Music is a funny business in many ways. One of the oddities of music revolves around the fickle nature of success. Some musicians are hit the big time while others labor in obscurity. What’s more perplexing is when an artist is relatively unknown in one country while being a virtual superstar in another. Searching for Sugar Man is the true story about the search for one such man that took this example to knew extremes.
In South Africa everyone grew up listening to similar rock music. If you went to virtually any event you’d find all the greatest examples: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and, of course, Rodriguez. Wait. What was that last one? Exactly.
In 1970 an rock soloist known only as Rodriguez put out an album called Cold Fact that completely bombed in the United States. However, when it found its way to South Africa it took the country by storm and Rodriquez became bigger than Elvis Presley there. The only problem was that Rodriguez had disappeared into oblivion—or worse. The movie tells the story of a few determined fans and their search for the story about the man behind the music.
This is a movie for almost anyone. Its a journey that will keep you riveted to every peak and valley while quite possibly enriching your hope and love of humanity. There’s a power here that seems to know how to tap into the most elemental facets that bind each of us together as a people. How often can you say that about a film—especially one with just a simple, seemingly common tale?
The one measurement I apply above all else when it comes to documentaries is to consider what I learned—if anything. This experience was like visiting a common, worn-out bookstore and finding a magic tome sitting in plain sight and yet knowing that, somehow, everyone else had managed to overlook it. Did I learn something? Far, far more than I expected. The most important thing I may have learned is just how much I’d forgotten about the splendor of simple reality.
This is a wonderful film that I can’t wait to delve into more deeply over time. However, it does have a few blemishes—even if they’re ultimately minor in the final analysis. Most notable was a disjointed graphical approach. Some segments of the movie are shot in ethereal, dream-like fashion that was absolutely stunning while others look like they were shot in a heavy rush. It’s as if the producers took their budget and, instead of spending it equally across the entire film, instead decided on going all-out on a few shots praying we wouldn’t notice their subsequent absence.
There are also a number of very obvious questions that go unanswered and this makes me wonder if, perhaps, the producers felt the magic would be lost if resolved.
But, as I said, these are minor points overall. The film moved me quite deeply and keep me begging for more. Add to this a stunningly, totally unexpected, powerful soundtrack from the artist himself. Now consider that every song is one of which virtually no viewer had any previous knowledge. It all seems impossible and yet, now we know better—and we should all be the better for it.