Bagging the audience awards at Sundance, Tribeca and other prominent festivals, rock-doc hit, Searching for Sugar Man, has been wooing many all year with its electric feel good factor but leaving others with nagging doubts as to its authenticity.
Well, nothing is factually incorrect, but it carries the feel of a mocumentary for a good reason, with filmmaker Malik Benjelloul editing the already remarkable story of the little known genius Sixto Rodriguez in a way that creates a fiction that, in places, is undeniably stranger than the truth.
When Rodriguez emerged from the 1970 Detroit underground folk rock scene with his blend of finely tuned urban poetry, record producers, convinced that they had struck gold, made extravagant predictions, crowning him the next Bob Dylan as if using that cheap tag for the first time. Unsurprisingly, he sounded nothing like Dylan, being lyrically closer to Leonard Cohen but with more attitude and a harder political edge and singing in an effortless West Coast style that was perfectly in line with the next generation of successful singer-songwriters – James Taylor, Jackson Browne – coming to the fore at Doug Weston’s Troubadours’ Club. Listening to the songs now for the first time on the soundtrack, they arrive from this earlier era with the commanding air of a pop/rock classic without losing that distinctive vitality of the new; making it almost impossible to understand why his first two studio albums had bombed in the absolute sense. Perhaps it was that farcical ‘Dylan’ hook or a prejudice against his Mexican origins but either way, Rodriguez returned to the uncompromising blue collar labour of the Detroit construction industry and comparative obscurity – a contested term within the context of this film.
But that was not the end of the story. His first album resurfaced in South Africa where its spirit of liberation inspired young white liberals fighting apartheid and, against the odds, a cult following triggered half a million record sales. It is easy to forget just how much has changed in such a short period but during these pre-Internet times where sanctions had cut off South Africa from the rest of world, there was little scope for cultural exchange, and, less implausible than it might first seem, Rodriguez knew nothing of his success and his new fans knew nothing of him. In the best traditions of rock mythology, mystery bred speculation, and ever increasingly gruesome stories soon circulated telling of Rodriguez’s shocking suicide on stage as an ultimate act of self-expression.
Enter South African journalist, Craig Bartholomew, and record store owner, Stephen Segerman, who set out to discover the truth during the late Nineties. Benjelloul retraces their surprising journeys, shaping a dramatic curve from isolated episodes that provide a thrilling series of mini-climaxes of ever ascending jaw-dropping impact. They rest on sharp contrasts of a kind that we would not think possible and, as it turns out, once you reinstate the bits that Benjelloul clearly found inconvenient – moments of modest success, two tours of Australia between 1979 and 1981 – the film’s impression of Rodriguez’s total disappearance into backstreet Detroit oblivion does not quite stack up.
There is still plenty to enjoy along the way, nevertheless, including a priceless interview with an irate former record company supremo, Clarence Avant, massively pissed-off with persistent questioning on missing royalties from the record sales. But once we know the full story, it is difficult not to feel short changed.buy female viagrafemale viagra for salewomens viagra onlinegeneric female viagra
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