I had intended to check out this movie and feature it here in this series for some time, I had heard nothing but good things about it. It’s Oscar win Sunday night for Best Documentary Feature finally pushed me to watch it, and I couldn’t be happier that I did.
“Searching for Sugar Man” tells nothing short of a miraculous story. A story that, honestly, I still have a hard time believing. I think that anyone who watches will be amazed and inspired.
In the early 1970s, a young musician named Sixto Rodriguez landed a record contract after being heard playing in a Detroit dive. He released two albums: “Cold Fact” (1970) and “Coming from Reality” (1971). Neither of them sold. After “Coming from Reality” flopped, his record label dropped him. The label itself, Sussex Records, wouldn’t be in existence long, either. By 1975 it went out of business.
Rodriguez was a never was.
Halfway around the world, though, an amazing thing happened. Apparently, one of the few people who had bought the album traveled with it to the country of South Africa. From there, bootleg tapes began to circulate, and requests to local radio DJs forced stations to order pressings. His music spoke to the repressed teens of the Apartheid culture, who felt powerless to change the oppressive government they lived under. The government found his music to be subversive, and banned several tracks from public play, which only added to the buzz surrounding his albums. The music spread until it reached the pinnacle of popularity within the country.
In South Africa, Rodriguez became more popular than Elvis Presley. More popular than the Rolling Stones. Second only perhaps to The Beatles.
As Apartheid was an isolationist regime, the citizens of the country weren’t well connected to the news and culture of the rest of the world. So, although everyone had Rodriguez’ two albums and loved the music, no one knew anything about him. There was no information about him on the albums themselves, and since he was a flop in the States (unbeknownst to South Africans), they never heard anything about him through the global news that they did receive. In fact, the rumor that he had committed suicide during a concert took hold to the point where it was considered fact.
Decades later though, in the late 90s, after the fall of Apartheid and with the advent of the internet, two fans began searching for information about him. They wanted to learn of his fate, they wanted to learn who he really was. That journey of discovery is the basis for the film.
“Searching for Sugar Man” is set to a sound track of Rodriguez’ music, which indeed is very cool (to me, he sounds almost similar to Jim Croce). His plaintive music will play as the filmmakers roll shots of cityscapes by, in between the interview and narration segments. It’s a well produced movie, and they set up the story nicely by thoroughly laying out the situation before embarking on the search portion of the film.
It’s the results of the search that will blow your mind about the miracles of life. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I will say that this film will astonish you with what happens. The improbabilities, the triumph, and the joy of this movie are something that it’s hard to put words to. You may have to expand your thinking about the possibilities of the world in order to comprehend it. To call it heartwarming is a severe understatement…
It’s absolutely worthy of the Academy Award, and certainly worthy of your time.