This resonant and revelatory documentary plays like a mystery and could be considered a compelling musical counterpart to Mark Moskowitz's "Stone Reader."
Searching For Sugar Man ultimately lets the spirit of its unknown or long forgotten subject Sixto Rodriquez shine. A Motor City native became a freelance construction worker who had singer-songwriter aspirations starting in 1970 with a soul-inflected album entitled 'Cold Fact.' Despite some decent press and club dates nothing panned out.
Malik Bendjelloul, a Swedish television director with musical documentary experience, gives the proceedings quite an aural and visual expressive stroke from the lore regarding a recording artist whose music evoked a kind of psychedelic Bob Dylan experience. Except that when he appeared his back was usually towards the crowd; yet young South Africans under the stranglehold of an apartheid system helped Rodriquez achieve star status (like legendary bands like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles) as stories apart his demise during a concert (a suicide) quickly spread and other musicians began covering his songs. But this parallel universe never enveloped him not knowing his records were going platinum and no royalty checks were heading his way.
The idea for this cinema verity (which only can deeply ingratiate anyone who seeks it out) started in 2006 during a Cape Town visit by Bendjelloul as important talking-heads include record-shop proprietor Stephen "Sugar" Segerman, as well as noted Motown producer Dennis Coffey. The link to Rodriquez is chased from the seedy bars, the construction sites and music executives as the filmmaking employs animation around a surreal, funky Detroit back in the day.
The way Rodriquez's music (often darkly atmospheric socially and politically relevant pieces) is integrated adds to the way a compassionate "Sugar Man" touches quite a nerve in an unwavering stride in searching for a man handling his repair and demolition activities as well as hanging out and reading, whose music had a surprisingly deep impact on so many cut off from the rest of the world. One that has lasting power like a sagacious, unassuming man filled with no rue or ill-will.