Searching for Sugar Man: Rated “PG” (126 Minutes)
Starring: Steve Segerman, Rodriguez, Dennis Coffey, Mike Theodore, Dan Dimaggio
Directed by: Malik Bendjelloul
This is a documentary that tells the amazing story of how a pair of South Africans determined to discover what happened to their favorite musical hero, a man named Rodriguez around whom an entire mysterious mythology had arisen since the bootleg import of a pair of his U.S.-released albums from the 1970s arrived in their country. Over the years, the fame and popularity of the rock ‘n’ roller, performer named Rodriguez grew exponentially only no one seemed to know much of his background or whatever happened to the man himself.
According to his fan-generated mythology Sixto Rodriguez was a Detroit folksinger In the early 1970s, who had a short-lived recording career with only a couple of very-well received but non-commercial albums. Unbeknownst to Rodriguez himself, while his musical journey may have ended in this country, without him realizing it, his story actually continued in South Africa. There he became an unlikely pop music icon and inspiration for generations of fans.
Meanwhile his own legacy grew, and grew as it was rumored there to be dead by suicide (in one spectacularly vivid account he doused himself with gasoline while onstage during a concert and lite himself ablaze).Needless to say, his music was still played and his legion of fans continued to grow. Websites grew up around him even as fans attempted to track down information of his life and new tracks. Then, in the 1990s a few fans banded together in order to seek out the truth of their hero’s fate. This is that quest, which eventually was made into this documentary.
The quirky documentary itself is a heartening story in which they wound up discovering something far more in their quest than they would ever have believed possible. Meanwhile, half a world away, a downtrodden, middle-aged Detroit construction day laborer discovered that his long lost artistic dreams in fact come true after all. The story starts off in South Africa with the two fans as they explained their love for the soulful, folk-rock sounds of Sugar Man, and how they eventually used their love of his music to launch a world-wide quest into locating the artist himself.
By the time the documentary gets around to where they locate Rodriguez you are starting to think that this is all some sort of elaborate set-up, along the lines of This Is Spinal Tap, only it isn’t this is a real story, about a real singer, who spent the majority of his life in manual labor. (Point in fact, this reviewer — who had never heard of Rodriguez prior to viewing the film — did an Internet search to find not only multiple sites referring to him, but a Wikipedia page, as well as sites selling re-mastered versions of his albums. All of which proves that, quite often truth is stranger than fiction.
Robert J. Sodaro has been writing professionally for over 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in print publications, as well as here and elsewhere on the web.