Searching for Sugarman is one of the year’s best documentaries, and a film that you’d be hard pressed to find out someone saw and didn’t enjoy. In fact, if you see this documentary and you’re a fan of folk music (hell, even if you’re not) you should be warned that odds are you’re going to want to pick up either the film’s soundtrack, or the reissued CDs from the artist that this film is all about. The movie is just that entertaining, and the music is just that good.
There are plenty of artists who never make it in the business, which is truer now with the Youtube craze and sheer amount of talent out there all trying to squeeze in through the same door. However, back in the early 1970s, before the Internet was a thing and the world wasn’t wholly connected every minute of the day, it was still hard for talented musicians to break in to the business, as Sixto Rodriguez – the man this documentary is about – is proof of.
Everybody knows the name Bob Dylan. Even if you don’t listen to his music you know of Bob Dylan, or at least that he’s a singer, which shows how big of a star he is/was. When we first hear a song by Rodriguez, it sounds beautiful, and you can understand instantly why those who signed him to a record deal thought he was going to be the next Bob Dylan. But to their surprise, Rodriguez’s first album never caught on in North America, and neither did his second, and before it even began, Rodriguez became a never was.
The truly amazing thing about this documentary is how it tells the story of Rodriguez, and how he actually was one of the biggest rock stars of all time in South Africa – even bigger than Elvis. But due to the times, and the inability to easily go online and Google “Rodriguez,” nobody knew that he was such a phenomenon overseas – not even Rodriguez himself. So the story tells the tale about how one of Rodriguez’s records somehow made it over to South Africa in the early ‘70s, and how the words in his songs instantly spoke to the people of South Africa, who were going through incredibly hard times and needed a hero.
There’s a lot to be said about the story, but part of the fun of this documentary is going on the journey with those involved and discovering things as they discovered them, so for me to go into much more detail, it’d take away some of the elation that’s felt as certain mysteries are uncovered and choices are made. With that said, this is a really inspirational story about the human spirit, and how not everyone is out there looking to make big bucks and live the life of a rock star. It’s a story about how one man made a difference in the lives of millions and didn’t even know it, and how making that difference is really all that matters.
Filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul does a great job putting this incredible story together, as he wrote, edited and directed the film himself. Of course there’s a whole team that helped make this story possible, but Bendjelloul really captures the heart of the story, which is the most vital aspect of the film. It should be noted that the first 15 minutes or so aren’t the easiest to get through, and for an 87 minute film, that may seem odd to some. They’re not poorly done, it’s just that the story doesn’t kick into high gear until about the 15-20 minute mark, and from that point on the film is completely engrossing.
Searching for Sugarman deserves all the accolades that it has been given, and Rodriguez deserves all the popularity that he is no doubt gaining in North America with the release of his story. With so much bad in the world, it really does feel good to watch a story about something so astonishing (being bigger than Elvis and most other major artists at the time and not even knowing about it?!) while also discovering just how honourable and humble people can be if that’s how they choose to live their life. Searching for Sugarman is a breath of fresh air, and quite literally, music to your ears.
The video transfer for the documentary is fantastic. There’s some old footage from decades ago that is shown, but it looks amazing still. The audio quality is top notch, which is important with the film being about a musician and all. The transfers definitely hit all the right notes on both fronts.
Commentary with Director Malik Bendjelloul and Musician Rodriguez – For anyone who wants to watch this film time and time again, this is definitely a track they should choose to listen to at least once. For those who enjoyed the film once and would like to hear more about it, this track is also recommended. There’s so much information packed in here by the two people you’d want to hear from most that it’s almost as “can’t miss” as the film itself.
An Evening with Malik Bendjelloul and Rodriguez – This is a Q&A from the Tribeca Film Festival, where the duo take questions after a small musical performance by Rodriguez. The featurette is just under 11 minutes in length, and is worth checking out for those interested in learning more about the film.
Making Sugar Man – This is a strong feature piece that runs at just over 30 minutes in length. A lot is covered here as well, which seems to be a running theme with these extras. Bendjelloul talks about making the film, his contacts, the music, learning about Rodriguez’s story and how it interested him, and the response after the film was released. So it’s really a start to finish type of feature, which helps give insight into how Bendjelloul made Searching for Sugarman come to be.
Searching for Sugarman really is a “can’t miss” film that everyone will find something to love about. It’s an amazing story that’s full of intrigue and mystery that will keep you wholeheartedly engaged, while you subconsciously tap your feet and nod your head to the wonderful, instantly likable music that accompanies you on this incredible journey. Highest recommendation.
A Red Box Films and Passion Pictures Production Searching for Sugarman. Written, Directed and Edited by: Malik Bendjelloul. Starring: Sixto Rodriguez, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman, Regan Rodriguez, Eva Rodriguez. Running time: 87 minutes. Rating: PG. Released: January 22, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.