Searching for Sugar Man is a rare example of a music documentary about a virtually unknown artist. A refreshing example of how history can be retold through the most unimaginable personal story.
When the main point of the biographic film is not to illuminate the life of a well-known or controversial individual, it sometimes serves the purpose of rediscovering a unique human being and telling an exceptional story. This is the case in Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul’s portrayal of the folk-singer and poet Sixto Diaz Rodriguez. To most people, the 70-year old Mexican-American singersongwriter is totally unknown, but for a few dedicated devotees of 60s and 70s psychedelic music, Rodriguez is a cherished artist. His two albums with the documentarysounding titles Cold Fact and Coming from Reality enjoy the status of neglected classics. As we learn through Malik’s film, he is also cherished by a whole generation of South Africans, since Rodriguez’s songs were considered revolutionary music during the Apartheid era and unknowingly, he was idolized as a Jimi Hendrixlike figure among musicians and fans in this troubled nation. The details of this unbelievable story make way for an even more rewarding film scenario. Not only did Rodriguez write the soundtrack to a revolution, he is also one of those enigmatic characters who give music history its captivating and mythical qualities. Among the tales we are introduced to the musician’s early years, which were spent on the desolate streets of Detroit.
An interview with collaborator Dennis Coffey describes Rodriguez as a mystical and insightful poet who seemed to materialize out of a smoke-filled barroom, part of the Motor City music scene of the late 60s. We learn that the people who worked closely with him on his recordings consider him one of the most talented songwriters ever. This is touchingly conveyed in an intimate little scene, where the charismatic producer Steve Rowland tells how Rodriguez was dropped from his record company in December ’71. He plays the artist’s song Cause on his stereo while he recounts the sad end of Rodriguez’s career:
«Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas And I talked to Jesus at the sewer And the Pope said it was none of his God-damned business While the rain drank champagne»
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