Re-released Stony Island Film Celebrates 1970s Chicago Music Makers
When filmmaker Andrew Davis was growing up on Chicago’s South Side, he used to ride his bike past Bo Diddley’s house. Decades later, he became known for directing The Fugitive and Under Siege. But before he made his name in Hollywood, Davis filmed the independent Stony Island, which told the story of musicians in his hometown. That low-budget 1977 movie is being released on DVD for the first time this month.
Stony Island cast real musicians to play their fictional counterparts in the jazz-soul Stony Island Band. Davis’ brother, guitarist Richie Davis, plays Richie Bloom, who forms the group with singer Edward “Stoney” Robinson (named Kevin in the film). Saxophonist Gene Barge plays their mentor, Percy. James Brown’s bandleader David Matthews created the score, which also includes saxophone solos from David Sanborn. Singer Oscar Brown, Jr., has a cameo as a city alderman. Other musicians who act in the film include Susanna Hoffs (years before she co-founded The Bangles). Her mother, Tamar Hoffs, served as co-writer and producer. With its location shots in Chicago, the film captures a city that feels far different today: Key scenes take place in the legendary Burning Spear club, and at one point, the characters notice a Dizzy Gillespie/Von Freeman double bill at the Jazz Showcase.
With a budget of $350,000, the Stony Island cast and crew relied on their own sense of purpose to get the film completed. Part of that vision was showing how even in a city notorious for its segregation, black and white musicians could work together for a shared purpose. Unfortunately, the film distribution industry dampened their idealism.
“We received rave reviews and were playing in seven theaters just in Chicago,” Andrew Davis said at an early April screening of Stony Island at the city’s Gene Siskel Film Center. “Black kids and white kids were going to theaters together and white theater owners didn’t want that. So they tried to re-market it as a blaxploitation film and it wound up dead in the water.”
The film could have made the multitalented Robinson into a star, as his lively performance lights up the screen. With the film’s demise, he didn’t see the success he deserved and died in 1979. Stony Island did encourage Richie Davis (who was a university biology major at the time of its filming) to pursue music professionally. He went on to co-found the r&b band Chicago Catz in 1986, which is still working today.
“I decided that if I’m going to play this character, I should really learn to play,” Richie Davis said. “While the movie got made, I saw it as a revelation.”
For more info go to: stonyislandmovie.com