Friday, October 24, 2014
All I knew about Searching For Sugar Man before I watched the movie, was it was highly recommended as a great music documentary. A Detroit musician known by the singular name Rodriguez records two albums in the early 1970's, which go nowhere in the U.S., but in a strange twist of fate, they become two of the most popular LPs in South Africa. Not only is there no information about the artist, but the legend in South Africa is that Rodriguez committed suicide on stage. Back in the U.S., Rodriguez thinking his music career is over goes back to his manual labor job of demolishing homes. The story could have ended there, except in the late 1990's, a couple of his South African fans decided to see what they could find out about this mysterious artist and to their amazement found him alive and well and living in Detroit.
This first part of the documentary is laid out with such detail to the mystery, that after the discovery of the Rodriguez in Detroit, the movie started to drag momentarily for me, until Rodriguez turned out to be everything you could want in a forgotten hero. His first visit to South Africa (where everyone believed he would turn out to be an imposter) is such a triumph that you can feel it through your TV screen.
Now for a couple of mild quibbles I have with the film. While the filmmaker tries to make a case that Rodriguez was another Bob Dylan, I just didn't get the same feeling. What I did hear was a "heavier" Jim Croce (and that's not a bad thing in my opinion). [On a side note, I felt his first LP was the stronger of the two, with the second one being over-produced.] My other problem, and one I didn't find out until doing some online research after watching the movie, was that Rodriguez was also popular in Australia and had toured there a couple of times before going to South Africa. So, although, Searching For Sugar Man is basically about the relationship between the music, the artist, and South Africa, omitting the Australian tours made the initial tour of South African concert a little less important in retrospect, however, I realize this was done to make the movie have more impact on the viewer.