The documentary Searching for Sugar Man – a fascinating unraveling of a three decade plus mystery about a musician – was a sensation at Sundance, winning not just the Audience Award and Special Jury Prize but also a distributor. (Sony Pictures Classic will release the film in select theaters on July 27).
Now Searching for Sugar Man is enjoying a successful Tribeca Film Festival run than will undoubtedly win more fans over to the music of the almost-forgotten Rodriguez. A little history: in the late ’60s, Rodriguez was discovered by Motown producers who predicted he’d be one of the greatest recording artists of his generation.
But the album went nowhere and the singer went back to life working as a laborer. But in South Africa, a bootleg copy of the album made the singer one of that country’s most revered and celebrated singers. “In South Africa he’s as famous as Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones,” says Sugar Man’s director, Malik Bendjelloul. “They talk about him like that. He’s just as famous and as popular.”
Rumor had it that Rodriguez committed suicide (either by shooting himself on stage or by setting himself on fire), and in the late ’90s, two South Africans set out to find out what exactly was the truth. As it turns out, the reality was stranger than anyone would have expected. (We won’t ruin the surprise.) “It’s the best story I’ve ever heard,” says Bendjelloul. “I thought it was so beautiful that I knew I had to make a film about it.”
If you’re curious about the music of Rodriguez, you can listen here. But don’t over-Google if you don’t want to spoil the movie.