Film Review: Searching for Sugarman

This review was originally published on The Orange Post on 3rd March 2013.

This year’s Oscars came and went with few surprises. Sure, Christoph Waltz beat out everybody’s favourite curmudgeon Tommy Lee Jones in the Best Supporting Actor category. And solid thriller Argo took out the Best Picture gong, over my pick, the brilliant Zero Dark Thirty. All of the other major categories fell as predicted to deserving winners in an awards ceremony that is rapidly losing relevance.

As always, picking up an Oscar directs millions of extra eyeballs towards a film. Argo, a movie that pretty much everyone except me had seen before the ceremony, will benefit with a boost in retail sales and rentals. Hell, even my mother was raving about Argo in January. I’ve since caught up, but for my money, the film that deserves its dues post-Oscars is the winner of the Best Documentary category, the amazing Searching for Sugarman.

Directed by Swede Malik Bendjelloul, the film focuses on Sixto Rodriguez, an American folk musician who recorded two little heard albums in the early seventies, Cold Fact and Coming from Reality, and then disappeared without a trace. In a bizarre twist of fate, a copy of Cold Fact made its way to South Africa, where Rodriguez’s anti-authoritarian lyrics found an audience in a country at war with itself over apartheid.

Half a million copies of Rodriguez albums were sold in South Africa, however, due to its political isolation for much of the seventies and eighties, little else was known about the singer. All they had was his likeness which adorned his record covers. Rumours circulated about his suicide which eventually became accepted fact.

The documentary follows two Cape Town fans, Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, as they set out in the late nineties to find out what really happened to Rodriguez.

It would be a crime for me to say anything else about what happens next. What’s important is that you do not read anything else about this film (besides this review) before you see it.

The soundtrack, which consists of original Rodriguez tunes, is magnificent and I’m sure, like me, you’ll be adding a copy Cold Fact to your shopping list before the credits end.

Searching for Sugarman is a fascinating tale about a musician who unknowingly became an icon. His story and the search to find him are unbelievable, if not for the fact that it is a true tale. The film is a near perfect example of storytelling at its finest, and will stay with you long after its 86 minute running time.


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