Wednesday, June 05, 2013
Searching for Sugar Man
Written, edited, and directed by Malik Bendjelloul, Searching for Sugar Man is the story of two men from Cape Town, South Africa trying to find the whereabouts of the obscure American musician Sixto Rodriguez who was popular in South Africa. The film explores the life of Rodriguez and why his music hadn’t been so well-known in America. The result is a fascinating and heartwarming film from Malik Bendjelloul.
The film is about two men from Cape Town, South Africa who for more than 20 years had been wondering about the American musician known as Rodriguez who was very popular in South Africa but not much information about him. Particularly as he was an inspiration of sorts to the people of South Africa in the 1970s at the height of apartheid that started a new music scene despite the government’s ban on Rodriguez’s music. By the 1990s after apartheid, the music of Rodriguez was still popular in South Africa as well as other parts of the world like Australia and New Zealand but it would take a record store owner and a journalist to find out if Rodriguez was still alive or dead. What happens isn’t into why Rodriguez was so obscure as he never sold records in America while those who knew him for years in Detroit, aside from his daughters, never knew he was a musician.
What Malik Bendjelloul does is play into Rodriguez’s myth and explore his popularity in South Africa as he had only released two albums in 1970 and 1971 where they went nowhere in the U.S. but because someone brought to South Africa. The record became popular where a myth about Rodriguez’s supposed death had grown where it would take the efforts of record store owner Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and musician journalist Craig Bartholomew Strydom to see if Rodriguez was alive. Not only do they get the answers but also what has happened to Rodriguez after his recording career where the man himself does finally speak.
It’s a moment that is truly exhilarating as Bendjelloul does piece through parts of Rodriguez’s life as he interviews people about why he didn’t make it in the U.S. as they’re baffled by why it never did well in the first place. Even as Bendjelloul, who is never seen in the film, does ask some questions where Sussex Records founder Clarence Avert was very evasive. There are also interviews with Rodriguez’s daughters as they had been baffled into why their father was never big while the film does climax into his arrival to South Africa in 1998 for six sellout shows where it reveals how big he is. Yet, it also reveals that despite all of the newfound fame he’s getting. Rodriguez is still a modest man.
Bendjelloul’s direction does feature a few animated sequences courtesy of Arvid Steen to play out some idea of myth as well as recreating what was it like in Detroit in the late 1960s where he was first discovered. With help from cinematographer Camilla Skagerstrom and the sound work from sound designer Per Nystrom and sound editor Fredrik Jonsater. The film does have a very entrancing look for the locations shots in Detroit, Palm Springs, and Cape Town. Through Bendjelloul’s editing, it does feature some shots of South Africa during apartheid as well as some pictures and stills to play up Rodriguez’s life as the overall result is a truly majestic film about a musician who is finally getting the exposure he deserves.
Searching for Sugar Man is a riveting yet exquisite documentary from Malik Bendjelloul. The film is definitely a documentary that succeeds in not just exposing the music of Rodriguez but also the man himself who is a very modest and kind individual who doesn’t really want much. It’s a testament to the power of the documentary as it also shows how good of an artist Rodriguez is. In the end, Searching for Sugar Man is a phenomenal film from Malik Bendjelloul.
© thevoid99 2013