A story so incredible it has to be true. Or completely false. I can’t tell. Surely there’s no way that the world could have been duped into believing that 1970s folk artist Rodriguez really poured gasoline over himself on stage and set himself on fire in a brazen act of public suicide. Or is it true about the story that he shot himself– again, on stage– after singing a rather pertinent lyric, killing himself to the stunned surprise of the crowd. The real story is one of these. Or maybe it’s neither, that’s up for viewers to discover in Malik Bendjelloul’s captivating and enthralling documentary, Searching for Sugar Man. The less one knows about the circumstances surrounding the life and times of this Detroit musician the better as half the fun of this movie is in discovering him and his story. Bendjelloul has, without a doubt, made one of the year’s very finest film and something truly special.
Rodriguez, as the film explains to us, was an artist that emerged out of the impoverished streets of Detroit, Michigan, in the shadow of the likes of Bob Dylan. His two albums– 1970’s Cold Fact, and 1971’s Coming to Reality – fared rather dismally on the charts, but fared much better in South Africa, where his rebellious songs played out as the unofficial anthem of a nation’s youth held hostage to the ravages of Apartheid. To know any more of his story would be to ruin it and I beg any readers out there to go into Searching for Sugar Man as blind to the twists and turns of the narrative as possible.