Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Oscars 2013: Searching for Sugarman

The enigmatic, and largely unknown, Rodriguez in the 1970s
Searching for Sugarman (Sweden/U.K.) directed by Malik Bendjelloul,
Nominated for One Oscar
Best Documentary

In the 1970s, a Detroit singer/songwriter named Rodriguez mesmerized white Afrikaners in South Africa who were resisting apartheid and a repressive regime with his lyrics of rebelliousness, despair and political awareness. His music, pirated or bootlegged in South Africa, sold in the millions and yet nothing was known about the sunglasses-clad enigma whom many claimed was bigger than Elvis, bigger than the Beatles, in South Africa.

When wild rumours surfaced that he had killed himself on stage in a particularly guesome manner, many in South Africa where he had a cult following believed it. However, in the 1990s two South African fans - Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom -  wanted to know the truth. Was Rodriguez alive or dead? If dead, how did he die? They wanted to uncover the truth;  they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in 1996.

Rodriguez was very much alive, living in Detroit where he was born and had never left. He was a labourer working in construction, nearing fifty at the time (he is now seventy) and still working. He had sired a tribe of devoted daughters but had never achieved the fame in America that he had reached in South Africa.

This documentary is as poignant and effective as the best mystery novel yet it is not until very much into the film that we learn the truth about Rodriguez being still alive, which very much sweetens the pleasure of that knowledge. The encounter with this musician will please you - plainspoken, humble, generous and clearly gratified by his newly found recognition, in a way, this is long deferred fairy tale come true. 

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