True talent does finally rise to the surface in Malik Bendjelloul’s extraordinary documentary, “Searching for Sugar Man”, which is now nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary! Chances are you have never heard of the late 60’s/early 70’s recording artist, Rodriguez, correct? Well that’s because his career was squashed by his label after only one album, despite the fact that his music was some of the most relevant and prolific sounding music of it’s time. Compared to by critics, as close to Bob Dylan’s lyrics, and possibly better, at least in vocal talent, Rodriguez and his career, unfortunately did not share the same successes.
So why make a film about a singer’s failing career? We’ve all heard that story before of artists who actually had modest success with one single or album, only to fall into obscurity with subsequent recordings. This is where Bendjelloul’s documentary begins his fascinating story about the search for Sugar Man (aka Rodriguez). It appears that while the artist’s music did not make any sort of impact in the States, it did however, find it’s way to the continent of Africa, particularly South Africa. How and why it made it’s way there is a bit of a mystery, much like our main character, but his impact on the country during Apartheid, made him a household name much like the Stones and right behind the Beatles. From his political and anti-establishment lyrics, Rodriguez had a talent for writing poetic lyrics and melodies, featuring the working class man. This was the world he resided, particularly, bleak Detroit, and thus this is what he wrote about. The parallell between his world and what was going on in South African during Apartheid, resonated with Afrikaners, and thus, they considered Rodriguez one of their musical heros.
The story alone is fascinating and will unravel in front of viewers eyes in extraordinary and unbelievable ways, as the audience begins their own search and interest in this man, Rodriguez. Bendjelloul’s approach to telling the story is similar to a narrative, rather than a straight ahead documentary. With sweeping shots of beautiful Cape Town to bleak and darker shots of Detroit, the director creates mood and a backdrop for his mystery to unfold. Since the story is about a singer, the film utilizes Rodriguez’s catalogue of music for it’s soundtrack which further lures the audience into this mystery man. I became so transfixed by Rodriguez’s voice and thought provoking lyrics that I ran home and immediately bought and downloaded his first album, “Cold Fact”.
For unknown reasons, Rodriguez never made an impact in the States when his music was initially released, despite endorsements and accolades from record industry heavy hitters who produced music from Stevie Wonder to Marvin Gaye. How and why his music traveled to South Africa is another mystery, but it was the Afrikaners who embraced the artist, and turned him into a household name without Rodriguez’s knowledge.
Questions do get answered in one of the most satisfying film journey’s I’ve ever seen, including the rumor that Rodriguez lit himself on fire during his final concert. If you love music, you will love this film, if you love a good mystery, you will love this fim. Either way, go see, “Searching For Sugarman”.
The film plays nationally so check local listings. Visit the website for more details and openings: www.sonyclassics.com/searchingforsugarman Discover Rodriguez’s music below and download on iTunes:
Watch the official trailer here: