SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN – The Review
Want to experience a documentary that will truly lift your spirits? Seems that real crime and corruption dominate most of the theatrical doc landscape these days. That’s not to say that they aren’t enlightening and to a degree entertaining ( like THE IMPOSTER and THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES ), but this flick could really compete for that tired tagline, ” The feel good film of the year”. SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN is about following your dreams and not giving in when doors are slammed in your face. And it’s a glorious saga that explores how life can deliver one heckuva’ second act, cause’ it ain’t over til the husky lady sings…or the long-haired fella’ wearing the dark shades strums an encore.
This is the story of early 1970′s recording artist Rodriguez. Sixto Rodriguez to be exact. Consider yourself a music buff, but the name doesn’t ring a bell? You are most certainly not alone.. Sixto was a fixture of the Detroit music scene in the late sixties. Two music producers talk about seeing him perform at a club actually called ” The Sewer” with his back to the audience! Rodriguez was a guitar strumming storyteller similar to Bob Dylan who leaned more to rock and roll rather than folk. He was signed to a record label and put out a couple of albums that went absolutely nowhere, aside from the remainder bins and dusty used record shops. Rodriguez gave up on his performing career. To this day, his collaborators can’t believe he didn’t find an audience. Ah, but it turns out he had an audience he was unaware of…half way across the globe.
All the way over in South Africa Rodriguez was a superstar ( even bigger than Elvis ). In the mid-seventies the youth of that country were starting to rebel against the constraints of Apartheid rule. Pop culture from overseas was prohibited. Legend has it that a visiting student flew into Cape Town with a copy of Rodriguez’s first album tucked away in her luggage. The songs caused a sensation and soon bootleg recordings were being exchanged all over the country. Something about this troubadour spoke to them. His songs became their anthems of freedom. When his follow-ups were finally, legally issued, government censors literally vandalized the discs to prevent songs about drugs and sex from being heard. At the end of Apartheid singers and bands sprung up, heavily influenced by the mystery man. Rodriguez was such a mystery that outrageous urban legends about his spectacular demise were spread. But a couple of music fans were determined to learn the truth. Carefully researching the song lyrics and album liner notes the men scoured the globe. Thanks to the emerging world-wide web in the nineties, they finally found out the real story about their country’s music hero.
To say anymore would ruin the delightful surprises in Malik Bendjelloul’s compelling film ( he’s one of the music sleuths ). Malik employs newsreel footage, jittery home movies, and dream-like animation to set this doc apart from the old standard talking heads flick. Most revealing may be a talk with an ex-record label founder still frustrated with the, ahem, creative accounting practices of the music industry. My only complaints are the lack of professional quality performance footage of Sixto on stage. They do the best they can with the shaky homestyle equipment. And the man himself is still an enigma. But, as they say, he lets his music speak for him along with friends and family members. And when he’s playing Rodriguez truly comes alive. SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN ( one of the banned songs is ” Sugarman ” ) is a compelling musical mystery and a celebration of the bond between an artist and audience. And proof that sometimes you get another shot at your dreams.
4.5 Out of 5 Stars
SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN plays exclusively in St. Louis at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinemas