Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

Documentary by: Malik Bendjelloul |
Pandemic Movie Index (out of 5): 🦠🦠🦠🦠 |

Searching for Sugar Man is the remarkable story of a 1970s folk singer by the enigmatic name of Rodriguez, and his incredible music that you’ve most probably never heard of before.
A true, modern-day poet who played small gigs in some of Detroit’s tougher neighbourhoods, Rodriguez came out with two albums in the early 70s and then completely vanished from the music scene, with rumours of his demise varying from self-immolation on stage to blowing his brains out in front of a hostile audience. 
This Oscar-winning documentary will leave you spellbound for many reasons. First, there’s the music, which the movie beautifully portrays through vignettes. The crisp lyrics, the stirring melodies, combined with Rodriguez’s overall gentle, killer vibe still resonate half a century later.

Imagine Bob Dylan — but with an actual voice. Seriously, how The Partridge Family became a phenomenon in the 70s and not this guy defies any logic.

As some top producers interviewed for the film declared: “This guy had it all.”
Then there’s the fact that Rodriguez somehow developed a cult following in South Africa over the years, where he sold more albums than Elvis. This success led some die-hard fans to finally track him down, to find out who this mysterious artist really was. 

The rest will pretty much knock you off your couch and leave you speechless.

While the film has some flaws — in retrospect, it does take you for a cleverly calculated ride — it’s all easily forgiven, as you’ll be swept away by this extraordinary tale of talent, resilience, humility and humanity. 

Also, the interview with legendary Motown producer Clarence Avant on the question of Rodriguez’s “missing” South African royalties which Avant’s company collected but never paid to Rodriguez is, well, priceless.

In an era where everyone would sell their soul to Simon Cowell to become a music star, this forgotten story of a lost artist, who never knew how talented he was and how much of an impact he ultimately had on people’s lives halfway across the globe will momentarily restore your faith in the human race. 

Not an easy task — especially for the music industry. 

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Many thanks to Paola and John for both recommending this film. Keep them coming!