An absorbing and uplifting Bok-rock-doc that reignites the legacy of forgotten folk-rocker Rodriguez.
'Sugar Man, won’t you hurry / 'Cos I’m tired of these scenes / For a blue coin won’t you bring back / All those colours to my dreams.'
Four lines you’ve probably never sung in the shower. Or anywhere else, for that matter. If you happen to be South African, however, these lyrics carry a particular emotional resonance. That’s according to the two music lovers at the centre of Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul’s engaging Bok-rock-doc.
Together, these men – one record store owner; one ex-journo – buff the legacy of enigmatic Detroit singer/songwriter Rodriguez (aka ‘Sugar Man’), whose commercially disastrous debut LP Cold Fact became a cultural phenomenon in South Africa in the 1970s.
The Stones? Elvis? Rodriguez was bigger than them both. But it wasn’t just the catchy riffs and craggy timbre that made Sugar Man a hit; his melancholic urban poetry and anti-establishment ideology struck a chord with a generation of young white South Africans desperate to throw back the apartheid curtain.
Yet despite Rodriguez’s songs being adopted as national protest anthems, the man behind the music was a mystery. Rumour fuelled the myth. Some said he committed suicide, squeezing a .38 in his mouth mid-way through a set. As others had it, it was lighter fluid and a match that sparked the legend.
It’s a sweet hook – one Rodriguez himself would be proud of – that signals a tonal shift from hazy fan eulogy to noirish page-turner, as numerous interviewees retrace their steps, feeling their way towards a few basic truths from the late 1990s.
To reveal anything more would be to undermine Bendjelloul’s nimble (if talking heads-heavy) retelling of an elaborate, frequently astonishing true story. Like Rodriguez’s Dylan-esque brand of working-class folk-rock, Sugar Man is a film best discovered and experienced first-hand.
Searching For Sugar Man is available on DVD & Blu-ray on 27 December.
Sure, The Apprentice is a chuckle. But do we really need a feature-length biography of Britain’s foremost celebrity business magnate?
An absorbing and uplifting doc that rivals Catfish for sheer stranger-than-fiction thrills. Great soundtrack, too.
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