“Searching for Sugar Man” just won the Best Documentary award at the 85th annual Oscars, and it is pretty easy to see why this very likeable and well made film would get the accolades it has received over the last few months, culminating with the biggest movie award in the land of pretension awards, and to think it all started with a talented musician just falling through the cracks in the early 1970s.
A Swedish-British co-production, “Searching for Sugar Man” is an epic international story, as it starts with an American singer named Rodriguez in the 1970s and ends in South Africa in the present. Basically, Rodriguez was a very talented singer and songwriter who put together a couple of great albums in the early 70s, but his music didn’t go anywhere in America, and he ended up going back to his old construction job.
And since this was the 70s and no one had Twitter or Facebook or anything cool like that, he had no idea that his music had somehow made its way to South Africa, where it was pirated and disseminated among the many South Africans who were embroiled in violent protest against the newly autonomous government and their apartheid policies, as the music of Rodriguez spoke to these people and represented their fears and hopes and dreams and demands and it spread like a fire.
See, this was a time in South Africa’s history in which there was no free speech, as cinemas were being shut down and dissenting voices were hushed harshly, but Rodriguez inspired people to start their own bands and create their own music that expressed their views and projected their own voices, and Rodriguez really became something of a legend among these people, bigger than Elvis and the Beatles combined if you could believe it. And the whole time, while people were buying up tons of pirated Rodriguez albums and bonded over his music, Rodriguez was back home in Detroit, blissfully unaware, just living his weird, mumbling, bumbling, low key life.
And the rumors hit South Africa that Rodriguez was dead, with most people believing he committed suicide somehow at the end of a show in front of an apathetic audience. And int he late 1990s, a couple of South African fellas decided that they needed some closure on this whole Rodriguez thing, and started looking for clues as to who this guy really was and what the hell happened to him. And of they go, “Searching for Sugar Man” (cause “Sugar Man” is the name of one of Rodriguez’ songs and also Sugar was the name of the one of these two fellas, whose last name was Segerman).
This is a great documentary because it is uncovering a story and a great American artist that has gone unnoticed for so long and it is nice that this can finally come out for everyone to see. What really makes this thing resonate so well is that fact that Rodriguez’ music is indeed pretty fantastic, as he was a really good songwriter and had a great, distinct singing voice. His music is slathered all over this doc obviously, and it’s all really good stuff, and really even doesn’t sound dated at all, it still sounds lively and viable and wonderful and inspiring.
And of course this movie has a great ending, a memorable one that makes the whole journey really worthwhile, hence making the whole documentary more than worth watching. This was one of the best films of 2012, and if I had seen it then, I would have included it in my top ten for the year it is that good.