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Warner Home Video presents
Superfly (1972)

"Look, I know it's a rotten game, but it's the only one The Man left us to play."
- Eddie (Carl Lee)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: January 19, 2004

Stars: Ron O'Neal, Carl Lee, Sheila Frazier
Other Stars: Julius Harris, Charles McGregor, Nate Adams, Polly Niles, Yvonne Delaine
Director: Gordon Parks, Jr.

MPAA Rating: R for (contains language, violence, and nudity)
Run Time: 01h:31m:22s
Release Date: January 13, 2004
UPC: 085392888825
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Youngblood Priest (Ron O'Neal) first appears in bed with a naked and not-very-bright white woman. She expresses her love for the suave guy, and he quickly bolts to make a delivery. Known commonly as Superfly, Priest is involved in an array of nefarious activities, most prominently drug dealing. Dressed to kill in smooth outfits, he owns the streets and appears to have everything a guy could want. Money is easy to find, fine drugs are everywhere, and attractive women flock to him. But Priest is tired of the busy and violent life, and wants to escape to a simpler, more reputable profession. His associates obviously doubt his intentions, especially given his considerable success. Can Priest escape the life without getting killed in the process?

Directed by Gordon Parks Jr., Superfly represents one of the most noteworthy films of blaxploitation's heyday in the early 1970s. Unlike many of its sillier contemporaries like the popular Shaft, this picture takes a more straightforward approach and contains little violence. Parks' photography is especially clever and brings us directly onto the inner-city streets. One dealing montage wonderfully meshes with Curtis Mayfield's score to create an engaging sequence. The pace is generally slow, but it does give us time to understand Priest's character. Even the expected sex scenes are pretty minor, with one hokey sequence being the lone significant moment. We spend most of the film walking the streets with Priest as he searches for a way to escape the life.

Unlike revisionist gangster films that align us with the villain, Priest never really becomes too sympathetic during this picture. His frustration at societal limitations does make sense, but he's still a drug dealer who treats others with disdain if they contradict him. Priest does have a caring woman in Georgia (Sheila Frazier), but he also cheats on her with the aforementioned uninspiring girl. Ron O'Neal, who happened to have pass away this past weekend, gives a surprisingly effective performance and makes Priest a real guy in the midst of the ghetto clichés. His buddies, the corrupt white cops, and most of the women (Gloria being the exception) are very one-dimensional and insulting. However, O'Neal injects a human side to a possibly simpler lead character, which keeps us with him until the final showdown.

Superfly is mostly remembered for two major elements: Curtis Mayfield's funky soundtrack and the extravagant outfits. The music still holds up well today and will have you humming the tunes long after the viewing. Mayfield makes a brief appearance at a club, and his magnetism is immediately apparent. Priest's clothes are the epitome of cool, but they actually aren't as crazy as I expected. The parodies of recent years have carried these silly outfits to ridiculous heights. The cool persona mostly comes from O'Neal, who brings energy to an otherwise mediocre picture.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Superfly utilizes a decent 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that presents the original tone without too many distractions. The colors provide the muted look of the early '70s, but they still remain sharp enough for an effective viewing. There is a significant amount of grain present during many scenes, and some minor defects do appear. The print's age has played a role in hampering this transfer's clarity, but it never becomes too distracting. A pristine transfer may actually seem a bit odd considering the film's nature.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Curtis Mayfield's excellent soundtrack would benefit considerably from a Dolby audio track, but this release only provides a basic mono experience. This transfer does present the audio and sound effects clearly, but the overall depth is limited. The film's age makes this omission understandable, and this presentation is acceptable. It's just a shame not to hear the original theme in all its digital glory.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Dr. Todd Boyd, USC professor of cinema
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Curtis Mayfield audio comments
Extras Review: Superfly includes an impressive collection of bonus features that nicely complement the picture. The historical context is very interesting, and these supplements enhance our understanding. The individual extra features are described in the sections below:

Commentary from Dr. Todd Boyd
Boyd is a USC Professor of Cinema and Television and also wrote the book Am I Black Enough for You: Popular Culture From the 'Hood and Beyond. His résumé promises an intriguing exploration of the cultural history behind the picture. While the actual commentary falls a bit short, Boyd does exude a nice conversational tone that leads to a smooth track. The words are generally too scene specific, and could be deeper, but still provide some decent information.

One Last Deal: A Retrospective
This 24-minute present-day documentary chronicles the movie's origins through interviews with nearly all the major players. Writer Phillip Fenty, producer Sig Shore, film critic Armond White, and other notable figures cover the inception and discuss the major elements. The comments are very laudatory, which limits the documentary's scope, but it still provides a nice background.

Ron O'Neal on the Making of Superfly
Following the film's initial success, the late Ron O'Neal had spent six minutes discussing the story, intertwined with movie clips. He is very well spoken and candidly discusses his outlook on the character's true motivations. The brief running time limits his effectiveness, but O'Neal does provide some intriguing thoughts.

Curtis Mayfield on Superfly
Curtis Mayfield provides audio comments about his first time scoring a picture and this project. This seven-minute piece gives him a refreshing opportunity to discuss his creative process. His words reveal a thoughtful individual who thinks deeply about his works and feels strongly for the music.

Behind the Threads
Nate Adams worked on the memorable costumes for Superfly, and he spends three minutes today presenting some of the unique clothes. These outfits seem especially outlandish on their own, but they work within the film's atmosphere.

Theatrical Trailer
"This dude is bad, and he ain't just fly, he's Superfly." This quote begins the lengthy trailer that spotlights the film's cool nature and action moments. It is presented in an acceptable widescreen transfer.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Superfly received significant criticism upon its release for stereotypical portrayals of racial figures and for possibly glorifying drug dealing. Those simplistic characterizations are definitely present here, as most characters seem to fit a specific social mold. However, I'm not sure I agree with the idea of a positive showing of drug dealing. Yes, it does present Priest's impressive material wealth and many people casually doing drugs, but nothing seems that enjoyable. Even while amassing impressive wealth, Priest is trapped by his own system and finds it extremely difficult to escape.


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