Searching For Sugarman (2012) dir. Malik Bendjelloul
By Alan Bacchus
Ever heard of the artist Rodriguez, a Detroit area folk singer from the early '70s? Didn't think so. After two unsuccessful albums he faded into obscurity. But to South Africans, through luck and circumstance, his albums became as popular as Elvis's, and part of the counterculture anthems that helped spark the anti-Apartheid movement. But no one knew anything about him other than that he was dead, a victim of a horrific on-stage suicide.
This is the starting point for Malik Bendjelloul's fascinating documentary about the myth and aura of this strange but immensely talented artist, who, according to the producers he worked with, was as talented and poetic as Bob Dylan.
Bendjelloul follows a pair of obsessed fans, who sleuth their way back in time in the hopes of shedding light on this decades-long mystery.
Bendjelloul establishes a teasing procedural narrative as the South Africans describe their analysis of the evidence available to them, including the album credits, the lyrics, the record label and the trail of money that would hopefully lead to answers.
The twists and reveals in this story are fascinating and help piece together a character of an artist whose integrity trumped his perceived failure. At the same time they give us a deafening history lesson in South African Apartheid.
Looking back there perhaps wasnt much of a mystery to tell, but the director expertly includes the point of view of the fans, who, with little knowledge and information, had to solve the case with determination, dedication and perseverance.
And what a pleasure to discover the music of Rodriguez, whose melodies and lyrics are as haunting and moving as described in the film. Searching For Sugarman is superb storytelling and a perfect example of the power of the documentary form.