Day: May 2, 2013

Film review: Searching for Sugar Man, 2012 directed by Malik Bendjelloul

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) Poster

Searching for Sugar Man is a Swedish-British documentary film directed by Malik Bendjelloul, which details the efforts of two Cape Town fans in the late 1990s, Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, to find out whether the rumored death of American musician Sixto Rodriguez was true, and, if not, to discover what had become of him. Rodriguez’s music, which never took off in the United States, had become wildly popular in South Africa, but little was known about him there. (From Wikipedia).

Searching for Sugar Man was the opening film at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012, where it won the Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award for best international documentary. It was released in the United Kingdom on 26 July 2012, and had a limited release (New York and Los Angeles) in the United States the following day. On 10 February 2013, the film won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary at the 66th British Academy Film Awards in London, and two weeks later it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood. (From Wikipedia)

Synopsis: In 1968, two producers went to a downtown Detroit bar to see an unknown recording artist – a charismatic Mexican-American singer/songwriter named Rodriguez, who had attracted a local following with his mysterious presence, soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics. They were immediately bewitched by the singer, and thought they had found a musical folk hero in the purest sense – an artist who reminded them of a Chicano Bob Dylan, perhaps even greater. They had worked with the likes of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, but they believed the album they subsequently produced with Rodriguez – Cold Fact – was the masterpiece of their producing careers.

Despite good reviews, Cold Fact was a commercial disaster and marked the end of Rodriguez’s recording career before it had even started. Rodriguez sank back into obscurity. All that trailed him were stories of his escalating depression, and eventually he fell so far off the music industry’s radar that when it was rumored he had committed suicide, there was no conclusive report of exactly how and why. Of all the stories that circulated about his death, the most sensational – and the most widely accepted – was that Rodriguez had set himself ablaze on stage 4 having delivered these final lyrics: “But thanks for your time, then you can thank me for mine and after that’s said, forget it.” The album’s sales never revived, the label folded and Rodriguez’s music seemed destined for oblivion.

This was not the end of Rodriguez’s story. A bootleg recording of Cold Fact somehow found its way to South Africa in the early 1970s, a time when South Africa was becoming increasingly isolated as the Apartheid regime tightened its grip. Rodriguez’s anti-establishment lyrics and observations as an outsider in urban America felt particularly resonant for a whole generation of disaffected Afrikaners. The album quickly developed an avid following through word-of-mouth among the white liberal youth, with local pressings made. In typical response, the reactionary government banned the record, ensuring no radio play, which only served to further fuel its cult status. The mystery surrounding the artist’s death helped secure Rodriguez’s place in rock legend and Cold Fact quickly became the anthem of the white resistance in Apartheid-era South Africa. Over the next two decades Rodriguez became a household name in the country and Cold Fact went platinum. (Taken from Searching for Sugar Man Official Website).

Searching for Sugar Man was released in Spain on 22 February 2013. Begoña and I had the opportunity to see it yesterday. I have to admit this was not something I wanted to do. But now I don’t regret it. A wonderful story that I have very much enjoyed. Strongly recommend.

My rating: 9/10.

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