Monday, June 27, 2016

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) ****

The 2012 documentary Searching For Sugar Man speaks to the power of music to change the world in the most unexpected of ways. Sixto Rodriguez released only two albums Cold Fact (1970) and Coming From Reality (1971). After they failed to sell or find an audience in the United States he stopped recording music. A musician based in Detroit, Rodriguez made his living working various manual labor jobs around the city. Few people, even his friends, had any idea he once wrote and performed music. Unknown to Rodriguez and his family, his two albums changed the course of history on the other side of the world.

That's where the documentary picks up the story. The late Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul managed to track down a true mystery man.  For in South Africa the music of "Sugar Man" stood alongside The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel. A legend spread that he doused himself in gasoline onstage and died after lighting a match. No one knew for sure. 

Songs like "Establishment Blues" encouraged South Africans to take action against Apartheid policies during the 1970s and 1980s. Without revealing too much, Searching For Sugar Man reveals an amazing mystery that culminates in a magnificent conclusion.

Rodriguez's music style evokes early 70's singer/songwriter: the lyrical punch of Bob Dylan with the smooth, emotive delivery of Cat Stevens. But the power of his words transcends these categorizations.  Themes in Rodriguez's music dealt with life in the inner city of Detroit and the pathos of everyday life.  The fact that music from a specific time and place can connect with people from a completely different culture and history proves art can work magic.

Searching for Sugarman won a much deserved Oscar for Best Documentary.  Music fans have so much to gain from the spirit of this film.

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