Monday, January 7, 2013

#8 Searching For Sugar Man (2012)

"Searching For Sugar Man" is one of the better examples of truth being stranger than fiction. Of course, all documentaries have been edited through the filter of a director and thus a film will always be the director's truth no matter how you look at it. This version of the facts, though, is mighty entertaining and makes for a great movie.

The film tells the story of Mexican-American musician Sixto Rodriguez who recorded two albums in the 70s which flopped big time - despite his producers' claim that his songwriting was up there alongside Bob Dylan. A matter of taste, one could say, but according to the film his music played an integral part in inspiring the South African music scene to be more anti-establishment minded and to openly criticize the apartheid regime back in the day. So say the musicians there, who director Malik Bendjelloul talked to.

Rodriguez was by South Africans believed to be dead years ago. A South African journalist decides to investigate (WARNING: Spoilers ahead!) He finds out that the man himself is alive and that he apparently didn't know about the impact of his music on the other side of the planet. The driving force is the story of the search for the man and then afterwards how he went to South Africa and got the recognition he deserved.

Rodriguez himself seems content with just being a "regular guy" with solid blue collar values. Although his way of being in itself suggests he moves on a different level than most people. Very "zen", if you will. Giving away his earnings from this adventure to family and friends. This gives rise to some questions which are never really adressed in the film. It could be reluctance from Rodriguez, but I fear it could also be superficial interviewing from the director. He ask about fame and fortune, but it's clear that it does not matter to this "star". I am therefore missing the questions about Rodriquez' social conscience. He clearly had something to say. How does it feel about the impact he really did have after all? And where did his zen-like look on life and core values come from? 

The film shows the value music can have. Or could have back then. A reminder from a time before the internet where things like this could still be a mystery. Still, considering the story of discovery actually took place in 1998 it's a wonder it took another 14 years to reach the rest of the world. Maybe that says more about the media's one-eyed focus on only local matters and America.

A heartwarming tale that works surprisingly well, but - when you think about it - somehow sadly fails to properly reach the core matter of the story at hand. With a playing time of just 86 minutes an extra 10 minutes of depth would have benefitted the film greatly and would have driven home the point of the film better. One is left with the thought that the world would be a better place if more people were a bit more like Rodriguez. Maybe true, but it's also a fact that the picture painted of the man is not very nuanced. Maybe there are clues in the dvd's commentary track. I have reviewed this film from a cinema viewing.