It can be difficult to fit into a short screening intro all the fascinating details our Research Associate, Mike Quintero, uncovers about the films we show — so we’ll be sharing some of his raw research notes here on the blog, in no particular order and without much editing, because it seems a shame to keep them to ourselves. Thanks Mike!
This week’s research notes are about: STONY ISLAND (Andrew Davis, 1978), screened on June 13th, 2022 in a 35mm print from the Chicago Film Archives as part of CFS Season 28.
★ Taglines ★
From Chicago’s own Stony Island, the street with a beat!
Instead of a gang they formed a band!
It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, you’ll share their dream!
The avenue that echoes the heat and soul of its people!
You’ll laugh … you’ll cry … you’ll thrill to its beautiful music!
If streets could talk, this one would sing!
During the production of the film, occasional blurbs appeared in both the Chicago Defender and Chicago Tribune with little tidbits about the film.
In one of those, Andrew Davis and Tamar Hoffs describe the project: “we wanted to make a movie about music and kids in Chicago, about loving and growing in Chicago. And Chicagoans and Chicago are making it all possible.”
Another quote from Andrew Davis:
“Being a kid in Chicago and seeing ‘American Graffiti,’ I wanted to make a movie about black and white kids working it out together, and music seemed to be a common bond among kids on the South Side. ‘Stony Island’ is very close to what I wanted but more work than I expected.“
One other article notes: “None of the actors in the movie acted before. They are musicians, relatives, and friends, and everyone in the movie owns a piece of it.”
And apparently Leonard Nimoy (a friend of Tamar Hoffs, and apparently the person who got her involved in filmmaking) is in the film somewhere as an extra.
I’ve also included a story about “Sergeant Hollywood,” a Chicago policeman who is described as “the city’s link to the movie-making community” with duties such as “scouting locations, finding suitable resources, such as old uniforms or 1920-type trolley cars, providing security for crews throughout the city.”
The first screening of STONY ISLAND in Chicago was at the Chicago International Film Festival, as part of a special “Chicago/Illinois Filmmakers Day,” celebrating the resurgence of filmmaking in the state. The film played three times on November 4, 1978 at the Biograph Theater. As part of that event, Andrew Davis and Tamar Hoffs were presented with the first annual “Lincoln Award” in recognition of their contributions to filmmaking in Illinois.
The film’s non-festival Chicago premiere would arrive about two weeks later on November 24th, when it opened at the Woods Theatre, along with the Hyde Park Theatre, the 3 Penny Cinema, the Wilmette, and the Western Heights Theatre in Chicago Heights.
The 3 Penny had the film running alongside FREAKS (“a classic of horror films”) and SANTA AND THE THREE BEARS (“an enchanting tale of three hibernating bears and how they first discover the magic and wonder of Christmas”).
Around December 1st, the Woods turned the STONY ISLAND run into a double feature by adding the Western THE WAR WAGON. At this point, the film was still running at the Woods, the 3 Penny, and the Hyde Park.
A few runs of the film were listed under the “new” title MY MAIN MAN FROM STONY ISLAND: in the DC area in July 1979, as well as in the NY area in March 1980.
“When black kids began going to traditionally white theaters to see the film, theater owners got scared that they would lose their audience. They pulled the movie. We were devastated. They decided to release it as a blaxploitation film, titled My Main Man From Stony Island. But it wasn’t an exploitation movie; it was a film about kids making it together! It confused our audience, and that was it.” – Andrew Davis in an article from MovieMaker in 2012.
While “Tower Ticker” columnist Aaron Gold listed the film as the Chicago International Film Festival’s Saturday highlight, Gene Siskel felt otherwise:
If anyone doubts the importance of a script to a movie, here is an example of an otherwise fine film, made mediocre by the lack of strong narrative and weak supporting characters.
Shot in Chicago last year, “Stony Island” is about a group of young people trying to form a 12-piece blues-rock band. The obvious method of organizing the material would be to follow the band’s prime-movers as they assemble the whole group. That is the vague outline of “Stony Island,” except the film darts and dashes into some rather silly side issues: Mayor Daley’s funeral, a caricature of a rich kid, and an ill-conceived love affair between a guitarist and a farm girl.
Eliminate these elements and a few others — an argumentative hillbilly couple, an overlong mourning sequence for the death of the band’s middle-aged founder — and we could watch “Stony Island’s” beautiful photograph of Chicago, and listen to its excellent blues music in peace. Not recommended.
Siskel came back to expand on his initial festival review once the film had a wider release:
“Stony Island” is an independent, Chicago-made film with better intentions than a script. A sweet story about inner-city kids attempting to form a blues-rock band, “Stony Island” is burdened with embarrassing supporting characters and a narrative that is forever getting interrupted to make obscure points about city life.
A few weeks ago when I offered similar comments in a brief review of “Stony Island” when it played in the Chicago International Film Festival, some people objected, saying that I should take into account that “Stony Island” is a low-budget ($390,000) first film by a local director. Well, budget has nothing to do with the excellence of a film script. You can write a fine screenplay for the cost of a typewriter and some paper.
Research wormhole: more links and articles
• Nice roundups of posters, ads, reviews from Temple of Schlock and Black Action Film
• A review of the soundtrack album
• Andrew Davis recalls the making of the film in interviews with The Hollywood Interview and Indiewire.