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SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (director/writer: Malik Bendjelloul; cinematographer: Camilla Skagerstrom; editor: Malik Bendjelloul; Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Malik Bendjelloul/Simon Chinn; Sony Pictures Classics; 2012)

“For the most part an endearing documentary about mystery Bob Dylan-like singer Sixto Rodriguez.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Swedish helmer Malik Bendjelloul films for the most part an endearing documentary about mystery Bob Dylan-like singer Sixto Rodriguez, who released two albums in the early 1970s (‘Cold Fact’ and ‘Coming from Reality’) that never sold in the United States but unknown to him became a smash hit in Apartheid South Africa in the 1970s with the whites because of his anti-establishment lyrics. He sold more records than Elvis in South Africa. The title is taken from Rodriguez’s 1970 song about a drug dealer, “Sugar Man.”

Rodriguez’s most devoted fans, such as Cape Town record store owner Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman, try to track him down, but have no luck. Building on the mood of a mystery story, the fans in South Africa hear their idol killed himself onstage. After the half-way mark we learn that poet/philosopher/street personRodriguez is still alive in 1998, has three grown daughters, lives in Detroit as a construction worker and is still unknown in his home country. The contact made with the friendly South Africans pursuing him enables Rodriguez and his 3 daughters (no mention of wife) to be flown to Cape Town, where to great cheers he performs in four sold-out concerts. Though now discovered, the bland and humble Rodriguez still fails to catch on in the States even though he’s a cult figure in South Africa. The legendary figure in South Africa, to support himself, returns to his construction job and modest lifestyle in inner-city Detroit, which leaves a sad note since his music has some heft and it seems unjust that he’s ignored while lesser talents are celebrated.

The conventional film has its fair-share of talking heads, animated sequences and archive footage. It plays a few of the noteworthy tracks such as the title song “Sugar Man,” “I Wonder,” “Inner City Blues” and “A Most Disgusting Song.” In a pleasing but superficial way it leaves an aura of mystery around the 70+ still unknown urban singing legend. Though it’s explained that white middle-class South Africans embraced the dark-skinned Mexican and his music because it was the safest way to protest its country’s segregation policy, the film never digs deeper than that to explain the sincere love affair between the Hispanic working-class singer and his middle-class white followers.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”