Deep down, somewhere in a dark night of the soul, guys like Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger must feel like sell-outs. These moments are probably brief (and easily undone by mountains of cocaine), but the fact remains that they’ve been projecting an image for the better part of their careers, which may or may not reflect the men that they were when they began. For someone like Rodriguez though, who produced two brilliant albums that never went anywhere, the money was never there, but there was never a question of authenticity. As Searching for Sugar Man documents, that legacy is much more difficult to perpetuate, but far more compelling.
Before this documentary (which just won an Oscar on Sunday), the name Rodriguez was almost totally obscure in the United States, but was well known in South Africa. The details by which it came there (let alone became omnipresent and linked to the anti-apartheid movement) are mysterious, but not as mysterious as Rodriguez himself, who disappeared not long after the albums were recorded. After a lengthy, worldwide search, Rodriguez was located in the exact same place that he began: the slums of Detroit, living a subsistence-level existence and totally unaware of his international success.
Sugar Man leaves you with much to ponder (not least of which being how white South Africa embraced a performer of color at the height of apartheid), but perhaps nothing so compelling as this: even when presented with the opportunity for a new life in another country (one considerably easier than the one he was living back in the States), Rodriguez largely rejects it, continuing to live the way he had before he was finally discovered. If his legend is that much larger than his discography, it gives you cause to consider just what it means to signify rock and roll, and if anything does that more completely than walking away from it entirely. Searching for Sugar Man might not convince you that Rodriguez was the biggest thing that never happened, but it’s a potent look at how myths are created and then clung onto.
There's a commentary with director Malik Benjelloul and Rodriguez, an "Evening" with the two of them, and a "making-of" featurette.
"Searching For Sugar Man" is on sale January 22, 2013 and is rated PG13. Documentary. Written and directed by Malik Bendjelloul. Starring Dennis Coffey, Mike Theodore, Rodriguez, Stephen Sugar Segerman.