19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
In some respects to review the fantastic documentary film "Searching For Sugar Man" is to ruin it. But here's the 'some-info' version minus spoilers...
Sixto Diaz Rodriguez (pronounced Sees-Toe) was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1942 to recently emigrated Mexican parents. From the early to late Sixties, Motown had put the Motor City on the musical map - so emerging singer-songwriters cut their teeth in bars and cafes, soaked up the campus/street politics and hoped to get noticed. After an early 7" single in 1967 on Impact that folded without trace - enter Producer Dennis Coffey and Sussex Records (home of Bill Withers). Sixto's debut American album "Cold Fact" was released Stateside March 1970 on Sussex SXBS 7000 - followed the next year by "Coming From Reality" - November 1971 on Sussex SXBS 7012. But despite their musical quality - few noticed locally. Legend in fact has it that "Coming From Reality" sold less than 20 copies.
Cut to the other side of the world - South Africa - and young black and white kids are plagued by Apartheid. With lyrics like "drinking from a Judas cup...papa don't like new ideas round here..." or "I wonder will this hatred ever end?" - they pick up on the Arthur Lee melodies and the Bob Dylan protest lyrics and the soulful Jose Feliciano voice and the album becomes a huge hit over there. So Rodriguez tours and those shows are emblazoned into the memory. But then the mysterious American immigrant troubadour disappears...some even ruminating that he's dead - or never existed at all.
Cut to decades later and a South African secondhand record-store owner wonders what happened to this huge and positive influence in his life? And so the journey begins...searching for the sugar man...
As a cartoon figure wanders across the dirty city streets of a cold Detroit with a guitar case strapped over his shoulder - you listen to tracks like "Crucify Your Mind" and "Inner City Blues" - and you wonder how in God's name you've never heard this great music before. Politics, Mafia swindles, radio indifference - all of it probably. But it's what happens next that makes you double take and grin from ear to ear all the way to the joyous end...
I urge you to buy either of the stunning Light in The Attic CD/LP remasters of both albums ("Cold Fact" on LITA 036 or "Coming From Reality" on LITA 038). The "Coming From Reality" album has "I Think Of You" - as lovely a melody as you've ever heard. The album finisher "Cause" has stunning lyrics - "Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas - and I talked to Jesus at the sewer - and the Pope said it was none of his Goddamn business..." The CD reissue even has three tracks from his aborted 3rd album - "Can't Get Away" showing how well his songwriting had progressed. After them make a beeline to this wonderful BLU RAY.
To sum up - you know the way you look at hundreds of 5-Star reviews and wonder what all the love is about - don't.
They're all right...
52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on 20 August 2012
I am South African and I loved this film. A trip down memory lane like no other. Every song brought back memories of the times we lived in, how we wished to change the landscape we found ourselves in. To actually find about the man who made us question our government, our religion, our parents - was simple marvellous. To discover more about how he lived his own values. To meet his family, to be reminded of ones own family. I really hope he tours again. To see him in the flesh like the lucky few who have would be a highlight of my life. A true inspiration.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
As many others have said, this is a truly astonishing and uplifting documentary. To think that an artist can flop so badly in America, barely selling 100 records, and yet inspire a whole generation and be their "Bob Dylan" or "Rolling Stones" in another country, yet at the same time be utterly oblivious to it; it's incredible.
Until I first heard about this film, I'd never heard of Rodriguez before. I'd never heard his music, never known about the impact he had on revolutionising a nation, never even heard his name mentioned. This, I think, is the best way to go into the documentary.
Although at the heart of this story is the journey that some South African's go on to find out "who is Rodriguez" - a man who, even to the nation he helped change, was a complete mystery - I think I enjoyed it more being blissfully ignorant. It's a journey I felt glad to follow and made me feel a part of the exploration. I am now aware of Rodriguez, and so should others be!
Aside from being uplifting, the film tries to shed light on corruption and deceit within the music industry itself, but that aspect does feel a bit tame; like they're trying not to tread too deep into potentially libellous territory. For example, when they're "following the money" to try and trace what happened to Rodriguez, you get to see a brief clip of an interview with Motown legend Clarence Avant which gets cut short relatively quickly. I couldn't help but wonder how much was removed due to the threat of legal action?
But almost everyone else in this documentary comes across as genuine, humble, likeable people. The fact there were rumours of Rodriguez's suicide all around South Africa, no-one truly knew what he was like, where he was even from in America, it created this sense of wonder that as a viewer is transferred to you. It's a real credit to the director, Malik Bendjelloul. I'm expecting big things from him in the future and will be keeping a look out for any future works of his!
I recommend this documentary highly. It's bound to make you feel good about the world and most of all, it's fun and entertaining. A fantastic piece of film making.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 2013
I had the fortune/misfortune to spend my teenage years in South Africa under the stifling regime that was Apartheid. Now as a white person my experiences were no where near as bad for me as it was for the indigenous black population.
Only State controlled media was allowed and TV was still a couple of years away, but out of the fog of State Censorship came Cold Fact followed by After the Fact. And Rodriguez entered the life of a frustrated teenager.
I am happy to see that nearly 40 years later this artist who played such a large role in my teenage angst is getting the recognition, and royalties, he richly deserves. This documentary is well made and well worth the BAFTA, and hopefully an Oscar, it has already won. If you don't know of Rodriguez then this documentary is a great introduction to his story and music, if like me his music played constantly around the camp fire, the bedroom, the car and anywhere else you could play it as a teenager, then enjoy the trip down memory lane.
Searching For Sugar Man [Blu-ray]
74 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2012
I have just pre-ordered this DVD because it made such a profound impact on me when I saw it on the big screen at the Tyneside Cinema.
It is a brilliant film. I already liked his music but I came away in awe of the man. He is everything the average, dumb-head pop star isn't. He's talented, inconspicuous and meek and a very kind, gentle human being. One of the things that almost moved me to tears was the bit in the film where his daughter says the money he latterly earned from his success he gave away to the poor of Detroit. Brilliant! I hope I would do that in the same situation!
It's a film filled with drama and emotion, telling a story chronologically and with powerful imagery from Detroit and Cape Town backed up by spine-tingling music from the man himself.
If you don't enjoy and even love this film I will be frankly amazed. He is playing at the Sage Newcastle on 24th Nov - I CAN'T WAIT!!!!!!!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This film is a work of art. From the beautiful cinematography, to the emotional, almost impossible story, it's a quite beautiful piece of documentary film-making.
Sixto Diaz Rodriguez's voice is something very special. His vocals sound nothing like he looks or speaks. He sings from deep inside, almost as if an imaginary amplifier is projecting his voice. In fact his voice appears to mimic the effects that adding reverb would produce. It's a crisp vocal style, occasionally melting into a warble. His style features certain melodic embellishments that are reminiscent of 60's folk artists who often mixed melody with spoken words. Example, "The Establishment Blues".
So - what the hell happened? Why was Rodriguez not as big as Dylan? Where is the money?
The film leaves as much questions unanswered as it succeeds in explaining. That is not a criticism. It's a sad fact. Record labels made money and produced albums that hundreds of thousands of people in South Africa bought over the decades.
My own theory: I believe that Rodriguez's story has a lot in common with another star who vanished into American suburban anonymity - Bobbie Gentry. Both developed a dislike for the nasty side of performing. Bad venues, life on the road, dealing with unpleasant crowds and more. Having studied the film carefully I think it's pretty obvious that Rodriguez loved his craft but lost his confidence. Lost his nerve. And this is why the film is so sweet. There is a beautiful conclusion.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 5 November 2012
Searching for Sugar Man is the remarkable film of Rodriguez, a Detroit based singer-songwriter, tipped for the top by his record label and the critics, but whose 1970 and '71 albums failed commercially: except, and without his knowledge, in South Africa where his socially concious Dylanesque lyrics, delivered in a style that leans a little toward Neil Diamond, took off big style.
It is hard to believe that an artist's records could sell in large numbers somewhere in the world without his knowledge, but South Africa was a fascist state at the time where popular music was effectively banned -- especially music that challenged the establishment -- and later cultural boycotts left the country further isolated. Into this void had stepped a large and sophisticated bootleg industry, that did very well out of Rodriguez while the artist himself scraped a subsidence living as a labourer in one of the United States' most depressed cities. Only with the collapse of Apartheid and the advent of the internet did this situation change. South African fans had believed Rodriguez dead, his legend enhanced by stories of a gruesome on stage death by self-immolation. But in 1998 Rodriguez's daughter stumbled across a fansite dedicated to her father and the rest is history.
So Searching for Sugar Man is the story of loyal fans' desperate search to discover more about their idol and delighting to find him alive. Rodriguez belatedly achieves stardom and while he never receives the royalties on all those album sales he does play to tens of thousands over a series of sell-out gigs. It is a wonderful film -- I nearly cried -- a rags to riches story with the strangest of plots.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 30 December 2012
This beautifully made documentary is, like the story of Rodriguez, irresistible. How a musician, long forgotten in his own country, can be a superstar in another without him being aware of this is a screenwriter's dream. I suppose the story seems even more fantastic in our modern hot-news, hooked-up, internet-driven world. This is an absorbing film about a modest man whose music was played, recorded and released in the US in the early 1970s. His records 'Cold Fact' and 'Coming From Reality' did nothing and he quietly faded into obscurity. Meanwhile, in South Africa, his music quietly and steadily gained cult status. No-one knew anything about the musician until a journalist started digging. What he found was extraordinary and this film tells the story. Highly recommended. The albums are superb too.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
"Searching for Sugar Man," is a documentary following two South Africans as they search for the elusive Detroit musician Sixto Rodriguez, who released two critically acclaimed albums which didn't sell. Unbeknownst to Rodriguez, he became an icon in South Africa during the height of apartheid and 3 decades later his fans try to uncover the mystery surrounding the unknown songwriter who was rumoured to have committed suicide.
Set to a soundtrack of Rodriguez's original recordings, a picture of the Sugar Man is built up by those that grew up with his music in South Africa as well as people who remember him in Michigan including interviews with music executives, producers and journalists. This is a heart-warming story of how music can break down boundaries and inspire generations.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
So states South African music fan Stephen 'Sugar’ Segerman to 'long lost’, enigmatic US musician (of Mexican descent) Sixto Rodriguez, as Segerman (in 1998) unearths the presumed dead Rodriguez (now living in Detroit) in Swede Malik Bendjelloul’s intoxicating (and Oscar-winning) 2012 documentary. And, although the film’s claims that Rodriguez had been entirely 'lost to the world’ since his career flopped in the US in the early 1970s is not quite true – in addition to his popularity in media-isolated, Apartheid-ridden 1970s/80s South Africa, he was also popular in Australia, touring there in the 70s/80s – this does not overly detract from what is an irresistible 'fairy tale’ story of overlooked talent, musical inspiration and the subtlety, and poignancy, of modest ambition.
Bendjelloul’s film is also remarkably assured given that this was his first major cinematic excursion, seamlessly blending interviews with Rodriguez family members, disbelieving co-(construction) workers of ('modern day’) Rodriguez and South African fans with stark depictions of the ruthless South African racial segregation policies, and all overlaid with Rodriguez’s superbly evocative music – whose style, both thematically and aurally, is reminiscent of Dylan, with elements of, say, Donovan and Nick Drake thrown in – the latter with whom Rodriguez’s 'story’ has, initially, a good deal in common. Indeed, one of the things that makes Bendjelloul’s 'story’ so compelling is the remarkable juxtaposition of the tale of Rodriguez’s overlooked potential with the political (and musical) inspiration it provided (equally remarkably, primarily by ‘word of mouth’ – the circulation of copied cassette tapes!) to music fans in a nation thousands of miles away (despite the South African authorities’ attempts to censor Rodriguez’s ‘political’ material by physically 'scratching out’ tracks on vinyl records!). Similarly, the unassuming attitude presented by Rodriguez (and family) provides an interesting (and novel) commentary on US social attitudes – one that rarely surfaces in today’s celebrity and 'status’-obsessed media.
Thus, despite there being one or two 'holes’ in Rodriguez’s story (for example, where the revenue from the man’s significant South African, and presumably Australian, record sales went – A&M Sussex Records (and ex-Motown) supremo Clarence Avante becomes noticeably twitchy on this subject having previously lauded to the skies Rodriguez’s music), Bendjelloul’s film is a compelling watch and follows in the wake of other recent outstanding documentaries, such as Bart Layton’s The Imposter and James Marsh’s Man On Wire. The film also takes on a note of added sadness following Bendjelloul’s recent suicide in May 2014.