Home > Film Selection, Sunday Screening Films > Sunday Screening #33: Super Fly

Sunday Screening #33: Super Fly

I was looking over our Screened Films list and noticed a shocking lack of diversity. Sure, there’s a couple films from Asia in there, but, aside from Shadows which was directed by a white man, we are not representing the black population at all! So I decided it’s time to remedy that.

I was going to pick some early Spike Lee or Hughes brothers, but I wanted to start a bit earlier. Unfortunately, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song isn’t on Netflix Instant View or their mail service. So I picked the one with the best soundtrack (of all time?). I could’ve gone to Movie Madness and grabbed a copy of SSBS (and I’m sure you Screeners have places to hit up), but I didn’t want to have to rely on it being there when I need it.

No video this week. Paul’s two consecutive weeks threw me off and I didn’t have something in mind until last night. Plus, with going shadowy for Shadows, silent for Intolerance, and werewolf for Ginger Snaps, I kind of feared the reaction I’d get for a similar interpretation of Super Fly.

The trailer is here. I don’t understand why anyone would want a trailer, something designed to bring in viewers to have embedding disabled. It’s ridiculous.

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  1. August 28, 2011 at 2:31 PM

    The best part of Super Fly is the music. Without a doubt. But it didn’t feel like it was always deployed properly. There was a heavy reliance on “Pusherman,” a great song, but hearing it or it’s rhythm so much in succession got a little bit old, though it did make me appreciate the use of “Super Fly” during the end all the more. The dialogue scenes all felt a little flat and could have used some type of backing track, even if it was diagetic (I could be spelling that wrong or it could be one of those film studies words that someone made up, but it means that the music is actually coming from the scene, not soundtrack). Of course, many of the dialogue scenes were shot pretty dully, so maybe that’s why they felt flat. Still, I have the soundtrack on vinyl and it’s amazing.

    On the other hand, I loved the scenes on the streets of NYC. There was an Italian Neorealist feel to much of it, like they were out there stealing shots without permits and everything around them was real life. During the chase at the beginning when Priest is after the dude who took his money or stash or whatever it was, there was a really cool shot of the mugger running toward the camera as the camera frantically shook as it raced backwards. The angle and the shakiness was immensely appealing to me.

    The ending of Super Fly really brings the movie up. It was kind of a drag through the first hour, but from the parallel action during Freddie’s confession and Priest’s plan to get out forward, the movie owns. It’s suspenseful and Priest becomes the badass you want him to be. There’s something about a plan that involves threatening The Man’s family if anything happens to oneself that’s very satisfying.

    I was expecting the movie to have a stronger pro-drugs stance due to everything said about Mayfield’s very strongly anti-drug soundtrack, but it seemed to fall just barely on the “drugs are bad” side of the issue and more on the “cops are corrupt” side.

    I’m going to bring up exploitation films in general in another post, but I just wanted to get some initial thoughts down first.

    Observations:
    — I hope ’70s style never comes back.
    — Curtis Mayfield reminds me of Bob Balaban
    — “What’s goin’ on?” “Nothin’. Sellin’ cocaine, as usual.”
    — I find it peculiar when a 1 hour and 30 minute movie has a relatively long sex scene.

    • August 29, 2011 at 8:28 AM

      I don’t really have much to say about the film, so I’m going to cheat and just reply to Nate’s comments.

      The Curtis Mayfield soundtrack was by far my favourite part of this film.

      A good example of Diagetic music in film would be the scene in Superfly where Priest goes to the restaurant to get Scatter to sell him the 20 kilos and Curtis Mayfield and the band are performing on stage.

      The running scene you mention also had some sort of cable that ends up in front of the lens a couple of times, which was odd (not sure what the cable would have been), but added to the realist feel of the scene.

      I felt that the first hour or so of the film was interesting, but then it went down hill and was pretty boring for me after that.

      • August 29, 2011 at 4:37 PM

        You mentioned on Twitter that you didn’t care much for the Blaxploitation movies you saw in school. Can you expound on why that is?

        I also thought the bizarre cable that was flicking in front of the camera was kind of cool even if it was unintentional.

        • August 30, 2011 at 12:25 PM

          I don’t know if I’d necessarily say that I didn’t care for them, as much as (and Allen can vouch for this) I slept through them. We watched The Harder They Come, Shaft, and maybe one other film that could be classified as Blaxploitation (across a couple different classes) and I dozed through all of them.

          I also don’t think I quite share the love the the Exploitation genre as a whole like some people do. Although I’m trying to make use of the Alamo Drafthouse’s Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday screenings to try and expand my knowledge of the “genre” (tonight I’m going to see this, which looks awesome http://drafthouse.com/movies/terror_tuesday_the_exterminator/austin ).

          For me the cable was a bit distracting, as I can’t figure out what exactly it would be. They were shooting on film, so I don’t think there would have been any wires attached to the camera…I’m still not sure exactly what it was…

          • August 30, 2011 at 4:00 PM

            Those Terror Tuesdays are awesome! Definitely see The Gate if you can. I agree 100% with the write-up they posted for it.

  2. August 29, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    I probably watch more exploitation movies than I should. Anyone who’s read me Netflix roundup posts has clearly seen evidence of that. I don’t make it a habit of watching movies that are bad or “so-bad-it’s-good” (like The Room, though I have seen that), but my willingness to watch exploitation movies really tests that statement. It’s out of an intense curiosity mixed with the knowledge that there are some amazing experiences to be had with several of these films and trying to discover them (but not in Jess Franco’s films).

    Most of these films demand to be experienced with a crowd. They are typically pretty slow and poorly acted, so those moments of real surprise (or the subpar acting/filmmaking) are immensely enhanced by the crowd experience. Generally, I come out of watching these wishing I’d seen it with a crowd. Otherwise, it’s just a crappy movie.

    The most fascinating aspect of the exploitation style for me is the relationship with the crowds. So many of them are slow that it’s a wonder they were so popular or deemed as “classics” of any sort. I was relatively bored through much of Super Fly and Dolemite was just tedious. At least the horror movies have moments of violence or creative death, but for the crowd, that’s all they cared about (oh, and nudity). Watching these movies in New York in the ’70s, crowds were more interested in interacting with the film, doing drugs, and having sex. It’s a crazy world. But there are so many legitimately awesome movies that it’s worth digging through the dregs.

    • August 31, 2011 at 7:46 PM

      “…read me Netflix roundup posts…” you are the TALLEST Leprechaun EVER!

      • September 1, 2011 at 1:44 PM

        Aye. ‘Twas tee outcast of me school. ‘Cept when nigh tee time come to move tee pot o’ gold.

        • September 1, 2011 at 9:03 PM

          I want your damn pot of gold…

  3. August 30, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    I agree with Paul that this felt kind of boring. It just felt very ho-hum, not really interested in saying anything or producing much of an effect. Priest’s various struggles, the scenes where he gets mad at people, or when people get mad at him, were intermittently interesting, but the rest was too marred by awkward direction, choppy editing, bad acting, and other rough edges, and without some fun, over-the-top element for me to overlook those flaws.

    I get that it sort of has a gritty, neorealist vibe, but the neorealist films I’ve seen have a strong emotional element. I didn’t get that here. I never felt involved in the story very much, except toward the end when the cops start cracking down on the protagonists. But by that time, the movie is basically over.

    Also, I found it quite ironic that Priest’s big plan to rid himself of his cocaine-dealing lifestyle is by rapidly flooding the market with tons of cocaine. That’s like saying, “I will now stop stealing cookies from the cookie jar…all I need to do is steal 20 more cookies by the end of the day tomorrow, and then I’m done!” That actually could’ve been an interesting point for the film to explore–showing that Priest ultimately can’t really escape his past, or can’t do it without doing something he doesn’t want to to do, or something to that effect–but the movie does nothing with this.

    Am I missing something there? Or was Priest simply less interested about putting an end to dealing cocaine (i.e., seeing that it was wrong), and more interested in putting an end to it as it related to his old/new life, if that makes sense? I think this should have been clearer, unless the ambiguity was supposed to be part of the character, but I don’t get the feeling this was the filmmakers’ intention. I do feel that there are the makings of a very complex character here, but they were largely unexplored.

    The montage of people doing cocaine I think was good in concept, but I also felt like they wanted to show the evils of cocaine selling and abuse, and that it didn’t come through very well. I agree with Nate that the corrupt police element came out much more strongly as something that the movie had a point of view about.

    Besides its reputation as influencing an entire sub-genre, and the music, there is very little in this that I saw as well done or entertaining. But maybe seeing it out of its early ’70s context, and having little knowledge about blaxploitation, plays a part in this.

    • August 31, 2011 at 7:43 PM

      I saw The Exterminator last night, which was awesome…I’ll have to try to make it to The Gate. They also do Weird Wednesday, which is more Exploitation films, and next week is Patrick Swayze’s film debut…which has to be awesome.

    • September 1, 2011 at 1:53 PM

      The “one last job and I’m out” trope is fairly common in movies (and entertainment in general). It’s the only way these guys know how to make money and to get out of the game, they’re going to need savings. It’s the same idea as 90% of heist movies. I don’t think that Priest necessarily doesn’t want to deal drugs anymore, just that things are changing and he doesn’t like the risk. It’s not a moral decision, just a practical one. Unfortunately, the game is easier to get into than out of (and of course, he had to drag someone back into it just to get his plan going).

      Of course, your next paragraph shows that you arrived at a similar conclusion as me. I think he’s just tired of the life. The movie starts with him getting mugged. There are all kinds of rivalries and corrupt cops. He’s got to be in the neighborhood to meet his clients. It’s got to be tough. There’s no saying he wouldn’t fall back into it in another city, but it makes sense to me that he wants out.

      That photo montage was terrible just based on the content of the photos. The editing of it was good, but could they make cocaine look more uninteresting? Apparently, the guy who played Priest (to lazy to look it up) thought that scene glorified cocaine use and disapproved of it.

      • September 1, 2011 at 9:06 PM

        I want to say that Gordon from Sesame Street’s Dad took those pictures…I don’t know if that’s true or not…

  4. Lisa
    September 6, 2011 at 7:29 AM

    Hey guy! I’m late, but finally at the party. I know, I’m lame and very behind, but I’m trying to catch up. Between being busy and being lazy, I’ve faltered. Anyways, let me get to this.

    I have to say that I pretty much agree with everyone.
    The music was the best part of this movie, and other than that I thought it was boring and lacked depth.

    I have to admit, for the most part, I was confused on what exactly was going on. I mean, I got the fact that he wanted out of the game, he kept talking about it every other scene (I swear, he told the same story over and over and over again). I got that someone wanted to keep him in the game and there was a threatening element to these guys, but I had no idea it was a cop until almost the end.

    I couldn’t really hear the dialogue, maybe it was my Netflix version or my TV, but I could never seem to hear them very well. The 5 scenes of dialogue were good though, I “enjoyed” the dialogue and it seemed real. The grittiness of the story and visuals were interesting to watch, but that wasn’t enough to keep me fully engaged.

    I could of also viewed this at the wrong time. I’m almost done with the first season of The Wire, and the whole drugs-inner city element is so beautifully done in The Wire, that I wasn’t interested in Super Fly’s version. I wanted more from SF, and thought there was a lot of places and character development that could of been done. Then you read/find out that the script was only 45 pages (explains so much), and you realize they weren’t really that interested in story as much as concept, in my opinion.
    We just scratched the surface with Priest, and feel that there is a lot more you can do with that character. Not that you can compare Priest to either Avon or Omar, but there was something that could of been there.

    I guess with only a 45 page script, the sex scene had to be way to long, but totally falls into the ‘exploitation’ part of the genre. And the photos, i agree with Ron O’Neil, I believe it glorified drug use, or at least didn’t make it look evil.

    Nate, you have this soundtrack, I’m totally jealous! But then again, I have Top Gun on vinyl, so there!

    • September 6, 2011 at 1:56 PM

      Welcome back!

    • September 6, 2011 at 11:32 PM

      It’s hard to compare something like this to The Wire. The circumstances are so much different. One wonders if, had any of these exploitation movies had a budget whether they could have come up with something better or more competent. I doubt it, but I know a lot of the more socially conscious blaxploitation filmmakers were definitely trying to say something. Also, The Wire had a full season to develop its plots and characters.

      And you clear are not privy to my hatred of ’80s music and Top Gun. It’s ok, though. I’m sure you have another kick ass soundtrack on vinyl to make me jealous. I was super-psyched to find Super Fly at my local record shop used.

      • September 7, 2011 at 10:52 PM

        I disagree. I think that Superfly and The Wire are very much a product of the same concepts/issues of their own time, but at the same time are very connected. I think films like Superfly led the way and were eventually followed with “entertainment” like The Wire. I definitely wouldn’t put the two on the same level, but I think A led to B.

        • September 8, 2011 at 12:13 AM

          I’m not saying they aren’t products of the same issues, but products different production means. Clearly, the people involved with The Wire are all incredibly talented and have monetary backup to create the show (and what eventually turned into five seasons to develop its themes).

          Super Fly was born of people who had something to say, but neither the means or necessarily the talent. That’s why I think it’s hard to compare the two.

  5. Lisa
    September 7, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    You’re right, The Wire and Super Fly are two different movies with two different plots. However, for me, the language and some details connected to me. For example, the two guys who rob Priest in the beginning, one of them reminded me of Bubbles from The Wire, the drug CI. I literally went from watching episodes of TW to SF, so my brain was a little mushed.

    I would be interested in checking out some more blaxploitation films, mainly Shaft and the ones of Pam Grier. I kept confusing Super Fly for the likes of Shaft when I first started watching. Needless to say, I was confused.

    Ah, man…No love for the 80s? TG is the only soundtrack I have on vinyl, and was kidding about that. I think I am alone in my love of that movie and the cheese soundtrack. Brings back childhood memories.

    • September 7, 2011 at 11:43 AM

      You’re not alone. I’ve known far too many people in my life who love that movie and it’s soundtrack fot that to be the case.

      Pam Grier is in a bunch of good exploitation movies. I’ve only seen a couple, but Black Mama, White Mama was pretty awesome. As far as others go, you should probably check out Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, too.

      I was watching an X-Files the other day where one use cell phones were a plot point and referred to them as “burners.” The language of The Wire sticks with you no matter how long it’s been since you watched it.

      • September 7, 2011 at 10:37 PM

        I have lost a LOT of respect for you hearing that you don’t love Top Gun.

      • Lisa
        September 8, 2011 at 12:24 PM

        Thanks for the recommendations, I’ll put them on my Q.

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