I didn’t think I would get so engrossed in a documentary about a musician I had never heard of, but Searching for Sugar Man is just such a great story that I was taken in immediately. The story is real but you would be forgiven for thinking it is fiction because it is just that good.
The documentary centres around a record store owner and a journalist from South Africa who go in search of their hero, a man from Detroit who, after releasing two albums which were monumental flops in America, became bigger than Elvis in South Africa.
The artist’s name is Rodriguez and legend has it that his first album Cold Fact only ended up in South Africa because a girl was visiting her boyfriend and brought it with her. One interviewee comments that in everyone’s record collections growing up they had Abbey Road, Dark Side of the Moon and Cold Fact.
Nobody in South Africa knew anything about Rodriguez but his music had a huge influence on those involved in anti-apartheid movements and spoke to a whole generation of young people. His second album Coming from Reality was the last they heard of the man and legends about his death began to circulate. Many believed that he had set himself on fire on stage, or that he had shot himself after his final song, but nobody really knew.
I would advise going to see this film before you read the rest of this review as finding out what happened to Rodriguez is so much more enjoyable on screen than having me spoil it for you, and I am about to spoil it.
As the men tell the tale of their search for Rodriguez, we are introduced to people who worked with him on his two albums. They speak about his overwhelming talent but record label owners claim to have no idea where the money from the album sales went. Eventually we find out that the rumours of his death were just that, rumours. The moment when we are told Rodriguez is still alive was genuinely exciting and having heard how much effort the guys put into finding him, there could be no happier ending.
The documentary itself is really well done; there is a good variety of interviewees that keep it lively and moving along. The thing that makes it even better? The music. The director has included animated shots of Rodriguez with his songs playing over them, which are interspersed between interviews, so we get a good idea of what all the fuss is about.
A story that is almost too good to be true and a film that entertains throughout. Definitely worth going to see.