If you hadn’t heard of Sixto Rodriguez, you’re in good company. An American songwriter of Motown lineage, Rodriguez’ talents never managed to take root in the West. But for a generation of South Africans his quiet anthems became a mouthpiece of opposition to the apartheid regime, as central to the censorship protests as Dylan to the civil rights movement. As his legend grew in the 1970s, the real Rodriguez faded--idling in his career and eventually dying in grotesque circumstances on stage. His rediscovery, the subject of this intensely uplifting documentary, is a rare victory for wishful thinking, lifelong dreaming and hoping against hope. In the late nineties, two journalists hit the road to find out how Rodriguez died and what happened to his legacy. Their leads go nowhere--until a deciphered lyric from Rodriguez’ feted album Cold Fact clues them into the intricate details of an unfulfilled life. A gentle and painfully exploited soul, Rodriquez retired from music to study philosophy, returning home to tough out the implosion of Detroit as a construction hand, always neatly dressed in an evening suit and a shroud of stardust. As the city was hollowed out by a collapsing motor industry, Rodriguez stayed behind to help: assisting demolitions and eventually running for political office in the 1980s. These details gather into a dazzling surprise, and the last half hour of Searching for Sugarman is a joyous victory parade in which a folk hero is restored to a wounded generation. Shot through with Rodriguez’ poppy folk--painful city isolation sweetened with dusty sunshine--Searching for Sugarman is both a pulse-raising, one-in-a-million comeback story, and, winning at the 2013 Oscars and propelling Rodriguez to stratospheric stardom, its own happy ending. --Leo Batchelor
The Academy Award-winning producer of Man on Wire unveils the incredible and moving story of Rodriguez, a ‘70s U.S. rock icon who never was.
In the late ‘60s, a musician was discovered in a Detroit bar by two celebrated producers who were struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics. They recorded an album that they believed was going to secure his reputation as one of the greatest recording artists of his generation. Despite overwhelming critical acclaim, the album bombed and the singer disappeared into obscurity amid rumors of a gruesome on-stage suicide. But a bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa and, over the next two decades, it became a phenomenon. Two South African fans then set out to find out what really happened to their hero. Their investigation led them to a story more extraordinary than any of the existing myths about the artist known as Rodriguez. This is a film about hope, inspiration and the resonating power of music.
- Making Of
- Commentary with Director Malik Bendjelloul and Sixto Rodriguez