Searching for Malik Bendjelloul – a tragedy revisited | Film | The Observer

In May Swedish film-maker Malik Bendjelloul – who had won an Oscar for his debut, the stunning Searching for Sugar Man – shocked everyone by taking his own life. Talking to the people closest to him, Andrew Anthony tries to make sense of a tragedy.

Malik Bendjelloul photographed in 2012: ‘He had a tremendous personal aura.’ Photograph: Andrew H Walker

Malik Bendjelloul photographed in 2012: ‘He had a tremendous personal aura.’ Photograph: Andrew H Walker

Documentary feature film-making, if done well, is a long, arduous and very often thankless task. There is no script to speak of, no blueprint or guidelines. All there is to work on is the shapeless chaos of the world, or a particular part of the world, out of which the film-maker hopes to fashion a coherent structure, arresting images, compelling characters and a story that excites and touches people. In terms of reaching a large and appreciative audience, it’s almost always a study in failure.

There are, though, a select group of exceptions, narrative documentaries that enjoy critical recognition and the special approval of a cinematic release. One such film was Searching for Sugar Man, a story about Sixto Rodriguez, a forgotten Detroit singer-songwriter from the early 1970s who, unbeknown to him, was a huge star in South Africa during the apartheid era. It was the debut of a young and immensely talented Swedish film-maker named Malik Bendjelloul, who had come across Rodriguez’s story while travelling in Africa, looking for stories to turn into short TV pieces.

So struck was he by the tale of this lost musician that he went off on his own and gathered the material, directed, filmed some sections himself, wrote incidental music, added his own illustrations, made the title sequence and finally edited it for 1,000 days. During filming Bendjelloul ran out of money and, as he could no longer afford Super 8 film, he shot some of the remaining footage on a smartphone using the iPhone app8mm Vintage Camera.

Read more at Searching for Malik Bendjelloul – a tragedy 

About these ads
Posted in News, Newspapers & Magazines, Reviews & Interviews, Searching For Sugar Man Film

Cause It’s the Greatest Last Song Ever Recorded

How Steve Rowland Produced the Real Rodriguez on “Coming from Reality”

By Mark Worth ​

Coming From Reality

Coming From Reality

 

One of the most noteworthy final albums ever recorded might never have been made had Steve Rowland not been sitting in the London office of music publisher Freddy Beanstalk one day in the summer of 1970.

Rowland looked on Beanstalk’s desk and saw a copy of an album hardly anyone had ever heard of, by a singer-songwriter from Detroit who was just as obscure. Rowland borrowed Cold Fact and listened to it.

“I said to Freddy, is this guy Rodriguez gonna do another album? Because if he is, I’d like to get in line and be the producer. I really, really am into this,” Rowland recalls telling Beanstalk.

“Freddy said, ‘Be my guest, man, because nobody’s really interested.’ I said, well, I don’t understand that, because this guy is great.”

That fall, Rodriguez was on a plane to London. Within three weeks of meeting him for the first time, Rowland had put together Coming from Reality, Rodriguez’s second and final record. The closing track, “Cause,” was the last song Rodriguez would ever record for an album.

Rowland, who has produced more than 20 albums and dozens of singles that span the musical spectrum, says “Cause” is the saddest song he’s ever heard – sad enough to have made his girlfriend at the time, actress Sally Farmiloe, cry when she heard Rodriguez record it in the studio.

Forty years later, “Cause” nearly brought Rowland himself to tears while being interviewed for the documentary Searching for Sugar Man. The profile of Rodriguez elevated to international fame the near-destitute construction worker whose two albums were total failures in the US, only to learn nearly 30 years later that he was a superstar in South Africa whose anti-establishment lyrics helped bring down Apartheid.

The “Cause” scene is one of the Oscar-winning film’s most lasting moments: Rowland, sitting in his home in Palm Springs, California, plays the song for filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul. Rodriguez’s opening line – Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas – visibly stuns Rowland as though hearing the song for the first time. He manages only to shake his head and say, “Oh, man…”.

After collecting himself, he explains that Rodriguez was dropped from his record label shortly after Coming from Reality was released in 1971 – “as if premonition,” Rowland says, two weeks before Christmas.

A song that is held between happenstance and genius, “Cause” has become the five-and-a-half-minute, 239-word anthem for the improbable, almost impossible story of Sixto Diaz Rodriguez.

Setting Sail into a Teardrop

The 10 tracks on Coming from Reality were recorded in the fall of 1970 at London’s Lansdowne Studios, which has also hosted the likes of John Lennon, Maynard Ferguson, Rod Stewart, Sex Pistols and Rowland’s own band, Family Dogg. The studios had been installed inside a former underground squash court with thick walls 20 feet high.

“When the studio was built they didn’t tear those walls down, so the sound in that studio was completely original. You would get a sound that nobody else had. Lansdowne was known for that,” says Rowland. “It provided the overall ambience of the whole album, and you can hear it especially on ‘Cause’. There’s a majestic quality to it, and it comes from that studio.

“I suppose today, with all the digital stuff, you could probably re-create the sound. But nothing is as good as natural.”

Lansdowne, since closed, wasn’t far from Abbey Road Studios, where The Beatles recorded their final album track a year earlier. “The End” evokes emotion with hope: And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. “Cause” does it with despair:

Cause they told me everybody’s got to pay their dues

And I explained that I had overpaid them…

So I set sail in a teardrop and escaped beneath the doorsill

Cause the smell of her perfume echoes in my head still

It was lyrics like this that moved Rowland to produce “Cause” and the rest of Coming from Reality in a way that completely went against the grain during that era.

With the advent of concept albums and new technologies – not to mention lavish studio budgets – many bands would spend months or even years working on a record. Instrumental tracks were obsessively laid over each other to the point that the instruments drowned out the vocals. An experienced actor who placed a high value on the spoken word, Rowland made sure Rodriguez’s lyrics stood out from the music – so that every word was discernable.

“We tried to get a dramatic effect without overpowering the vocal. That’s so important. Because for my money, good production is: less is more.”

The only music that can be heard on “Cause,” in fact, are Rodriguez’s gentle picking and strumming on his converted, hollow-sounding classical guitar, and a simple, undulating string arrangement composed by a young violinist named Jimmy Horowitz.

“We worked a long time on ‘Cause’. The strings were written and recorded to match Rodriguez’s vocal,” Rowland said. “He seemed to be completely thrilled with what was coming out. He loved those arrangements.”

The strings are orchestrated to coincide so closely with Rodriguez’s lyrics that they can actually influence how you hear the song. Horowitz’s arrangement begins to soar lightly just as Rodriguez sings the line, And give a medal to replace the son of Mrs. Annie Johnson. The gently rising strings conjure the first glimpse of a sunrise, so subconsciously you may hear sun instead of son. The orchestration and melody reach a calming resolution, as though the sun has finally climbed above the horizon.

After this moment passes, you realize what Rodriguez is saying. The government gave Mrs. Johnson a medal because her son had been killed in the Vietnam War.

“Rodriguez is saying it in a sardonic tone, but it’s a front for how he really feels. He’s being very sardonic and cynical. Yeah, give a medal to a mother for the son she lost in Vietnam,” says Rowland. “What he’s really feeling is: how can a country do something like that? The country had no feeling for the actual person himself.”

The juxtaposition of the music and the message brings more power to both. “The arrangement is the complete opposite of the lyrics, and that’s how we looked at it,” Rowland said. “Rodriguez loved it, and it worked.”

Drowning the Sun

The son of a film director and great-nephew of MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, Rowland was a teen star during the 1950s, appearing in TV’s Bonanza and The Rifleman, and a number films including Battle of the Bulge and the original The Thin Red Line.

After crossing over into music in the ’60s, he went on to produce a string of hit acts including Jerry Lee Lewis, The Pretty Things, P.J. Proby and the British pop band Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, which charted 13 Top 10 hits. Rowland discovered Peter Frampton and The Cure, worked with Elton John when he was a young session pianist named Reggie Dwight, and had a hit single with his band Family Dogg – the choralized, minimalist “Sympathy.”

It would take an effort on the scale of producing Coming from Reality to overshadow what Rowland achieved at Olympic Studios in London the previous year. In September 1969 he was producing Proby’s album Three Week Hero when Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham played on the psychedelic-tinged “Jim’s Blues.” It was the first occasion all four members of Led Zeppelin, then known as the New Yardbirds and barely into their 20s, performed together in the studio. Days later, they began recording their eponymous first album.

Though he had worked with many musical greats and was himself a top-selling performer, Rowland was aware that the unknown but sheerly gifted Rodriguez would present him with a new set of creative openings and tests.

Rodriguez arrived in London with his manager/girlfriend at the time, Rainy Moore. (The story goes that the album was named spontaneously when Moore was asked where Rodriguez was coming from.) At that first meeting, Rowland remembers, both he and Rodriguez were on guard.

“I was apprehensive about the whole thing because I wanted to do the album so badly. I wanted to make sure that he believed in me as a producer. But when we started to talk, he was very shy, quiet, very introspective. He’s an intellectual. He thinks before he speaks. He’s not a guy who is outgoing. I guess he was trying to suss me out as well.”

Despite having worked and crossed paths with Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Fonda, James Dean and many other legendary figures, Rowland confesses he was star-struck by Rodriguez.

“We as artists and creators have our heroes, too. And we get just as awe-inspired by our heroes as people who aren’t in the business get inspired by big movie stars or rock stars or sports stars,” says Rowland. “And when you meet them, you know, it’s always overwhelming. Well, that’s how it was for me with Rodriguez, because I really, really was into the way he was writing. I was into the way he thought.”

Within a day or two, when Rowland and Rodriguez began going through the songs together, the barriers fell and the two began an intense collaboration. “I said when we were in the studio, let us – in music – show the guy’s soul. Let’s show what this man really is,” says Rowland. “How can I make this guy felt in the music? That was my main objective. How can I get people to feel him?”

In “Cause,” Rodriguez reveals his soul through wrenching lyrics about lost loves, despondent friends, resignation and drugs:

While the rain drank champagne / My Estonian Archangel came and got me wasted
Cause the sweetest kiss I ever got is the one I’ve never tasted…

Cause I see my people trying to drown the sun in weekends of whiskey sours
Cause how many times can you wake up in this comic book and plant flowers?

Rowland, in a way few others have, came know and understand the aloof Rodriguez, the son of Mexican immigrants who earned most of his living demolishing buildings and who reportedly lives in the same broken-down house he bought in the 1970s for $50.

“Sadness can be contained within a whole life of a person, and even some of the happiness that a person remembers in that life makes them sad as well, because it’s no longer there for them,” Rowland said. “This is how I approached Rodriguez. Because I felt, you know, here’s a guy, he lives in Detroit, which is not what you would call a paradise of the world. It’s a hard life in Detroit, and he’s lived in the same house since he was a young guy. He’s seen lots of ups and downs – probably mostly downs.”

Take Rodriguez’s lyrics, which alternate from rebellious to playful to despondent to romantic. Lay on top of this a life story that embodies these lyrics. Now, form all this into songs with melodies and structures that don’t cheapen any of it. For Rowland, producing Coming from Reality was more than a creative exercise. This became a personal responsibility – even a duty to the artist known as Rodriguez.

“I did put a lot of myself into it because I was really knocked out by what he was talking about. I believed in it that much. But actually,” says Rowland, “because I believed in him so much, nothing we did was challenging. It just flowed. I could hear it in my head.”

Perhaps because Rowland could visualize the sound and feel of the album, no song needed more than two takes to get right. The entire album was recorded in about 10 days.

It was 10 days that pushed Rowland to create something that lived up to his image, his idealized portrait, of Rodriguez.

“I wanted to make sure…,” said Rowland, pausing, “It was very important to me that I did the best I could with this man, and that I brought out everything that I saw and felt in the way he writes and sings – that I could bring that out in the record. Each one of those songs was made to give a feeling to Rodriguez. It had to be real, and I would do it again today the same way.”

Mark Worth is an American journalist and public interest activist living in Berlin. His family roots are in Detroit.

Posted in News, Reviews & Interviews, Searching For Sugar Man Film

Early Albert Hammond, Sixto Rodriguez Songs Featured On The Family Dogg’s “A Way of Life: Anthology”

Originally posted on The Second Disc:

Family Dogg - Anthology

Few pop songwriters have proven as adaptable as Albert Hammond.  His string of hits dates from the 1960s straight through the 1990s, and his durable compositions continue to be recorded today.  Yet one chapter of the Hammond legacy has never been properly anthologized until now: his tenure with the British pop group The Family Dogg.  Cherry Red’s RPM label has just delivered A Way of Life: Anthology 1967-1976, named for the band’s U.K. Top 10 hit and including all of the band’s recordings on two CDs.

The London-born, Gibraltar-raised Albert Hammond had recorded in the late 1950s as a member of The Diamond Boys, but came into his own in the 1970s scoring numerous successes as a songwriter with partner Mike Hazlewood (The Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe,” The Pipkins’ “Gimme Dat Ding,” The Fortunes’ “Freedom Come, Freedom Go”) even as he was carving out a successful solo career…

View original 1,450 more words

Posted in Blogs, News

Rodriguez Label Chief: ‘Our Dealings with Clarence Avant Were Always Positive’ | AUDIO KORNER

Light in the Attic’s Matt Sullivan, whose reissues prefigured the Oscar-winning documentary, laments the story’s tragic ending.

Matt Sullivan, 38, is a true believer. The head of Light in the Attic, the reissue label he founded in 2003 with partner Joe Wright in Seattle, released Sixto Rodriguez’s two albums, his 1970 debut, Cold Fact, and the 1971 follow-up Coming From Reality, in August 2008 and May 2009, just about the time the late Oscar-winning filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul began working on his documentary about the Detroit singer-songwriter who had become a cult figure in South Africa as a symbol of the fight against apartheid.

The first time Sullivan heard Rodriguez’s “Sugarman,” from a compilation sent to him by his friend, Irish producer/musician David Holmes, he was hooked.

“I couldn’t get enough of it,” says Sullivan who launched the label with This Is Madness, the 1971 sophomore record by hip-hop precursors the Last Poets, and has released more than 150 albums since.

Sullivan then e-mailed South African record store owner Stephen “Sugar” Segerman, who put him in touch with Rodriguez and his family, as the fan tried to figure out how to license the albums and get the musician, who didn’t make a penny from all the bootlegs sold in South Africa and Australia, paid.

The search brought him into contact with Rodriguez’s original producers, Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore, and music business veteran Clarence Avant, the one-time Motown head who released the two Rodriguez albums on his own Sussex label, most famously the original home of Bill Withers.

Avant refused to answer Matt’s e-mails or phone calls, but Sullivan’s persistence finally landed him a meeting with the elusive label head, who agreed to meet during a wedding anniversary trip to Seattle. After seeing the kind of publicity Light in the Attic generated for its releases, Avant relented and consented to license the two albums to the indie company.

If there’s a villain in Searching for Sugar Man, it’s the flippant Avant, who brushes off talk of contracts signed 40 years ago, though, according to Sullivan, his attitude belies the fervent belief the executive had in Rodriguez and his music, going so far as to ask him to change his name to Jesus Rodriguez to avoid a previous publishing deal, a case now in the courts.

Read more at Rodriguez Label Chief: ‘Our Dealings with Clarence Avant Were Always Positive’ | AUDIO KORNER

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in Blogs, Light In The Attic (Music Label), Mabu Vinyl (Music Store), Reviews & Interviews, Searching For Sugar Man Film

‘Searching for Sugarman’ Director Dead: THR Traces Malik Bendjelloul’s Final Days – Hollywood Reporter

Malik Bendjelloul

Malik Bendjelloul

After the death of Malik Bendjelloul, who threw himself in front of a subway train, a THR writer heads to Sweden to talk to his friends, who reveal the perfectionist’s quirks — from eating the same breakfast for six months to walking one lap around his apartment before and after work — and open up about his fear, doubt and their own surprise: “He was the least likely to take his life.” 

This story first appeared in the June 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

In the late afternoon on May 13, a young man with a mop of soft brown hair and a delicate frame stood on the platform of the Solna Centrum metro stop in Stockholm, Sweden, waiting for the Blue Line. It was rush hour, and the station, one of the deepest in Stockholm’s rail system, was filling up with commuters leaving the city. At the bottom of a long escalator, cavelike tunnel walls had been painted with elaborate pastoral scenes from the 1970s: lush green hillsides studded with fir trees and a giant yellow moon rising against a vast, dark red sky. Vignettes of Swedish life were overlaid against this Nordic backdrop — chain-saw-wielding loggers presiding over a recent clear-cut, a twin-engine prop plane taking flight, and a solitary violinist standing in a field pondering the city’s encroachment. At one end of the platform was a sign. “Stop!” it warned. “Unauthorized people prohibited on the tracks.”

Read more at ‘Searching for Sugarman’ Director Dead: THR Traces Malik Bendjelloul’s Final Days – Hollywood Reporter.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in News, Newspapers & Magazines, Searching For Sugar Man Film

Tanelorn Festival, Australia – Oct 1-5, 1981

Rodriguez played at the Tanelorn Festival in Australia in 1981.

Tanelorn

 

 

Read more at http://beccibird.blogspot.com.au/2013/09/sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll-except-for.html

Tagged with:
Posted in Blogs, Performances

Searching for Sugarman in Manila | a+arax:a

From a+arax:a

Searching for Sugarman is quite possibly one of the most moving documentaries of all time. Winner at the Academy, BAFTA and Sundance Film Festival Awards, the film also won rave reviews and other awards all across the US and around the world. The death of its young, talented director, Malik Bendjelloul, in Sweden last May only adds to the heartbreaking mystique of this project, which is bound to be a classic in filmmaking.

I heard about the film when it was nominated for the Oscar, and nearly watched it during a residency in Spain in January 2013, where one of the fellows was an Academy member and had brought along copies of films he was going to vote on. We never got the chance to watch it, and I must confess I wasn’t that interested in the film, my skepticism mostly coming from my distrust for the Academy, its hype and its marketing machine. I never thought about it until I heard of Bendjelloul’s death. I was in Paris, and the outpouring of emotion in the French online press rekindled my curiosity about the film.

A few days ago, I happened to find a copy of the DVD at the New York Performing Arts Library, and decided to check it out. As I was watching the documentary that evening, about fifteen minutes into the story, I nearly fell off my seat.

As many of you know, Searching for Sugarman is about Mexican-American songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who released two albums in the early ‘70s to resounding indifference, and who sank to obscurity in the US. But not in South Africa, where, unbeknownst to him, he became a leading voice of the anti-apartheid movement, and where he was virtually a superstar. The film takes you through this fascinating narrative of rediscovery and resurrection, and gives you such a deep insight into the soul of this immensely gifted, humble and generous man.

The film plays much of his music as the soundtrack, and this was where my experience became my own personal journey of rediscovery itself. Back in 1971, the year before Marcos declared martial law, my siblings and I were big fans of this unknown, mysterious singer named Sixto Rodriguez. Like the South Africans, nobody in Manila knew who he was or where he came from. In fact, no one in Manila was even aware how popular his music was in South Africa. But he was possibly the biggest hit of that year, at least among a certain crowd of, shall we say, more sophisticated listeners. His single, the heart-rending I Think of You, played every hour on the hour over DZRJ and DZUW, the twin stations that, back then, played the most cutting edge music of the time. These were the only two stations my siblings and I listened to, and I would spend many hours just waiting for the song to come on. I remember my younger sister Diana coming home one day to tell me she had a surprise: I Think of You had just been released as a single, with the equally haunting To Whom It May Concern on Side B. We played the single over and over, never getting tired of it. Diana even learned to play the chords on a guitar, and often sang it to me. Plucking the opening bars of I Think of You became our standard for guitar playing: Diana did it well, but my fingers always got tangled and I sucked. We kept wondering who this singer was: I thought he was probably Filipino, possibly a reclusive artist from Baguio, where all the best folk singers were coming from. Diana managed to find a rather blurry picture in a local music magazine, and I thought that face confirmed my suspicion, that this was some kind of mystery Filipino artist. We even came up with a fantastic theory, that Rodriguez was probably the pseudonym of one of the DZUW DJs, and that his music was produced and recorded by the station itself, for why else would the other stations not play it?

I called my older sister in Los Angeles to tell her of my wonderful discovery. It turned out she and my oldest brother also were big fans of Rodriguez. My oldest brother, who back then had a rock and roll band, in fact used to play his music at the band’s gigs all the time. My sister, who used to deejay at DZUP, the student station of the University of the Philippines, had a copy of the entire album, Coming to Reality, and swears she had played the album so much at the station her copy was virtually all worn down.

The fate of Rodriguez’s music in Manila did not end as gloriously as it did in South Africa. In 1972, Marcos declared martial law and sequestered all radio stations. That put a definite end to any airplay of Rodriguez’s two hits (To Whom It May Concern was already starting to pick up a lot of notice as well). Marcos not only banned rock music, but also portraits of any musicians with long hair, calling the look decadent and demonic. Rodriguez, with his lush, long hair, would certainly have been censored. The military raided the UP campus, and I believe everything in the radio station was either confiscated or destroyed. I never knew, until I saw Searching for Sugarman, that most of Rodriguez’s music was anti-establishment and political, but perhaps the Marcos intelligence people knew, and that was enough reason to put him on the censors’ radar.

That definitely consigned Rodriguez’s music to extinction in Manila. But for years thereafter I continued to wonder who this musician was. I used to keep asking Diana, “Remember that Sixto Rodriguez, the brilliant guy who just vanished into thin air?” We didn’t know about the spectacular myths that sprouted in South Africa about his alleged death; we just presumed this guy probably just decided to stop singing, and wanted to be left alone.

Rediscovering Sixto Rodriguez in Searching for Sugarman has closed over forty years of wondering and questioning for me. I still love the music, anachronistic as it may sound today. These songs were part of the soundtrack of our years of innocence, the final year before the Philippines would be plunged into one of the darkest eras in its history. It amazes me to realize how, back then, we shared nearly the same aspirations as the South Africans, though their struggle was vastly different from ours. We wanted to change the world, we wanted love to reign supreme, and we paid attention to the musicians who told us we could and we should. We would never be so young or so hopeful again.

Eric Gamalinda

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Blogs, Searching For Sugar Man Film
More Rodriguez Info
SugarMan.org on Facebook   SugarMan.org on Twitter   SugarMan.org on Youtube

Subscribe to SugarMan.org's Blog via RSS   SugarMan.org Daily News   SugarMan.org on Tumblr

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 26,775 other followers

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26,775 other followers

%d bloggers like this: