Andy Davis, who would go on to direct "Code of Silence," "Under Seige" and the Oscar Award-winning film "The Fugitive," directed the film "Stony Island," a celebration of the R&B music coming out of Chicago's South Side. It attracted so many black audience members in historically white theaters that the distributor was forced by exhibitors to re-publicize the film as a blaxploitation film, re-titling the same film "My Main Man from Stony Island."
"Stony Island" is a love letter to the South Side neighborhood of the same name. Amidst the pursuit of a relationship with Lucie (The Bangles' Susanna Hoffs, the daughter of Davis' co-screenwriter before her days of walking like an Egyptian), Richie Bloom (Andy's brother Richie) is the only white kid on the block who decides to form an R&B band with his best friend Kevin (Edward 'Stoney' Robinson'). The duo gets together a funk group with their mentor Percy (Gene 'Daddy G' Barge). The film also features early roles for Dennis Franz ("NYPD Blue") and Meshach Taylor ("Designing Women").
Recently the film was acquired for DVD and VOD distribution by Cinema Libre Studio. To celebrate the film's re-release, special screenings were held for the Chicago South Side community that inspired the film. Indiewire spoke to Davis shortly after those screenings.
How did it feel to screen the film for a hometown audience?
It felt great. The people who grew up in that neighborhood feel it's a real time capsule. The young kids look at it and say, "This is really cool! Look at those afros and bell bottoms." It's a very personal movie for a lot of people. It's a time and a place that's unique in American history, with the rich musical and cultural history of it.
Who all from the film was there for the Chicago screenings?
Gene Barge, the old sax player, is now 85 years old. He plays the House of Blues now, but he played two nights in a row for our Chicago screenings. My brother Richard was there with his new band. Several of the musicians were there, as well as some crew.
How does it feel to watch the film now?
It's great. The film was never available on video. It opened to rave reviews in 1978, but the distributor booked it into arthouses and black kids showed up, so the theater owners pulled the picture because white people didn't want that. So they re-released it as "My Main Man from Stony Island."
So why release the film now?
We had the old, trashy trailer. That was it. All the time, I was wondering how I was going to get my first child out of the closet. Cinema Libre is politically progressive, they're releasing all kinds of offbeat things. I hope the film has a revival quality.
What motivated you to make this film?
I was a young cameraman, struggling to get in the union. They were illegally administering their rosters to let certain guys, their friends, in but they wouldn't let the young guys in. So I led a class-action suit against them. I had seen "Mean Streets" and "American Graffiti," and I thought I'm gonna do a film about where I grew up. I started taking pictures with my brother. He was starting to play music. I met Tamar Hoffs and we collaborated on the screenplay together. We raised $300,000 for the movie. My brother richie is in it, young studio musicians and street kids, and this started all of our careers.
I grew up on the South Side of chicago, and with my reel-to-reel tape recorder, I would tape Little Richard, Cool Kent, a famous DJ, Pete Seeger and The Weavers. I liked that music. I was in a couple of bands in college, and I always liked the chicago sound: Herbie Hancock, Chaka Khan, Earth Wind & Fire. When Louis Armstrong came up from New Orleans, he got off the train in Stony Island. There's a whole history of musicians of this era – black and white – Common and Kanye West are all from the South Side of Chicago. When I made the film, I had a sense of what I wanted the music to be like. I wanted to talk about the relationship between the blues, Muddy Waters, Bo Didley, Chuck Berry, the history of blacks moving up the Mississippi to find jobs.
What did you learn from watching it again?
My feelings were happily reinforced. A lot of 20-year-olds were going crazy… they loved it. This movie was made before videotape and DVDs but also before hip-hop, rap, and breakdance, that culture. This was right after Elvis was singing "Hound Dog," a song originally sung by a black woman, right after Pat Boone, right after Don Cornelius had to make an alternative to "American Bandstand."
"Stony Island" will be released on DVD and VOD April 24 by Cinema Libre Studio, and tonight at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, Davis will be joined by the Hoff's for a screening and Q&A.
Below are two trailers: the first is a 1978 TV ad for the recut "blaxploitation" trailer, the second is the 2012 trailer for the film's re-release as "Stony Island."