Toronto’s own Di­rec­tor X flies high with Su­per­fly

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - NEWS - MELISSA VINCENT

Julien Chris­tian Lutz of­fers re­make of 1972 blax­ploita­tion film, mix­ing grind­house and mar­tial arts with the glitz of At­lanta rap

At last week’s Toronto premiere of Su­per­fly, a re­make of the clas­sic 1972 blax­ploita­tion film, the crowd fea­tured the ex­pected mix of pro­tégées and men­tors of the movie’s di­rec­tor, Toronto’s own Julien Chris­tian Lutz (a.k.a. Di­rec­tor X). But also milling about was Mayor John Tory – per­haps an odd fit for a film about a co­caine dealer that fea­tures slasher-flick amounts of blood and gen­er­ous nu­dity. Lutz, how­ever, shrugged off the mayor’s at­ten­dance with a know­ing smile: “He’s sup­port­ing home­grown ta­lent.”

In the past two decades, few ex­am­ples of home­grown ta­lent have shone brighter than Lutz. Tran­si­tion­ing from lo­cal wun­derkid sta­tus to one of the most in-de­mand mu­sic video di­rec­tors on the planet (cre­at­ing award­win­ning mu­sic videos for Drake, Ken­drick La­mar and Sean Paul), Lutz has been a fierce cul­tural am­bas­sador for Toronto.

With the At­lanta-set Su­per­fly, though, Lutz is now set­ting his sights on the en­tire world.

Hav­ing only been green-lighted this past Novem­ber, the re­make had for­merly been a prized but ul­ti­mately unattain­able pro­ject for a slew of film­mak­ers who had all been turned down.

“I feel like it was serendip­i­tous,” Lutz ex­plains of the pro­ject, which brought on pro­ducer Steven R. Shore, son of the orig­i­nal film’s pro­ducer Sig Shore, as part of a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort be­tween those who had had a hand in the orig­i­nal and a group of fresh voices to de­liver and remix the film for a new gen­er­a­tion.

“The tim­ing wasn’t some grand mas­ter plan – it’s been 20 years that [pro­ducer] Joel Sil­ver has been try­ing to make this movie,” adds Lutz. “So, it came to­gether now just in time to be re­ally rel­e­vant to the world we’re in.”

Known for his James Tur­rellin­spired colour-scapes and hyper-lush por­tray­als of or­di­nary life, Lutz wanted to re­main as close to the orig­i­nal film as pos­si­ble while also adding his sig­na­ture aes­thetic flair.

It’s an ap­proach that cleaves from his 2015 de­but full-length, Across the Line, in which Lutz pri­or­i­tized sto­ry­telling over style as he tack­led Nova Sco­tia’s ten­u­ous his­tory of race re­la­tions.

Whereas Across the Line’s non­de­script sub­urbs un­der­scored the quiet, con­tin­ued ex­is­tence of racism in Canada, in Su­per­fly, Lutz uti­lizes ex­trav­a­gant stylis­tic flour­ishes and ex­treme sit­u­a­tions as a play­ground for his char­ac­ters’ moral de­ci­sions (Priest ex­pe­ri­ences nearly ev­ery epiphany be­hind the seat of a lux­ury car), their ac­tions be­com­ing the an­chor that brings the film back to the real world.

“Cre­atively, it was re­ally like, ‘What’s our bal­ance?’ Be­cause I didn’t want to push ev­ery­thing so far vis­ually or nar­ra­tively that we to­tally left real­ity,” he says. “I asked, ‘Who are the char­ac­ters and what hap­pens to them?’ Then from there we said, all right, ‘What doesn’t trans­late from 1972 to 2018?’ ”

The orig­i­nal 1972 film was a foun­da­tion of the blax­ploita­tion genre, be­com­ing leg­endary for its soul-funk sound­track writ­ten and pro­duced by Cur­tis May­field.

For the re­make, pro­duc­ers tapped a sim­i­larly po­si­tioned heavy­weight, At­lanta rap­per Fu­ture, to sit at the helm of the sound­track, which has al­ready hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to miss the ways Su­per­fly of­fers up a heady retro­fit of the orig­i­nal.

The new ver­sion of pro­tag­o­nist Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jack­son) is in a com­mit­ted polyamorous re­la­tion­ship, while the gritty street deal­ers who tus­sled with 1972’s Priest are now a metic­u­lously or­ga­nized crew called Sno Pa­trol, clad in all­white uni­forms (“They’re more Stormtrooper than they are ac­tual peo­ple,” Lutz ex­plains).

While the drug use in the orig­i­nal film was abun­dant, in 2018’s Su­per­fly it is ei­ther im­plied or re­served for its cast of crooked cops and morally de­cayed an­tag­o­nists.

“I didn’t want to cre­ate these su­per cool char­ac­ters and then as­so­ciate them with snort­ing,” Lutz says.

“There’s just no mes­sage you can put on that to not make that the coolest thing.”

Per­haps most strik­ing is the po­si­tion­ing of the film’s fe­male char­ac­ters. The 1972 ver­sion saw them as or­na­men­tal, ex­ist­ing to sup­ple­ment the ex­trav­a­gance of their male coun­ter­parts. In Lutz’s ver­sion, they play a piv­otal role, of­ten nav­i­gat­ing the di­rec­tion of the plot and de­liv­ery of cru­cial sub­text.

Priest’s two part­ners, the poised Ge­orgina (Lex Scott Davis) and spunky Cyn­thia (An­drea Londo), are the back­bone to Priest’s busi­ness, while the king­pin of a Mex­i­can drug car­tel is a no-non­sense grand­mother who calls all the shots.

“All the fe­male char­ac­ters that pop up in the movie are all strong, in­tel­li­gent bosses; com­pli­cated and in charge of what­ever sit­u­a­tion,” Lutz says.

“Lead fe­male char­ac­ters need to be just as strong and awe­some as the hero.

You know heroes hang to­gether, birds of a feather flock to­gether.”

With Lutz’s sig­na­ture eye for sub­tle vi­brancy, Su­per­fly is a Hen­nessy-soaked ac­tion flick where grind­house and mar­tial arts meet the glitz that has de­fined the so­cial per­cep­tion of the At­lanta rap scene. At it score, Su­per fly ad­vo­cates for a boot­strap hoist­ing, uni­ver­sal vi­a­bil­ity of the Amer­i­can dream, where any­one can take the reins and re­di­rect the course of their own fu­ture.

“I rec­og­nized how Amer­i­can [the film] is,” Lutz says. “I was push­ing for that. Be­ing Cana­dian you rec­og­nize that in a way that you want to dou­ble down on what this is.”

While the orig­i­nal film was met with push-back from the NAACP for its neg­a­tive por­trayal of black char­ac­ters on screen, Lutz se­lects to em­pha­size an al­ter­na­tive so­cial his­tory in his re­make.

“I think the orig­i­nal Su­per­fly was a cathar­tic movie for the com­mu­nity, which is why peo­ple loved it so much, when those dirty cops got their come­up­pance,” he says.

“In Su­per­fly, they got to have a mo­ment where we won, where we had the up­per hand, even if it was just a fan­tasy. That’s why you go to the movies, to live in that fan­tasy for a sec­ond and then back out to the world.”


Over the past two decades, Toronto’s Julien Chris­tian Lutz (a.k.a. Di­rec­tor X) has tran­si­tioned from lo­cal wun­derkid sta­tus to one of the most in-de­mand mu­sic video di­rec­tors on the planet. He has been a fierce cul­tural am­bas­sador for Toronto, but with Su­per­fly, Lutz is now set­ting his sights on the en­tire world.

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