By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
The surprising music documentary Searching for Sugar Man debuted way back at Sundance, and its status as an Oscar front-runner has been growing every since. This crowd-pleaser examines the mystery of Rodriguez, a musician some considered on par with Bob Dylan who disappeared after being dropped by his label in the early 70s . In the interim, his music caught on in South Africa of all places, becoming the soundtrack fro the anti-Apartheid movement and making him a more popular musician than even The Beatles and Elvis there. After all this time, two South Africans decide to see if rumors of his on-stage suicide were true, or whether their idol is still alive and kicking.
Possibly chilling with Elvis in Boca
The filmmakers set the stage for their mystery beautifully, using a wide range of illuminating interviews and some interesting stylistic touches and reenactments to establish Rodriguez as a musician who could have been one of the greats if things had broken differently for him. The search to discover what happened to him is enthralling, and when we finally discover the truth, undeniably inspirational.
The one technical bone I have to pick is with the score, which is often intrusive and sometimes even strangely at odds with the images being shown.
This would have been an easy two beer flick if I hadn’t learned the real story of Sugar Man. The documentary presents Rodriguez as a struggling genius who completely disappears one day, before being hunted down decades later and learning that somebody was listening all along, an entire nation of somebodies moved to change the world by the music he wrote and sung.
Prepare to be Paul Harvey’d
It turns out that while he was unquestionably more popular in South Africa than anywhere else, a fact almost certainly unknown to him, it’s not like he disappeared completely. He toured in Australia twice in the late 70s and early 80s and his music was in print extensively into the 90s. He certainly never became famous in his home country, but music nerds were at least aware of him.
Shit, he was even sampled by Nas
You may as what the difference is between Searching for Sugar Man’s approach and the Hollywooding up of history in something like Argo. Well, only one of those is trying to pass itself off as 100% factual. I’m not okay with documentaries doing this at all, however innocuously.
While learning the truth of the story saps a large deal of its impact, the story of the enigmatic Rodriguez and his impact on the South African civil rights movement still makes for an engrossing, heartwarming film.
Take a Drink: whenever someone references the song “Sugar Man”
Take a Drink: whenever someone refers to Rodriguez being dead
Do a Shot: whenever someone butchers a Spanish name