Saturday, October 27, 2012
Stars: Sixto Rodriguez and friends
Director: Malik Bendjellout
He had a Roy Orbison-like affectation, (never took off his sunglasses) a Dylan-esque musical style and sound, and looked a bit like Jose Feliciano. Mexican-American singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez (who went by "Rodriguez" professionally) was discovered by two record producers who caught his act in a Detroit bar during the late sixties. They signed him to a record contract, figuring the guy would take off like gangbusters. But the two albums Rodriguez put out flopped in the United States.
Curiously, his music--which paid homage to the common man, with anti-establishment political overtones--caught fire with opponents of apartheid in South Africa. And was promptly banned--which is always going to make something seem more enticing for people to seek out. (And yes, South Africa's racial policies were disgraceful, but as you nod your head in agreement, don't forget about our own appalling segregationist laws which prevailed in America prior to 1964.) That Rodriguez was not aware that he had become more popular than Elvis on this other continent seems incredible in this day of instantaneous communication via the internet. Here, he faded back into obscurity--which wasn't hard for him to do--working manual labor construction jobs, and occasionally doing some singing gigs in Detroit bars.
Searching For Sugar Man is the documentary that begins with the compelling mystery of Rodriguez. Rumors can take on a life of their own, and sometimes become legend. Many believed that he had committed suicide by setting himself afire onstage. Through interviews with friends, family, and former record producers, we discover what really happened to the man. Interspersed are songs from his albums Cold Fact--1970, and Coming From Reality--1971.
While listening, you will wonder why Rodriguez--whose songs were plaintive and poignant, and whose voice was as distinctive and mellifluous as any you will ever hear, didn't catch on in the states. Such is the fickle finger of fate. Though now, since the release of Searching For Sugar Man--a compelling, inspirational film that will make your spirit soar--perhaps he will.
P.S. My movie-going friend thinks Searching For Sugar Man is surefire Oscar nomination material. But then, she predicted the Edsel would be the most popular car on the market.