Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
Cast includes: Sixto Rodriguez, Stephen Segerman, Dennis Coffee, Mike Theodore
Writer/Director: Milik Bendjelloul (first feature film)
Genre: Documentary | Mystery | Music (86 minutes)
“Sugar Man, won’t ya hurry. Cos I’m tired of these scenes. For a blue coin, won’t ya bring back all those colors to my dreams.” We meet Stephen Segerman (aka Sugar) as he drives through spectacularly beautiful Cape Town, South Africa. He tells us about a record album… Cold Fact, by Rodriguez. For years it was the biggest album in South Africa, “but we didn’t know anything about the artist, Rodriguez.” We heard he had committed suicide on stage by setting himself on fire.
On a stormy night in Detroit… not unlike a night many decades ago… we meet Dennis Coffey. He went to hear an unknown singer/songwriter at a shabby dive, called The Sewer. In a smoke-filled room he heard a voice singing “Sugar Man.” He knew right away that this gritty inner city poet was one of the most exciting new voices of the era. He had to find out more. Rodriguez was a man of mystery, even back then. He seemed to be some sort of construction worker. They wondered if he was homeless. Coffey was determined to make a record with Rodriguez, and it turned out to be the 1969 album “Cold Fact.” It got great reviews, but it was a commercial flop. He made one more album before Sussex Records cut him loose. It’s a mystery why Rodriguez never caught on.
Meanwhile, an American girl goes to visit her boyfriend in Cape Town, bringing the album. From there it caught on. “It became the soundtrack to our lives.” Everyone could sing every song… and still can. But no one knew anything about the artist. In 1996, when the album was rereleased on CD, Segerman was asked to write the liner notes. What could he say? He wrote a plea for information about Rodriguez. That lead to a website… “the Great Rodriguez Hunt.” They investigated the song lyrics for clues. They tried following the money trail. Someone had to be getting royalties. The intense search seemed to have come to a dead end… until an unexpected phone call.
But this was hardly the end. “It was just the beginning of an even more amazing story.” Rodriguez was a man of mystery from the very beginning, and this film won’t answer all your questions. We can’t help but notice a similarity between Rodriguez and Bob Dylan… and Rodriguez was every bit as talented and as interesting. To this day, many in the Detroit music scene say Rodriguez was the most memorable artist they ever met… even though he instantly faded into obscurity. Searching for Sugar Man works on so many levels… the music, the mystery, the amazing story, and the social significance. The narrative is crafted remarkably well. It may even bring tears to your eyes. In South Africa, Rodriguez is bigger than Elvis and the Rolling Stones combined. Maybe this is the beginning of an even bigger Rodriguez story here in the US. Hopefully it is.
4 popped kernels
A decades-long mystery about an illusive 1970’s-era singer/songwriter is finally solved… and an even more amazing story begins
Distribution: Art house
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Character Development: Engaging
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative & thought provoking