Down From the Shelf ~ Searching for Sugar Man


The Facts:

Synopsis: Two South Africans set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero, the mysterious 1970s rock ‘n’ roller, Rodriguez.

Stars: Rodriguez, Steve Segerman, Dennis Coffey

Director: Malik Bendjelloul

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 86 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  For me, I’m a fan of the documentaries that play fair.  I’m totally fine with seeing films that take a stance I don’t agree with or that feature a subject I wouldn’t normally be interested in.  They need to play fair though and that’s a message I think the makers of Searching for Sugar Man should be called out on the carpet for.  Though it’s favored to win the Oscar for Best Documentary, I was left a little cold by this film which deliberately manipulates its audience with some fancy footwork about its title subject. 

What’s so bothersome is that the subject of the film is interesting enough as is without director Malik Bendjelloul trying to make something appear that isn’t really there.  I’m doing my best to steer clear of any spoilers that may detract from your experience seeing the film but let’s just say that there are more than a few embellishments of the facts and there are details purposely kept from us that would severely change the first half of the movie.

If you can get over that bit of trickery (and for the most part, I could), you’ll be able to enjoy the documentary as it offers up interviews from many music industry insiders who sketch the early days of the short-lived career of musician Rodriguez.  With his haunting melodies and unique voice, the man carried himself with a mystery that fascinated fans…though they didn’t even live on the same continent. 

I kept being reminded of how popular David Hasselhoff was in Germany as various musicians detailed how Rodriguez struck out with US audiences but became wildly popular in South Africa in the heat of apartheid.  Now, I wouldn’t dream of comparing Rodriguez and The Hoff but it shows how tastes in music can differ once you cross an ocean. 

The tales of the demise of Rodriguez were legendary, becoming a semi Urban Legend to music geeks.  When all the information is gathered up, just what became of the musician…and where are all his royalty checks going to?

That question and more are eventually answered, but it’s not without some unnecessary subterfuge first.  Had Bendjelloul just been honest from the start he may have had an even better movie on his hands.  As far as Best Documentary of the year, I’m not sold that it’s this film though you may want to put some money on it if you are entering your office Oscar pool.

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