Alluring music doc leaves an unsatisfying aftertaste. 

Sixto Rodriguez

Sixto Rodriguez

The heretofore generally unknown story of '70s-era Detroit folkie Sixto Rodriguez is a provocative one, and it's well told — to a point — in the documentary Searching for Sugar Man, from Swedish TV director and first-time feature filmmaker Malik Bendjellou.

Billed only as Rodriguez, the singer released a couple of early-'70s albums — Cold Fact and Coming From Reality — that went nowhere commercially and then, he went on with his life. But through a series of odd events the film roughly recounts, those albums found new life in South Africa and Australia, where they were re-released — with a sketchy legality the film doesn't probe nearly well enough — and a cult built up around an artist fans knew little about and presumed dead.

Searching for Sugar Man — "Sugar Man" being one of Rodriguez's druggie odes — retraces the steps of a couple of fans — a record-store owner and a journalist — as they follow his trail, finally uncovering the singer in Detroit, where he's a day laborer and neighborhood eccentric with three grown daughters. These musical detectives bring Rodriguez back to Cape Town for an enthusiastically received "comeback" concert and mini-tour.

The daughters are articulate spokespeople for their father, but the man himself barely submits to an interview, while the "as good as Dylan" on-screen claims by other subjects is laughable in the face of aural evidence that situates Rodriguez as more "James Taylor cut with Phil Ochs."

Ultimately, Searching for Sugar Man feels something like a documentary equivalent of Slumdog Millionaire — an exotic, feel-good fairy tale with a manipulative aftertaste. I wanted more real detail about Rodriguez's life and career, what stalled the latter and what became of the former, and less hazy, record-collector romanticism. I found Rodriguez's daughters more compelling than the quietly inarticulate mystery man himself — what must it have been like to grow up in Detroit, in the '70s and '80s, with this man as your father? — or his sleuthing superfans.

Searching for Sugar Man

Opening Friday, October 12th

Studio on the Square

Searching for Sugar Man
Rated PG-13 · 85 min. · 2012
Official Site:
Director: Malik Bendjelloul
Writer: Malik Bendjelloul
Producer: Simon Chinn and Malik Bendjelloul
Cast: Stephen Segerman, Dennis Coffey, Mike Theodore, Dan DiMaggio, Jerome Ferretti, Steve Rowland, Willem Möller, Craig Bartholomew-Strydom, Ilse Assmann and Steve M. Harris


Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for Searching for Sugar Man


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

    • It

      The atmospheric Stephen King adaptation of your nightmares.
    • Logan Lucky

      Steven Soderbergh Roars Out Of Retirement With A Star Studded Heist Film
    • Ingrid Goes West

      Audrey Plaza’s Instagram envy turns toxic in this sharp, entertaining satire.


Beyond the Arc

Deflections: The Roster, TV Angst, and The Buy/Sell Clause

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

The Vietnam War

We Saw You

Cooper-Young Fest, Big Bugs, Art of Caring

Music Blog

Linda Heck: Bound to ExCITM tonight

Intermission Impossible

A Memory of Charles Billings

Tiger Blue

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

News Blog

Layoffs Again Hit Commercial Appeal Newsroom


More by Chris Herrington

  • Last Words

    In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
    • Sep 26, 2013
  • Masters of Sound

    New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
    • Sep 19, 2013
  • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

    • Sep 19, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation