Searching for Sugar Man

A missing musician is the subject of "Searching for Sugar Man"

A missing musician is the subject of “Searching for Sugar Man”

“Searching for Sugar Man” is a fascinating documentary about a great American singer of whom you have most likely never heard, unless, of course, you have seen this movie.  It is one of the best documentaries of 2012.

While the film was just released on home video, and is available as a DVD by mail from Netflix, it continues its run at City Cinemas Village East Cinema, at 181 Second Avenue, where it has been for at least the past few months.  Although it is playing on one of the theatre’s small, downstairs auditoriums, on a small screen, “Searching for Sugar Man” proved to be a revelation for me and the fewer than 10 other patrons who showed up for the first show this past Saturday.

I do not want to give away too much of the journey on which director Malik Bendjelloul takes us in search of a singer from Detroit known only as Rodriguez.  It is a trip that takes us from Detroit in the early 1970s to South Africa in the grip of apartheid and the start of the anti-apartheid movement, of which Rodriguez became its unintended spokesman through his music.   His music was censored by the government but, despite this, got into the hands of millions of South Africans.

Stories abound about what happened to this great singer/song writer whose career never happened in his own country.  The film features interviews with Rodriguez’s record producers who still marvel at how great his music was.  They cannot comprehend why his career never took off.  One producer goes so far as to claim that Rodriguez was a superior singer/song writer to Bob Dylan.  Rodriguez was only appreciated by another culture and even they do not know what happened to him.  One account has Rodriguez intentionally lighting himself on fire during one of his concerts.  Another has him taking out a gun and shooting himself on stage.

I have always maintained that a good documentary should be able to take a subject about which I would normally have no interest and make it relevant to me.  “Searching for Sugar Man” accomplishes this with its story about a very talented, spiritual, modest man for whom fame and fortune mattered little.

“Searching for Sugar Man” is a story of musical investigation, fandom, censorship, culture and obsession.   The film deftly integrates stock footage, news footage, home movies, modern day interviews and animation to tell its story.  All of this is set against the background of Rodriguez’s songs and mysterious life.

“Searching for Sugar Man,” director Malik Bendjelloul, 2012

Sony Pictures Classics, 86 minutes, rated PG-13


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on February 6, 2013, in Documentary, Now on DVD and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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