Searching for Sugar Man
Winter 2013 Documentary series
Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 7:00pm
Directed by Malik Bendjelloul
Starring , Dennis Coffey, Steve Segerman, and Rodriguez
Rated NR ·
UK / Sweden
Searching for Sugar Man
A musical detective story, this enthralling documentary by Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul focuses on a little-known American musician whose haunting voice and poetic lyrics were essentially unknown in his own country, but had a massive impact across the globe.
In late 1960s Detroit, Sixto Rodriguez, the son of Mexican migrant workers, was a lyrical storyteller, writing songs through the prism of his working-class life. When a former Motown producer heard the singer-songwriter perform in an inner-city bar, he was entranced, likening him to Bob Dylan. Persuading him to make a record, he expected to catapult Rodriguez to stardom. Released in 1970 and well received by critics, Rodriguez’s Cold Fact bombed. A year later his second album, Coming From Reality, also flopped.
While uncompromising in his art, Rodriguez was never interested in fame or fortune. He returned to carpentry work and played the guitar only for himself, sinking into obscurity.
But, unbeknownst to him, a continent away Rodriguez had become a huge star in South Africa with a mystique that rivalled that of Elvis Presley. In the early 1970s a bootleg copy of Cold Fact made it into the country and, shortly thereafter, hundreds of thousands of South Africans had their own copies. Rodriguez’s protest songs, with their anti-Establishment lyrics, struck a chord during a turbulent period in which apartheid was at its height. South Africa’s oppressive government and isolationism kept anyone outside that country from learning of Rodriguez’s popularity there.
In the 1990s, a few South African fans decided to seek out what happened to their hero who was long rumoured to be dead by suicide. What follows is a bizarrely heartening story in which they found far more in their quest than they ever hoped, while a Detroit construction labourer discovered that his lost artistic dreams came true after all. Rodriguez’s indelible folk/soul/rock songs provide the soundtrack to this story.
“It’s unequivocally a must for any music fan and anyone who enjoys a well-crafted edge-of-the-seat real-life thriller. As it explores the spread of information and misinformation, celebrates genuine talent and re-affirms the indomitable power of music, Searching for Sugar Man is a gloriously uplifting experience that will leave audiences breathless by its conclusion.” (Claudia Puig, USA Today)
“Searching has emotional valleys and zeniths, and gasp-inducing turns, as old friends, fans and Rodriguez’s grown daughters are interviewed. But there’s still a meditative quality, thanks to Bendjelloul’s deft use of Rodriguez’s haunting music over mystic aerial cinematography, gritty scenes in South Africa and Detroit, and some brief and subtle animated sequences. Music executive Clarence Avant says Rodriguez sold about six copies of each of his two albums. Multiply that by the number of people who see this movie.” (Peter Hardlaub, San Francisco Chronicle)