Rubenstone’s Sly Stone documentary was 12-year labor of love
Filmmaker happy for Slamdance premiere
Filmmaker Michael Rubenstone can finally close a 12-year chapter in his life with the screening of “On the Sly: In Search of the Family Stone” at Slamdance.
The documentary’s final Slamdance screening will be at 8:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 25, in the Treasure Mountain Inn Gallery, 255 Main St.
“It’s been a very challenging run to say the least,” Rubenstone told The Park Record. “The fact that it’s premiering at Slamdance, a festival that we targeted, is too good to be true.
“There was something about this whole process that has been heavy,” he added. “I’ve got a few more gray hairs and stress in my shoulders. So knowing there was a finish line in sight just opened my heart and was a validation for the work I had done so long.”
Rubenstone’s fascination with Sylvester Stewart, known as funk pioneer Sly Stone, started with Michael Wadleigh’s “Woodstock.”
One of the highlights of the groundbreaking documentary was the Sly & the Family Stone performance of “I Wanna Take You Higher.”
“I just had never seen anything like that,” Rubenstone said. “I had seen the Beatles on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show,’ but Sly was a whole different thing — the way he was able to captivate and elevate a crowd to hysterics.”
Rubenstone was in high school then and started buying records, but by the time he got into college, the fascination waned.
His obsession with the musician started up again on a cross-country trip from New York to Los Angeles.
“What’s wonderful about music is that’s an escape or it’s communication and that one track hits you at that right time and has a profound effect,” Rubenstone said. “When I arrived in L.A., thoughts kept bumping me: Where is this guy? What happened?”
Rubenstone started digging around and decided to make a movie.
“I thought maybe I should suss it out and film myself in the process,” he said.
The filmmaker began his journey with a Hi8 camcorder.
“As things progressed, I started hiring more people and upgraded my camera,” he said. “That’s when I started getting solid interviews, and before we knew it, I was making a movie.”
Throughout the past 12 years, Rubenstone interviewed members of Sly Stone’s family, bandmates, friends, music-industry insiders and collectors.
Rubenstone talked to David Kapralick, who signed Sly & The Family Stone to Epic Records, TV host Dick Cavett, former band members — including drummer Greg Errico, vocalist Cynthia Robinson and saxophonist Jerry Martini — as well as former Columbia Records’ General Manager Clive Davis, renowned bandleader Paul Shaffer and friends Cornel West and Bobby Womack.
The new filmmaker contacted all these people in hopes he could get an interview with Sly Stone himself.
“Some band members had some reluctance to talk about certain things, but everyone had a Sly story and they were passionate about him,” Rubenstone said. “They were intrigued with Sly like I was and they didn’t hold anything back.”
Rubenstone is proud of the fact that the documentary’s cast is like a time capsule of a period in the 1970s.
“Even to have the ‘Mike Douglas Show’ clips shows a very specific time that may have fallen from the public’s eye,” he said. “I’m really happy to be able to shine the light on not only Sly’s music, but all of these colorful personalities of the era.”
The filmmaker originally cut “On the Sly: In Search of the Family Stone” as a straight-forward documentary.
“I showed it to people, and there was definitely some interest, but I had played around with the idea of putting myself into the film and people responded more to that aspect and style,” Rubenstone said. “They told me that they love Sly, but they wanted my story, the protagonist’s story. So, I went back in.”
Looking back, Rubenstone knows he wouldn’t have made the film if he had been a more jaded and experienced filmmaker.
“If I had really looked into the logistics or have known all of Sly’s turbulent history and issues like lawsuits and drugs I would have probably been perturbed and frustrated and backed away before I even started,” he said. “I think my ignorance behooved the situation, because I went into it as a super fan with a labor of love and was doing it for posterity.
“We lost a lot of amazing artists in this past year,” Rubenstone added. “So, there is a real comfort that we are able to celebrate this particular artist while he’s still walking on the Earth. I can’t wait for people to see this thing.”
Slamdance will present its final screening of Michael Rubenstone’s “On the Sly: In Search of the Family Stone” at 8:15 p.m., on Wednesday, Jan. 25, at Treasure Mountain Inn, 225 Main St. For information and tickets, visit www.slamdance.com.
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