March 9, 2013

Searching for Sugar Man

Malik Bendjelloul, 2012


          Rodriguez was one of the best singer-songwriters to come out the 1970's, and nobody knew who he was. His albums never experienced commercial success. Although he sounded very similar to Bob Dylan, he never came close to gaining the same level of fame. His music had soul. You hear themes of struggle, love, desperation. He faded into obscurity in the United States, but unbeknownst to him - he was a HUGE musical figure in South Africa. In South Africa, he was bigger than Elvis. South Africans found comfort in his music while they were in the oppressive grips of apartheid. He inspired them... and he never knew it.
          This is the best documentary that I've seen in 2013 thus far. It deservedly won the Oscar for Best Documentary. I had heard so much buzz on this film that I wondered if it could live up to the hype. It exceeded my expectations, and you are better off going into this film knowing NOTHING. Go in blindly because there are some really great twists that add to the already compelling story. It's also well shot. Great pan shots of Detroit city streets, empty parking lots with glowing street-lit snow piles. Deteriorated motor city brownstones with plywood windows. Beautifully gritty stock video footage of 1970's Detroit, displaying theater-fronts with unlit marquees and newspaper littered streets. It even shows you historical poverty-stricken sections of Detroit, reminding you that their economic woes are not only limited to this past decade. Rodriguez came from a blue collar working American family, pouring years of sweat on the Chrysler assembly line. That only adds to the irony that someone who is arguably MORE American than Bob Dylan never caught on with the American people. What was it? Was it his ethnicity? Was it because the name Rodriguez doesn't have that Rock and Roll edge to it? Did people just write him off when they heard his name, like he was a Latin-American musician? I wonder if he appeared today, would a more open-minded American public be more receptive to his music?
          My biggest question that went unanswered was what happened to the band-members? You hear Rodriguez' music, and while the vocals and the songwriting is very prominent - there is also impressive musical work going on as well. Where are those people now? Are they still in the music industry? Did they feel ignored by America like Rodriguez did?

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