On The Sly: In Search Of The Family Stone


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

On The Sly
"Falls into the unfortunate category of documentaries that say more about the person making it than the intended subject."

Actor Michael Rubenstone's directorial debut falls into the unfortunate category of documentaries that say more about the person making it than the intended subject. In a world where virtually every celebrity seems desperate to talk about their "journey", is it any wonder that some people have started to think process is more interesting than an end result?

This is not to doubt Rubenstone's fan credentials when it comes to the subject of Sly and the Family Stone and, particularly, the band's flamboyant lead singer. It was on a literal journey, from New York to LA, in the early 2000s, listening to the band as accompaniment, that Rubenstone really became hooked. So hooked, that he decided to try to find out what had happened to the singer, who had slipped into reclusive obscurity.

Copy picture

What follows is a 12-year quest to speak to the man behind the music, peppered with footage of Sly in his heyday and a series of interviews with people, including other members of the band. This is where the film is at its most informative, as clips from chat shows illustrate Sly's peace-and-love approach to life and music, such as a moment when he more than holds his own in terms of argument and charisma with Mohammad Ali.

The framing device of Rubenstone's attempts to secure an interview with Sly, while offering some moments of humour, is much less interesting than the musician himself. Rubenstone has plenty of energy but the drama frequently feels forced. The fact that he is a novice - both in terms of direction and journalism - is also distracting. He misses a golden opportunity to speak to Sly that even a cub reporter would have seized upon and the ratio of information about Sly/navel gazing about the director is weighted in the wrong direction. If Rubenstone's acting career fully takes off, this might become an interesting curiosity for his fans in the future but as a document for music fans, its more dropped out than tuned in.

Reviewed on: 01 Aug 2017
Share this with others on...
Documentary about funk star Sly Stone.


EIFF 2017

Search database: