Film Review: Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth with Searching For Sugar Man
July 26, 2012 - By JP Spence
Searching For Sugar Man hits all the right notes.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
Rodriguez’s humble beginnings start during the 60s folk explosion with songwriting ability considered by anyone within earshot to be on par with Bob Dylan.
With rock music being the documentary du jour, credit should go to Malik Bendjelloul for not choosing a subject thats been rehashed and repeated time and again like the obvious genius of Jimmy Page and Neil Young.
Bendjellouls documentary, Searching For Sugar Man, draws a line in the sand, separating art and commerce with the artist only known as Rodriguez standing firmly in the middle while gaining absolutely nothing.
Rodriguezs humble beginnings start during the 60s folk explosion with songwriting ability considered by anyone within earshot to be on par with Bob Dylan, minus the universal adoration and acclaim.
As the troubadour skyrocketed to obscurity in the States with rumors of a grisly suicide as his final calling card, Rodriguezs music became an unlikely symbol of resistance at the height of apartheid. The confessional lyrics mirror those on the street opposed to South Africas intense conservatism. To keep consistent with Rodriguezs unfortunate luck of a-day-late-and-a-dollar- short, the artist was never made aware of his rise on the continent or rewarded with any semblance of royalties. Very rarely are the prince and the pauper the same person.
After Rodriguez is discovered to be alive and well, we witness an artist toiling in oblivion while coming to terms with the spotlight that has neglected him for most of his life.
Searching For Sugar Man would be a more ideal platform to celebrate triumph, except for the director uncovering that Rodriguez himself isnt necessarily shrouded in mystery as much as shyness. Thats forgiveable considering that the songwriter is better served as an allegory for the intensity of the 60s than most of the postmodern existential posturing of todays rocker.
While the director is effusive at shining a light on music being the soundtrack to protest, he sadly leaves the case of Rodriguezs royalties in the dark. Aside from a tense segment with former label owner Clarence Avant, much of the money following would be better left to the likes of Woodward and Bernstein.
Bendjellouls savvy eye for story angles (previous works have served as inspiration for The Terminal and Men Who Stare at Goats, combined with the roster of colorful characters and locales, all of whom are willing to discuss the genius of Rodriguez from Detroit to South Africa to Tunisia, make the storytelling appear effortless, adding more credence to the stranger-than-fiction quality this story deserves.
Be it a profile, commentary on the music business or the impact music has on society, Searching For Sugar Man is sure to be on many year-end Best Of lists and one of the better rock documentaries in the past decade. n