SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
Documentary about Sixto Rodriguez, whose two albums in the 70s made little impact in America, but he became a superstar in South Africa at the height of Apartheid, where the anti-establishment lyrics of his songs resonated.
Review by Louise Keller:
I was instantly hooked by this unique documentary that begins as a detective story about a cult 70s singer songwriter and turns into an amazing human story about happiness and the richness of the soul. Known simply as Rodriguez, there was always a sense of mystery about the singer from Detroit who wore black hat and shades, sang simple truths about life and was rumoured to have dramatically killed himself by setting himself alight on stage. But there are many twists to this story and as a result, the film is extraordinarily moving. This is one tale you will not forget and will be much richer as a result.
The story begins in South Africa on a symbolically winding road on which Steve Segerman is singing along to Rodriguez' song 'Sugar Man' on the car radio. (Appropriately enough, Sugar Man became Segerman's nickname, when army colleagues could not pronounce his surname.)
His fascination for the singer (who is bigger than Elvis in South Africa) and about which little was known, turns into a three year search for details about his life. In particular, he is interested in confirming the circumstances around Rodriguez' death, in order to put to rest the various conflicting stories that had become legend. Although literally unknown in America, bootleg copies of his two albums made their way to South Africa. It was at the height of Apartheid and the sentiments in the lyrics of Rodriguez' songs, with their anti-establishment message, endorsing it is okay to protest against your society, resonated with South Africans.
It was a time when South Africa was isolated from the rest of the world. The drug-controversial lyrics to Sugar Man "Silver magic ships you carry; Jumpers, coke, sweet Mary Jane" raised eyebrows, as did those from I Wonder ('I wonder how many times you've had sex') and Cause ('cause the sweetest kiss I ever got is the one I've never tasted'). Segerman's 'Follow the Money' detective trail is fascinating - with unimaginable revelations and repercussions.
Rodriguez' iconic music style uses simple guitar riffs and lyrics that pierce the heart. Known as an inner city poet, his Dylan-like lyrics hit a nerve by anyone who heard them. Still relevant today, there's a poignancy from the simplicity of the message delivered.
While the first half of the film introduces us to Sixto Rodriguez and his music, the second and most potent half begins with revelations discovered by Segerman and fellow South African Craig Bartholomew, who search for and find answers to the riddle surrounding Rodriguez' death. What happens next forms the heart of the film, offering an emotional crescendo that explodes by its moving and climactic finish. A flood of tears had brightened my eyes by then.
If you are a traveller on the road of life, don't miss this unforgettable treasure of a film, which takes us to the highest heights, as it reminds us of simple truths about the pursuit of happiness.
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SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (M)
CAST: Documentary with Rodriguez, Steve Segerman, Craig Bartholomew, Clarence Avant, Malik Bendjelloul, Dennis Coffey, Eva Rodriguez, Regan Rodriguez, Sandra Rodriguez-Kennedy, Steve Rowland, Mike Theodore
PRODUCER: Simon Chinn
DIRECTOR: Malik Bendjelloul
SCRIPT: Not credited
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Camilla Skagerström
EDITOR: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 4, 2012