Searching for Sugar Man (12A)
Ever heard of Sixto Rodriguez? Me neither. But in the early 1970's, Sussex Records signed Sixto on a wave of anticipation the folk singer would be the next Bob Dylan. The fact that neither you or I have heard of the strains of his vocal chords illuminates what happened next: nothing.
Well, that's not entirely true. At the height of Apartheid in South Africa, through disputed means, Rodriguez's albums found their way into the hands of the anti-establishment youth, and became the soundtrack for a period of civil unrest. In the words of one ultra-fan, "Rodriguez is bigger than Elvis here."
30 years on from the man's original recordings, two aficionados of Rodriguez's "Sugar Man" finally decided to go detective on an artist rumoured to have committed suicide on stage. Unbeknownst to them, Rodriguez was alive and well, living in Detroit, having hung up his guitar years before, unaware of his overseas fame. Here's a trailer.
Like Anvil: The Story of Anvil, Searching for Sugar Man is a heart-warming tale about those artists that reside in the drawer of the near-hits. In talking head sequences, those that remember the Hispanic singer songwriter weave tales of a poet on nodding terms with divinity; laughing, crying, and looking-on wistfully at a talent wasted.
As warm, optimistic, and touching as this documentary is however, it lacks a lot of the heart of the aforementioned Anvil. There's a lack of humour, or simple good nature. It's difficult to avoid contrasting the almost Spinal Tap-like antics of the Canadian rockers with what's at times a fairly humdrum tale about a man that didn't quite make it. There's little personality to it all, and while you feel a degree of remorse for Rodriguez, you don't want to reach out into the screen and embrace him, in the way that you do with the likes of Lips Kudrow and Rob Reiner.
Searching for Sugar Man is an interesting tale about those that somehow slip through the cracks, and as a story it's often fascinating. But as a film it slips too often into rolling demonstrations of Rodriguez's music, without enough substance to back it all up.
And he does sound a little bit too much like Dylan. For the record.
Review by Adam Tingle