Searching for Sugar Man

I don’t normally go to a movie knowing nothing about it. Usually I go to the theatre because I love an actor or director, have heard rave reviews about a particular movie, or because I’m drawn to the story. The only thing I knew about Searching for Sugar Man was the one-line synopsis on IMDB: Two South Africans set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero, the mysterious 1970s rock ‘n’ roller, Rodriguez. Although this is an accurate summary of the film, it does not begin to capture the magic of it. It is a documentary mystery, told in chronological order, which I appreciated, because I had no idea how the story was going to end. Rodriguez was hugely popular in South Africa during the height of apartheid, and his albums are credited with sparking revolution in the country. The mystery is two-fold: why was Rodriguez a complete unknown in his native US and what happened to him? The first part of this mystery is never fully solved in my mind. Although he sold somewhere around 500,000 albums in South Africa, no one on camera could say where the proceeds of those sales went. The second part of the mystery is most certainly solved and I will say no more about it! The soundtrack is all Rodriguez’s music, as you would expect, and I found it very Dylan-esque: poetic (and often political) lyrics matched with droning-like singing, over heavy bass and various other instruments (including bassoon at one point!).  My friend Shawn described it as Woody Guthrie mixed with Donovan mixed with Richie Havens. I have no comment on that one; I just know I really liked it. What was most magical about the film was the use of animation in just a few shots. In every case I believe it was silhouettes of people with cityscape in the background. Really beautiful.  All in all this was an unusual documentary that plays out like a piece of fiction. It is absolutely worth seeing.

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