Searching for Sugar Man


I’ve been going through a bit of a documentary binge lately. I was never the biggest fan of the documentary – too often they seem like the adulterated version of an after-school special – but the genre’s been going through something of a renaissance. The traditional documentary is talking head interview footage interspersed with stock and historical footage to get its point across. Contemporary documentaries are more interested in telling stories rather than sermons. I can easily say that a few of the best movies I’ve seen this year (that haven’t necessarily come out this year) are documentaries. I’m thinking about Undefeated, a cinema verite (the pompous version of saying “a reality television style”) look at a high school football team, The Imposterwhich I’ve already spoken of – and now Searching for Sugar Man, the 2013 Oscar winner for Best Documentary.

I didn’t really expect to like Sugar Man all that much (music documentaries have never really appealed to me) but its a great story about artistry and an inadvertent endorsement of the connecting power of the Internet. It makes you wonder if only Van Gogh had Facebook in his time he might have died appreciated and wealthy rather than penniless and a failure.

All you need to know about Sugar Man is this – fans of a American musician in South Africa embark on a decades-long search to learn details about their favourite artist – a man only known as “Rodriguez” (yes, no first name) – whose album Cold Fact was an enormous hit in the country (as popular as the Beatles’ and the Rolling Stones’ albums), and who died years earlier onstage in mysterious circumstances. That’s it, don’t read anything else, and go watch it. Oh, and the music is amazing.

The passion of the “Searchers” is infectious. It doesn’t matter if you don’t actually like Rodriguez’s music – because that’s merely a sideshow to what the movie is truly about. It’s about the fans of an artist who don’t have access to Wikipedia or the resources that we have today – where every detail about a celebrity is at your fingertips. Instead, they have to follow breadcrumbs, determining where the label who printed the album is located, deciphering the lyrics of Rodriguez’s music to look for clues as to where he lives or comes from, and sharing that information with a community of like-minded individuals. It’s a documentary about the power of a mystery, and it drew me in. Just like the South African fans, I was curious to discover more about this elusive individual, even though I had no idea who he was before I started the film.

An incredible documentary, well-deserving of the awards and accolades it has received.

Grade: A


One Response to Searching for Sugar Man

  1. Julia Turnbull says:

    An absolute favourite film for me, as well. He was at Coachella this year. Unbelievably well-written review, by the way….

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