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EIFF 2017: On the Sly: In Search of the Family Stone (2017) plus Q & A with Michael Rubenstone


Actor Michael Rubenstone first got the idea of tracking down funk pioneer Sly Stone in the early 2000s, when he moved from New York to Los Angeles with the artist’s music accompanying his journey all the way courtesy of his car music player. Needless to say, by this point he had become a true obsessive of the man. Stone had long disappeared from the public eye since being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, so any mission to bring him out of hiding for an interview was always going to be a huge undertaking. Early on however, he is advised by TV personality Dick Cavett not to pursue the legend, with him warning that he will likely end up being severely disappointed.

Michael Rubenstone in On the Sly

Nonetheless, he tried and tried for 12 years, using all of his own money plus plenty borrowed from the banks and his own parents. Using archive footage, the documentary chronicles the remarkable rise and lamentable (largely drug-induced) fall of the artist and his band Sly and the Family Stone. We also get plenty of material shot by Michael himself, including interviews with many of the personalities who worked or otherwise came in contact with the man, as well as video diary footage of his ongoing exploits.

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As dispiritingly frustrating as Michael Rubenstone’s quest for an interview with the reclusive musical genius was, the documentary is still hugely enjoyable. We glimpse several tantalising near-misses in Rubenstone’s various attempts to speak with his idol, not least being what should have been his triumphant comeback with an all-star supergroup at the 2006 Grammys, only for him to walk off stage and promptly disappear halfway through the song he was playing. On the other hand, the on-camera interviews with a number of the people who worked with him over the years are compelling - especially those with his former manager David Kapralik, who comes across as a lively spirit despite being (at the time of filming) in his 80s. These scenes, plus Rubenstone’s self-deprecating sense of humour and tirelessly energetic personality, mean that the film’s undercurrent of sadness in its frustration at the behaviour of this legendary musical artist doesn’t become too overbearing. The story also comes with an ending that’s touchingly surprising, especially considering everything that’s happened up until then.

Michael Rubenstone was subject to a Q & A after the film. He is an engaging interviewee, and reveals that he might have had an easier time succeeding in getting the interview had he gone through the right channels - but was so lost in his own awe of Sly that he muddled his own way through. However, to quote the well-known adage: “It’s all about the journey, not the destination.”

Runtime: 85 mins

Dir: Michael Rubenstone

Script: Michael Rubenstone

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

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