Searching for Sugar Man is a documentary about a little known American singer named Sixto Rodriguez who came from Detroit in the late 60’s. His albums never really sold that well in America, but unbeknownst to him he had become quite a star in South Africa. This is a beautifully styled documentary that is surprisingly easy on the eyes. There are loads of beautiful establishing shots of cities and sweeping landscapes. Most directors would let a shot linger rather than try to put something entertaining on the screen for a documentary, but Malik Bendjelloul always keeps the audience visually engaged. There were quite a few scenes that there simply wasn’t footage to illustrate, so instead of long ‘artistic’ shots, a subtle and likeable set of animations is used, silhouettes of Rodriguez depicted on a 60’s Detroit backdrop, or scribbles on a notepad to help you follow thought processes. Although these sound obtrusive and cheap on paper, they added to the film’s wonderful pacing and complemented the overall feel. The pace of the film is perfect, even people who normally steer shy of documentaries should still be able to sit through this movie and enjoy the story.
No previous knowledge of Rodriguez or anything else in the film is required at all, as even without this the emotion comes through. It’s hard not to fall in love with Sixto Rodriguez, the musician as well the mystical humanitarian. The interviewees from Detroit were an obvious highlight, often causing the entire theatre to laugh out loud, especially when it came to the construction workers that Rodriguez has worked alongside his whole life. Gruff, salt-of-the-earth men, with a great wit and real sense of honesty and humanity, not at all like the over-educated, emotionless ‘talking heads’ most documentaries turn to for interviews. The men who decided to start the search for Rodriguez are passionate music-lovers, one of whom owns a record store, and the excitement they convey is incredibly infectious. By the time Rodriguez arrived in South Africa to play his first real concert, I was choked up at the thought of him finally getting his recognition and getting on stage.
This is one of the few music documentaries where an artist lives up to, and I would argue, exceeds, the cult of his personality. This is no vain, shallow artist, he’s a humble guitarist who doesn’t feed on fame, despite deserving it. If you’re ever feeling like the music industry is a total sham, or that there’s no such thing as selflessness in this world, watch Searching For Sugar Man. This is the guitarist we all wish we could know, be and love. If only all of my 60’s guitar heroes could be as down-to-earth as this guy…
Searching For Sugar Man is released on 26th July 2012. Directed by Malik Bendjelloul and produced by Simon Chinn (Project Nim, Man on Wire). The winner of 2 awards at Sundance, opened Sheffield DocFest last week.
Words by Oskar Lindblom
TagsMalik Bendjelloul, Oskar Lindblom, Searching for Sugar Man, Simon Chinn, Sixto Rodriguez,