A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
When thinking of the most influential figures in music over the past 40-50 years, the likes of Elvis, Springsteen, Cohen, Lennon, Clapton and Dylan all spring to mind, yet it seems that none of those compared to the influence of one Sixto Rodriguez, musics best kept secret in modern history.
“Searching For Sugar Man” is the 2012 documentary about the life and times of Sixto Rodriguez, a musician that had nothing much of career, or at least that’s what he thought.
Unknown to the majority of the world, Rodriguez’s music never topped charts, got noticed or promoted in any fashion. Unbeknown to him and the world at large, the music of Rodriguez was an incredible success in South Africa, during their worst period in history as a nation, apartheid.
The story regarding Rodriguez was non-existent. He had been swept away into a cloud of unknown, leaving only mythology and speculation to cary on his name. According to some, he lit himself on fire and committed suicide live on stage. Others believe he shot himself dead following a bad performance and a heckling crowd, whilst others believe that drugs tragically took his life from him.
“Searching For Sugar Man” follows two South African men who travelled the globe, looking for anything they could find regarding the legendary and enigmatic figure that is Rodriguez.
Who was this man? Where did he come from? Who owned his music? Why was he not as popular to the rest of the world? What happened to him?
There are so many questions accompanying their search, and this documentary is so clever in the way it adds immense intrigue, fascination and mystery to the ‘search case’. As the documentary plays out, we the audience, learn how luck, perseverance and obsession allowed for these two men’s questions to finally be answered as they come into contact with more and more people claiming to have information regarding the most mysterious figure in music.
The music of Rodriguez was truly inspirational to the South African people. An ultra-conservative nation during this time, Rodriguez’s tunes injected hope, confidence and change into the citizens, telling them that they can rebel, fight back and be anti-establishment and anti-authority.
His music was banned and made unplayable at times, to the point where radio stations would scratch the LP to eliminate the risk of his sometimes bold and socialist lyrics being aired to the people.
Although his music was prohibited in many instances, this man, in South Africa, was bigger than Elvis Presley.
An anti-establishment spokesperson in many ways, Rodriguez’s lyrics are powerful and stunning in every single one of his brilliant tracks.
“The mayer hides the crime rate, council woman hesitates, public gets irate, but forget the vote date, weatherman complaining, predicted sun, its raining, everyones protesting, boyfriend keeps suggesting, you’re not like all of the rest…gun sales are soaring, housewives find life boring, divorce the only answer, smoking causes cancer, the systems gonna fall soon, to an angry young tune, and that’s a concrete cold fact.”
How the people of not just South Africa during apartheid, but the world today can relate to any one of these lines is truly astonishing. Such incredibly honest and meaningful wordplay is what made Rodriguez such a well-known figure, to South Africans at least.
Malik Bendjelloul’s incredible journey of discovery, enlightenment and mystery “Searching For Sugar Man” is a must-see for anyone eager for an incredible story. Regardless of your interest in music, “Searching For Sugar Man” delves much deeper than the music. Dealing with the corruption of record labels, the family of Sixto, the life he lead and the legacy he generated, “Searching For Sugar Man” is one of the great rock n’ roll documentaries about one of the greatest and most inspirational artists to have graced the earth.