Friday, January 25, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Searching for Sugar Man (2012) ****

PG-13, 86 min.
Director/Writer: Malik Bendjelloul
Featuring: Sixto Rodriguez, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman, Dennis Coffey, Mike Theodore, Dan Dimaggio, Jerome Ferretti, Steve Rowland, Willem Möller, Craig Bartholomew-Strydrom, Clarence Avant, Eva Rodriguez, Regan Rodriguez, Sandra Rodriguez-Kennedy

A friend who shared a number of new music albums with me in 2009 introduced me to Rodriguez’s debut album “Cold Fact” at that time. I was unaware at first that this was not a new album. It certainly had an older Dylan-esque sound to it. It was my favorite album of all the ones to which he’d introduced me.

It didn’t take me too long to figure out that it was an album from the early 70s. But I still knew next to nothing about the artist. I read about rumors of how he’d killed himself on stage. I’d read about how popular he was in South Africa, and that that country was about the only one on the planet that had ever bought up any of his records. Even in 2009, however, Rodriguez’s presence in the United States was such that nobody seemed to know much about him. I didn’t know whether he was alive or dead or even if he’d done anything other than that one album. It was such a good album that surely the only reason it was virtually unheard of was because it was the only thing he’d ever done and afterward he just dropped off the map.

These are the same issues that the new documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” deal with. The men who initially searched Rodriguez out were immense fans who had no information on the man and assumed many of the same things I did. Surely something had happened for such a good musician to disappear without getting his due notice. Well, I guess the music industry is a stranger entity than most people imagine. Rodriguez’s story must be one of the most unique in the business.

Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary is a very serious detailing of two South African’s search to find out the truth about a personal hero. The fact that nothing of that truth was what they imagined is one fascinating elements of the film. The other is Rodriguez himself. As a man he is strangely accepting of everything. Living his entire life in Detroit, working in construction, writing these amazing songs, and then just disappearing without anyone ever seeming to take notice. All the while his album was becoming a cultural phenomenon in South Africa, becoming a rallying point for the anti-Apartheid movement. It’s really an amazing story that is stylishly told in this Oscar-nominated documentary. 

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