A Music Documentary of Miracles and Wonders
Searching For Sugar Man is one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories that has a win-win-win happy ending for all of its characters and simply shouts out for celebration.
It is the tale of Rodriguez, an obscure Detroit songster whose two albums, Cold Fact (1970) and Coming From Reality (1971), were virtually unknown in the United States but were chart-toppers in Capetown, South Africa, where he became a super star whose personal identity was shrouded in mystery and saddled with the legend of a dramatic and gruesome onstage self-immolation.
The Historical Context
It was during the 1970s, at the height of the repressive apartheid era in South Africa, and for young adults -- and other people with liberal leanings -- who were struggling to establish and live with some measure of civic freedom, Rodriguez's music and lyrics -- especially the song called Sugar Man -- were like personal anthems. As one South African musician who was influenced by Rodriguez's albums says in an on camera interview, "His songs were the soundtrack of our lives."
One spurred by fan boy curiosity and the other always in search of a front page story, a Capetown musicologist and a local journalist joined forces and resources to delve into the mysterious rock icon's background and discover details about the identity of the artist who was, during the 1970s, more popular in their country than Elvis Presley, and find out whether the story of his dramatically staged suicide was truth or myth.
Chronicling The Search
Their search found the perfect chronicler in filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, who wisely allows the seekers to describe their search, and appropriately supports their narrative with wonderful simulations and graphic animations.
Basically, the seekers talk about their personal relationship with Rodriguez's music, and tell how they scanned the lyrics and jacket covers, gleaning as much information as they could and eventually noting the mention of 'Dearborn,' which became the key clue in their quest, which ends -- as is already well known -- with their meeting up with Sixto Rodriguez, who is living in Detroit, and with their arranging a triumphant concert tour for the artist -- who has known nothing of his fame in South Africa nor benefited from it, has resided in the same house for the past 40 years, and is a remarkably modest, socially conscious, hard working day laborer and father of three adoring adult daughters, two of whom appear in the documentary.
The search for Rodriguez is something that any music fan will embrace and appreciate, but it's the way in which the story of the search is told that makes this film fun for everyone.
Bendjelloul spends sufficient time focusing on the searchers -- and on several musicians and record producers whom they encounter during their quest -- for each to become a full and engaging character, and for each to present a unique perspective on the life, times and personality of Rodriguez. Their comments also earn high ratings on the nostalgia chart, and as an unexpected and fascinating extra, provide a different perspective on what life was like during South Africa's apartheid regime for whites who didn't agree with the government's repressive and separatist policies but felt powerless to stand against them, and turned to music for inspiration and as a vehicle for the expression of their feelings and frustrations.
And, then, there's the music. It's great. In Searching For Sugar Man, musicians, record producers and fans compare Rodriguez's songs to Bob Dylan's, saying that Rodriguez's lyrics are even better than Dylan's. And, they are, thanks to this wonderful documentary, once again being widely recognized, heard and appreciated. Hopefully, as a result, Sugar Man will become part of the soundtrack of our lives, too.
If You Like This Documentary, You May Also Like:
- Anvil! The Story of Anvil
- Have You Heard From Johannesberg?
- Soul Power
- George Harrison: Living In The Material World
- The Doors: When You're Strange
- Tom Petty Runnin' Down A Dream
- Rejoice and Shout
- Thunder Soul
- Meat Loaf: In Search Of Paradise
- Michael Jackson This Is It
- Girls Rock
- Title: Searching For Sugar Man
- Director: Malik Bendjelloul
- Premier: January 19, 2012 at Sundance Film Festival.
- U.S. Theatrical Release: July 27, 2012 (limited)
- Running Time: 86 mins.
- Parental Guidance: Advisory for Parental Guidance for content
- Location: Capetown, South Africa, and Detroit, Michigan
- Language: English
- Production Country: Sweden, UK
- Production Companies: Red Box Films, Passion Pictures, Canfield Pictures
- Distribution Company: Sony Pictures Classics