Film Review: Searching for Sugar Man

In this day and age, it is almost unthinkable that we would not know everything about everything. But in a time not all that long ago, in a place not all that far away something happened. In a South Africa still under apartheid an album that was released in the early 1970s in the United States was building an underground and cult following. The album became so big that the artist was described as bigger than Elvis. So what is the catch? The album — and its artist — was essentially unknown in the United States. And that artist, Rodriguez, had no idea of his influence on an entire generation. The story is detailed in the award-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

Searching for Sugar Man is an unbelievable story. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Rodriguez made two albums. Everyone associated with the albums had high expectations. He would be the new Bob Dylan. But the albums went nowhere and Rodriguez disappeared into obscurity.

Through a series of coincidences, the album started receiving underground exposure in South Africa. Certain tracks were censored but the rawness of the music, its message and its politics struck a nerve with young South Africans. That is when Craig Bartholomew Strydom, a South African music journalist, decided to do some research into who is mysterious Rodriguez was. Rumor had it that he had killed himself in a spectacular fashion on stage. The South African record labels were paying royalties on the sales of the album but the owner of the American record label said he never saw them. It is this investigation where things start to unravel and the truth reveals itself.

Searching for Sugar Man is an award-winning documentary for a reason. It is told in a way so as not to give away the mystery and instead the audience has a sort of secret to figure out and follow along. Regardless of your musical preferences, this is a film worth watching and a mystery worth exploring.

Corinne

In a previous life, Corinne ran a music website. After going strong for a decade, the site went on a hiatus. Consider her the antiTastemaker.