On the Sly: In Search of the Family Stone

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There have been so many music documentaries in recent years, chronicling the great, the good and (sometimes) the totally obscure that you could be led to ask, who’s left to cover?

There are however, still some gaping holes in the cinematic history of popular music, one example being Sly Stone. As documentary maker Michael Rubenstone finds out the hard way in On the Sly; In Search of the Family Stone, there may be reasons for this neglect.

Stone was one of the greatest, and most significant American musicians of the late 60s and early 70s. With his band the Family Stone he brought a new, freewheeling sensibility to funk, with a broad appeal that could cut across the festering racial divides in the country. As the film points out, he would inspire both Miles Davis to create Bitches Brew and win over a more mainstream audience at Woodstock, As the always eloquent Cornel West explains, the essential humanism of his vision could rise above the battle lines being drawn by blacks and whites at the time, yet his vision would darken with the realities of the situation,.

This would produce his seminal album There’s a Riot Going On, and see the singer spiralilng into drug addiction and eventual obscurity, becoming one of the most reclusive artists in music,

In this very personal authored documentary, Rubenstone decided to seek out his musical inspiration during a bad period in his life, a quest which takes over a decade out of his life. Former friends and associates are initially guarded, but are eventually won over to draw a revealing portrait of the enigma, with the aid of great archive footage of the band in action.

The man himself always remains tantalisingly out of reach, however, until Rubenstone starts devising scams to flush him out of hiding. As a journalist who has had to track down some ‘difficult’ subjects, I can only sympathise; I think this film could appeal to anyone however, even those unfortunate enough not to have heard of Sly Stone before, as the film builds the momentum of a thriller the closer Rubenstone appears to get to his idol.

On the Sly; In Search of the Family Stone screens at EIFF on Sat 1 and Sun 2 July

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