Recently I spoke with my fellow staff writers about the importance of sitting on a film you feel is perfect or “four-star” worthy before you officially go on record with the review. It feels acceptable to say a film grew in estimation for you over a time but it can be scathed or frowned upon to retract on a statement made if it paints the film in a perfect light. It’s hard to erase what you’ve already said. Enter Searching for Sugar Man from Sony Pictures Classics.
Director Malik Bendjelloul gives an insight into one of the most fascinating artists I’ve never known. Searching for Sugar Man, the story of two South Africans that set out to find out the mystery surrounding one of their favorite artists from the 1970s Rodriguez, is likely one of the great music documentaries of all-time. Huge statement? You bet it is. As someone who is and will always is in love with film, I love art universally, in all its forms from the cinematic treasures on-screen, to the music gracing the ear drums, to the paintings of Michelangelo; I inhabit a respect and admiration for self-expression, no matter what form it’s in. Give me a film that fuses art together into a beautiful portrait of mystery, meaning, and depth, you have me at minute one.
Rodriguez, described as Bob Dylan-like, was a singer and songwriter in the 1970s who released two studio albums, “Cold Fact” and “Coming from Reality,” both to critical raves from music journalists. Despite all the raves, the sales were incredibly low and his label, Sussex/A&R dropped him. Following his drop from the label, an urban legend emerged in his place. Rumors circled that Rodriguez had killed himself. Did he kill himself by dousing himself with gasoline and lighting himself on fire on stage in front of disgruntled fans? Or did he play the final lyrics to one of his songs and shoot himself? What makes the story even more intriguing is due to piracy and bootleg copies of his albums, Rodriguez’s music found its way to South Africa, where he is revered as the Elvis Presley of the great nation. In the 90s, a world-wide manhunt began to order to track down the sought after artist.
What Director Bendjelloul does brilliantly is allow Rodriguez’s music, in all its melodic chords and authenticity, to be the star of the documentary. Segment after segment, a song by the talented Rodriguez subtly lays into the frames quietly but with authority. His music is like nothing I’ve ever heard. In a day and age where Adele and Frank Ocean are the most meaningful artists working, Rodriguez comes as a grandfather to music.
It’s amazing how filmmakers, especially in the documentary genre, can identify stories that need to be told. On the surface, who cares about Rodriguez? He’s a 1970s singer with a enigmatic persona and a failed music career in the United States. You can find a dozen stories like that on the corner of New York City in Times Square. But Rodriguez is proof that music is a soul of its own that occasionally can place its hand on the shoulder of an artist. What makes my feeling about this film even more amusing is I still don’t know that much more about Rodriguez, the person following the ending credits then I did when the film started. I’m okay with that. Bendjelloul’s Searching for Sugar Man is a bridge and an entry way into a realm of musicality and significance. I don’t need to know about Rodriguez the man. Anything I need to know is right in the lyrics of his songs. The film is magnificent and utterly insightful as an inspiration to anyone wanting to hone their passion and craft. Whatever that craft may be, its never too late to be who you were born to be.
It’s the best documentary of the year!
Check out the official site for the film: