Easy Listening

Stony Island
Stars: Richard Davis, Edward “Stony” Robinson, Gene Barge, George Englund Jr., Nathan Davis, Ronnie Barron, Rae Dawn Chong, Dennis Franz and Meshach Taylor
Director” Andrew Davis
Scriptwriters: Tamar Simon Hoffs and Andrew Davis
Composer: David Matthews
Cinematographer: Tak Fujimoto
Running Length: 96 Minutes
Rating: no rating but could be a strong PG 13
Re-released through Film Movement 2023

This 1978 film of a band trying to form in Chicago and the obstacles it meets with finding musicians, getting instruments and finding a practice place is a gigantic project.  Persistence is the name of the game and music is what ties them together. Music is in their DNA and they can’t quit, no matter what. Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto’s work of the city at night, along with memorable soundtrack by David Matthews makes this a glowing background for the stories of the musicians. Oh, those 1970’s cars that take up half a block when cruising down the street and the 1970’s saxophones. A delight.

The film revolves around Percy (Gene Barge) an older saxophonist who works in a funeral home by day and plays with a band at night.  He is trying to form an ensemble, complete with background by ladies, and totaling at least 12 musicians.  To have a big gig somewhere would be to put their name in the forefront of musician bands in Chicago. Their part of the city is Stony Island. Musicians come and go and we meet Richie (Richard Davis), Tate (George Englund, Jr.), Ronnie (Ronnie Barron), Lucie (Susanna Hoffs), singer Kevin (Edward “Stony” Robinson) and Meshach Taylor who plays an aide to one of the Aldermen in that part of the city.  Percy has the group rehearse in the funeral home when there are no funerals going on. This is played for humor as they dodge anyone who comes into their area. It is when, during a loud practice, there is a prominent funeral going on that trouble begins and they are kicked out, Percy is fired, and they have to find him a home and another place to practice. This is really living out of a suitcase.  Individual stories include the rough background of their new, young saxophonist who can’t get to rehearsal on time, no matter what. Finally, they find a rehearsal place with the help of Jerry (a young, unrecognizable Dennis Franz) who works in a fish farm. Anything for music.

Re-releasing this film is a joy.  It allows current musicians to see what those 45 years ago, had to contend with. Much is the same and they worked without cell phones, and other electronic equipment we take as every day now. Acting is natural and in an easy flow. Gene Barge does stand out as Percy. And you will recognize a young Rae Dawn Chong as Janetta.

From the beginning music of the film, I was carried away with Chicago at night in the wintertime, the length of the cars and life on the streets in a big city. Dialogue is witty and sly. My favorite scene is the band members trying to buy instruments at a reasonable price with phone accents from a variety of countries. One also learns about the trade of a mortician. When one of the musicians passes away, putting together a funeral is ingenious. Recognizable songs include “City Lights,” “South Side” and “Just A Closer Walk With Thee.”

Copyright 2023 Marie Asner