On DVD/Blu-ray – Review: Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
by NIR SHALEV
Rodriguez was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He played guitar and sang in bars, dives, and clubs. By day he worked in construction and built houses. As a musician he was discovered in the clubs and went on to release two records in the early 1970s. Then he disappeared off the face of the Earth. Word had it that he’d committed suicide on stage by setting himself ablaze; others said he’d shot himself. Basically, he disappeared.
His records barely sold in the United States yet somehow made it all the way to South Africa during the height of apartheid. He was looked on as another version of Bob Dylan, seeing that he’d always sung about how he saw the world, and his songs became anthems against apartheid and for the revolution. Truths about how he saw society poured out of his lips in continuous streams and reached millions of people, through his transcendental lyrics and terrific guitar skills. In South Africa, he was bigger than Elvis.
This delightful, moving, and somewhat important documentary first focuses on his musical talent and poetry, and then focuses on trying to find him. Several South African musical talent agents and other professional in the field of music can’t fathom how a man that was born and raised in Motor City Detroit was unheard of in the US. They search for the man and it isn’t until the late 1990s that they eventually find him.
I hadn’t heard of Rodriguez until I watched this film and now that I have I’d love to listen to his albums. His lyrics are deep and truthful and his guitar skills are awesome. But most importantly, Rodriguez is a wonderful human being. Most of the money that he’d eventually made he gave to his family while he continued to work in construction and other housing projects. And apparently in 1989 he ran for city council in Detroit. They misspelled his name on the ballot.
Searching for Sugar Man is a film that’s neither about music nor specifically about a musician because it’s about many things. It showcases South Africa’s censorship of anything TV and music related; it showcases an extraordinarily talented man who remained a nobody in his native country; and it plays beautiful music for the audience while focusing on important ideals. Its heart and soul are in the right place from the get-go and the extraordinary story of Rodriguez’s disappearance, importance, and eventual resurfacing is remarkable and inspiring. Also, the film is terrifically entertaining.
The special features are an Audio Commentary; Making Sugar Man; An Evening with Malik Bendjelloul and Rodriguez; the theatrical trailer and some previews.
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End of Watch