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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sixto Rodriguez, a little known American folk-rock singer/songwriter in
the tradition of Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens, released two albums in the
early 1970s, Cold Fact, and Coming From Reality but failed to achieve
any popularity. Though praised by critics, his haunting songs about
love and loss, drugs and politics, such as "I Wonder," "Cause," and
"Sugar Man" should have been hits, but, for some reason, were not.
After a minor tour in Australia that brought neither success nor
recognition, he was dropped from his record label and was not publicly
heard from again.
Winner of the Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul's moving documentary Searching for Sugar Man investigates the life of Rodriguez who grew up in a run-down working class area of Detroit, Michigan and worked mostly as a manual laborer, singing at night in small, smoke-filled bars. A friend who remembers him at the time says, "There was something mysterious about him. He looked like a drifter." The film demonstrates Rodriguez' striking presence using a mix of songs, interviews with those who knew him or knew about him, animation, and archival photos.
Though no one knows exactly how, his albums somehow made their way to South Africa and circulated among white Afrikaans musicians. All of this led to a growing mystique about an artist that no one knew anything about. Rumors began to circulate that, during an unsuccessful concert, he shot himself in the head or died from a drug overdose, but no one knew for sure how he died. The film begins when Cape Town record shop owner and music fan Stephen Segerman, whose nickname "Sugar Man" mirrors one of Rodriguez' most famous songs, meets music journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydom and the two undertake to investigate what had happened to him.
We find out that his album Cold Fact was distributed on a small South African label, that one of his songs, Sugar Man, was banned on the government-run radio station for its drug references, and that the anti-establishment lyrics of his songs such as The Establishment Blues struck a responsive chord with the growing student involvement in the anti-apartheid movement, and led indirectly to the Afrikaner protest musicians of the '80s. When Segerman and Bartholomew begin their investigation to uncover the mystery of Sixto Rodriguez, they take a cue from Watergate and decide to "follow the money." As each layer is unpeeled, it only adds another mystery.
Though his albums are said to have sold half a million records, speculation is rife with questions about what happened to the money and an interview with, Clarence Avant, the boss of Motown adds more heat than light. What the music detectives eventually find is not only surprising but extremely poignant, and it is best for viewers to find this out for themselves. The film is an odyssey of discovery, even self-discovery, that is a profoundly inspiring celebration of a man and his music. More than just a film about music and musicians, however, it is about the human condition. Though it reveals its secrets slowly, when it hits you, it is with an astonishing burst of power that you can feel in your bones. Searching for Sugar Man is one of the best films of the year.
The Landmark Theatre in West LA is a tough crowd but they were laughing
and crying and when it was over they were applauding. This is what
movie magic is all about. I wandered in and was blown away. Where can I
get the soundtrack?? Holy! Crap!!
Sixto is what Dylan could have been. That's right he's better than Bob. Better writer, better vocalist by tenfold. Unlike The Jester this guy never sold out and walked the talk until the bitter end.
I've always believed the world's best talent goes unrecognized most of the time but the story of Sixto Rodriguez puts that theory into the "true" category once and for all and I will never doubt it again. Please recognize this man's work! Hopefully his daughters will continue to work toward that end both in the USA and South Africa.
I'm going to add my voice such as it is to the chorus of accolades for "Searching For Sugar Man". I loved it. It is indeed an incredible true story about a folk singer named Rodriquez who became a sensation in South Africa while remaining in obscurity in his native US. He's not the first person to be given the boot in his hometown (the Bible has something to say on this subject) but upon listening to the wonderful soundtrack of this film it is a sad commentary. There's plenty of humor here as well in this tale of parallel universes: one in which Rodriquez is Elvis and another where he's scarcely a blip on the radar. The film begins as an investigation by curious fans seeking to learn about the whereabouts of Rodriquez and what may have happened to him. The stories circulating about him are not promising but they are undaunted and continue to search for answers. I think everyone who sees "Searching For Sugar Man" will be thankful that they did.
Who would know that an unknown album from an unknown artist in 1970 (Rodriguez) would become a huge phenomenon in South Africa? As big as say, Paul McCartney. Rodriguez himself was never aware of his huge success, as well as most other Americans. This film traces two hardcore fans as they trace clues around the globe trying to find out what happened to this man. Did he commit a gruesome suicide as rumors say? If so, when and where? Almost nothing was known of this mystery man. The film unfolds a story that cannot be believed by any party. Not the South Africans, nor the filmmakers, or any member of the Rodriquez family. A story that you would swear would not be possible in this day and age of digital communications.
I caught this movie at an advanced screening at the UN during Mandela week and I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the movie and even more enthralled to discover this long, lost gem of music. The movie revolves around an up-and-coming Rock'n'roller from the 70s who recorded two albums and then disappeared into obscurity. His music was lost in the US but by a strange coincidence becomes a cult hit in South Africa and becomes a symbol of rebellion for the underground white, anti-apartheid sub-culture. The documentary is a lovely journey of discovery of the south africans who try to find the roots of this enigma and re-discover his music. I won't spoil too much but for fans of Dylan like music, this might be a long, lost gem and music that perhaps, at least now, deserves more recognition and appreciation.
This documentary really grows on you. As the story and the search begins, you slowly but surely get caught up in the narrative. For me the amazing part of this journey is the composure and serenity of Rodriguez himself. Despite the lack of recognition in his own country, he continued to lead a rich life filled with hope and creativity. Just looking at his 3 beautiful daughters is testament to this. The sound tracks are really wonderful and take you back to the 60s and 70s. Another interesting facet of this movie is the exploration of the overthrow of Apartheid. Many who embraced the music of Rodriquez were Africaaners who were looking for change and a better life for everyone in their country. You come out of this movie believing in a better world.
This movie is a MUST SEE. If you are a musician or songwriter and you have ever questioned the importance of what it is that you do, you need to see this film. This was the most inspiring thing I have ever seen. Aside from the unbelievable story, the cinematography had some very great moments and not to mention a stellar sound track. I am recommending this film to everyone I know. The only drawback is that because it is an indie film, it is very hard to find. It is only playing in one theater in my area (DC), and that's West End. I really hope this films picks up and begins showing in more theaters. Until then, I will continue to promote this film via word of mouth because I believe in it so much. ...Amazing things happen.
This film was by far our favorite at the True/False Film Festival in
Columbia Missouri this past spring.
The delights of "Searching for Sugar Man" are revealed along the way, as the story unspools over decades and continents. I BEG YOU to cover your eyes and ears if you happen to see a trailer at your local indie theater - the art of the trailer is apparently a lost one, and most of the surprises are spoiled in the promotion prepared for this film.
The director received a well-earned standing ovation at True/False, and wept - he and other directors said that T/F was the first audience of "real people" to see their respective films, apparently Sundance is peopled with "not real people"?
And be prepared to have the music playing in your head for some time to come.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In a world full of over marketed terrible so called artists with no
talent we have Rodriguez, a poet, the voice of a generation & a very
After wasting £12 on the Dark Knight last night I released why I loved Indie cinema.
This is such a touching tale of hope, dreams and acceptance. The tale of Rodriguez is an over whelming one, especially as he actually appears to be as mysterious as the legend says.
The man is an icon in South African and became the voice of Apartheid, changing millions of peoples lives in the process, yet It's criminal that a man of his talent is unknown in his native home town of Detroit. A town that gave us Motown, Iggy Pop & Ella Fitzgerald. I can only think his record label didn't promote him correctly. It actually makers me sick when I watch Xfactor c**ts selling tons of records when artists like Rodriguez get no recognition what so ever.
Cynics would say it's a big marketing ploy to sell more records. But who cares, its heart warming to see his working class family talk about their up bringing and what it meant to see him perform to the people who really acre about his music.
Never stop dreaming and always be true to yourself!
This is one of the best music docs ever made! The story about Sixto Rodriguez misfortunes and fortunes is almost to good to be true. It's like a fairy tale, only that this is real life. Swedish film maker Malik Bendjelloul treats the story with great respect and construct the film in a way almost like a thriller without a dead second and the end will not leave a single eye dry. Cinematographer Camilla Skagerstrom made an excellent job in creating a beautiful movie and the music (all by Rodriguez)makes a great soundtrack and it is hard to believe that this musical treasure was forgotten for so many years. Not only is this a strong personal portrait of a grate musician but it also makes you wonder about the mechanics of fame, success and the music industry.
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