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REVIEW: 'Searching for Sugar Man'

REVIEW: 'Searching for Sugar Man'

REVIEW: 'Searching for Sugar Man', Flicks.co.nz

4 stars

Two die-hard fans investigate the disappearance of their hero Sixto Rodriguez, a mysterious Mexican-American singer/songwriter who faded into obscurity in the States but found massive success in 1970s South Africa. Winner of the Audience and Grand Jury prizes (for Documentary, World Cinema) at Sundance 2012. In cinemas October 25.

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Malik Bendjelloul’s doco about a long lost folk singer-songwriter who could have been the next Bob Dylan brings together many of my favourite things - detective fiction, forgotten artists, working class stories, dual existences, music nerdiness - into a soulful, lip-tremblingly joyous movie that’s one of the more affecting experiences I’ve had in a cinema this year.

Detroit musician Sixto Rodriguez recorded two politically-charged albums in the early ‘70s - Cold Fact and Coming to Reality - but they flopped in the States and he went off the radar. Searching for Sugar Man traces Rodriguez’s missing years, and the story unearthed is amazing: Cold Fact found its way into South Africa, and went on to sell thousands, attaining Rodriguez the cult status of being bigger than Elvis in that country. But he remained a mystery to his fans, with many believing he committed suicide on stage by setting himself alight.

Featuring interviews with Rodriguez’s colleagues, family, and former producers who’re still bewildered at why he never took off, the doco finds its shape via the passionate sleuthing of two South African fans, revealing narrative layers that go beyond simple myth-busting. Bendjelloul’s juxtaposition of Rodriguez’s parallel lives - the inspirational, anti-establishment rock legend in a country torn by oppression, and the humble, blue-collar worker who had no idea he was one - proves to be powerful, uncanny, uplifting.

Searching for Sugar Man satisfies both as a tribute to the transformative qualities of music and the selflessness of a rare individual.

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