable shift in my life priorities, ones that have led to me spending a very very large amount of time at school (four graduate school courses proving time consuming).  I am also working on a few film related conference presentations as yet another work for publication!  As such, this blog which has always served as a sort of space of reflection will serve, at least for the next few months, as a space where I might occasionally reflect on a film or two, as I will be dumping almost all of my time into research (whispers that it might involve Godzilla are abound).  Furthermore, while it is still in the early, early planning stages there is also a plan for me to become involved with a podcast, one that will invariably help me to gain exposure to the world of film review and criticism that will be a welcome alternative to my enjoyable, but, nonetheless, taxing work in academic film writing.  With that in mind, I am still catching up with as many films as possible, quite a few I had hoped to share on the blog, but am only now coming back to review Super Fly a film that I had been quite hoping to watch some time ago.  Stuck inside because Columbia, SC has managed to actually receive snow, it is the only thing I am aware of that is cooler than the temperatures outside and is quite indicative of everything that has made the blaxploitation sub-genre, not a thing to mock and dismiss, but something that is wholly embrace by cinephiles.  Taking on filmmaking in a way that is both noticeably amateur, but also quite in tune with neo-realist filmmaking practices, Super Fly is nothing, if not a fantastic character study and time capsule of a moment in black urban thought.  Edited frenetically and pushed forward with a poised pace, the film would be quite respectable on its own.  Adding the superb soundtrack of Curtis Mayfield only makes it something extraordinary.

Super Fly focuses on the struggles of characters in black urban New York City as they exist involved to varying degrees in the trafficking, selling and using of cocaine.  At the center of this entire trade is Priest (Ron O'Neal) a cocaine dealer himself, who occasionally takes a sample from his own stash.  Yet, tired of being nothing more than a pusher man for the higher ups in distribution, Priest gets a wild idea and believes that with the help of his partner and fellow cocaine distributor Eddie (Carl Lee) that they can make one swoop of success over cocaine sales that will help the two remain rich for years to come.  After pushing and prodding their former drug source Scatter (Julius Harris) the two are able to get in contact with the biggest cocaine distributor in the city of New York, one who no surprise has ties to the mob.  When Priest puts his foot down as to both his own legitimacy as a dealer, as well as his own assertion that he will take no degradation on the part of a white man, he is provided with a large amount of drugs and sets about dealing them to the community.  Showing no shame in his actions, he eventually has a run in with the police, who instead of arresting him decide that they want to be in on the profits, allowing them to continue in their distribution as long as they pay a hefty fine to the boys in blue.  Scatter who finally sees this shift in the selling dynamics as his means to escape the city, borrows money from Priest and hopes to flee.  In his exit, however, he is stopped by the police and is forced into a heroin overdose in the back of his own Rolls Royce.  Providing a moment of clarity for Priest, he decides to take his half of the profits and split, using his guile to extract his money from Eddie's home without even the slightest of suspicious on the part of the police.  However, when the chief of police attempts to use firepower as a means to suppress Priest, the empowered ex-drug dealer blackmails him and escapes from the situation unscathed, looking with much hope into his future with money, love and perhaps a lot less cocaine use.

Super Fly might well be the most wholly realized of all the works the complete the blaxploitation cannon, excluding post-genre items that are often looking back on the era with love and admiration, but more importantly a far bigger budget.  As such, gleaning any singular theoretical idea from the films of this era are somewhat of a challenge, because frankly they were engaged in as many social messages as possible in condensed narrative spaces.  Super Fly while it may be about a drug dealer, is certainly also a prophetic warning against the dangers that drugs present not only to the African-American community as a whole, but to all individuals, regardless of race, creed or religion.  Indeed, Priest and those who surround his drug trafficking are aware of the terrible world within which they exist, but their respective decisions are predicated on addiction, survival and feelings of entrapment.  Painting the narrative as something that manifests itself out of white, hegemonic power structures, the presence of the corrupt members of the New York Police Department, take Super Fly from simply being a hip crime thriller, to something with the most profound of Foucaldian implications.  Whether it be the bizarre layers of self-regulation at work when the tenants of the dilapidated slums simply cower in the corner as opposed to mounting a revolution, or Scatter flees from the game only to be killed via forced overdose, the narrative shows the way in which law and its assumed protective status cause people to self-regulate in wild and oppressive ways.  Priest, whose name thus takes on more layers, serves as a counter to this authority and finds means to look back at the authoritative gaze, questioning the grounding of their power and whether or not the figures in charge need to undertake their own self-reguation.  Of course, Super Fly is not a film entirely void of its own problems, most pertaining to its complete lack of positive female characters throughout, aside from those who have direct ties to Priest's worldview.  It is in this narrative structuring that Super Fly becomes a hyper-masculine text, one that is afforded a bit of balance when juxtaposed with pretty much any film involving the headstrong Pam Grier.

Key Scene:  The drug trafficking montage is cinematic in surprising ways.

The DVD for this is quite cheap and well worth grabbing.  Hell the soundtrack is also worth your time.

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