Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Searching for Sugar Man

Never heard of this film until in an interview Aamir Khan cited it as one of his favorites.  Khan is an authority as a respected movie maker with a reputation of striving for perfection.

Fame is an odd thing.  It motivates some people, but the lack of it can demotivate others.  One likes to think their efforts are appreciated, but sometimes the public isn't ready.  This story is about a man who actually was very famous in another unknown country, while not recognized in his own. 

Back in the early 1970's in Detroit, Rodriguez who had received some encouragement in bars and concert halls put out an album.  It had been expected to do well, but in reality it flopped.  Although he did put out another, his career was over.  He disappeared from public view.

Meanwhile someone had taken his album to South Africa where some loved it.  They made copies and before too long it became very popular.  It developed appeal to rebellious teenagers, many of whom were against apartheid.  Government authorities tried to ban the record and even went so far as to scratch one particular song which of course made in more appealing to the teenagers.  One commentator claimed he was more popular in South Africa than Elvis.

A few years later a music journalist was asked to write some liner notes for a cassette version and realized they knew very little about him.  At one point he became very determined to find out more, but kept running into dead ends.  They didn't even know what city to search.  Rumors abounded, including different versions of a suicide.  Eventually success was achieved when a notice reached someone who knew Rodriguez--one of his daughters.  Surprisingly he was still alive and living in his home town.  He had been making a living in construction and demolition raising three daughters and living relatively poorly.  

After awhile he was persuaded to travel to South Africa.  His three daughters went with him, one of them eventually marrying a South African and having a baby.  They booked him for six concerts and each of them sold out with very enthusiastic crowds.  We learn that he returned to Detroit to his house of 40 years and continued with his low level construction and demolition..  It was also pointed out that he gave away most of his extra money.  He made further trips to South Africa for other concerts (and to visit one daughter).

His father was Mexican and he was born Jesus Rodriguez, performed mostly as the singular Rodriguez, but also called himself Sixto Rodriguez

The film was another story.  In Sweden Malik Bendjelloul had been involved in films as a child, later got involved with journalism and producing music documentaries.  During travels he became aware of the story of Rodriguez and became determined to make a movie of it.  He had difficulty in getting financing and decided to go it alone.  At one point filming was done with an Iphone App as had run out 8 mm. film. He improvised to do some animation to cover early events.  

After about four years he completed the film.  On the DVD there is a special feature where Malik and Rodriguez are at a film festival and we learn a bit more about his life.  The film won an Oscar in 2013 as the best documentary.

Another key person that helped the film get produced and distributed was Simon Chinn.  As Malik was running out of money and perhaps a bit discouraged he approach Simon who loved the idea and helped bring the film to fruition.  Most famous for "Man on Wire" (2005).

Listening to the songs one wonders why he wasn't accepted in America.  Some suggested he was like Bob Dylan, but ahead of his time.  He has a pleasant voice and the lyrics and tunes were well thought out. 

Each person believes they deserve greater recognition and a few of us might imagine in another universe we might be famous.  For many of us life reflects disappointments with not getting a promotion, being rejected by prospective partners and even in our own behavior.  This film shows us someone who suffered disappointment at one level, accepted it, and moved on.  In his case there were forces beyond his knowledge that gave him another try.  His self respect was boosted and the world had access to his musical contributions.

No comments:

Post a Comment