The rise and fall and rise of Detroit musician Sixto Rodriguez is an irresistible tale, at least as told in Searching for Sugar Man by Swedish TV director and first-time feature documentarian Malik Bendjelloul. In fact, the yarn is too irresistible: We're fed plenty of sugar in this authorized fairy tale, but are left hungry for beef.
As assembled with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a foreign visitor exploring the exotic American landscape of rusting Motown, the movie presents Rodriguez as an enigmatic singer-songwriter with Dylan-esque sensibilities, discovered in the 1970s and then forgotten in America but revered in South Africa, his image enhanced by rumors of suicide. Then two South African admirers tracked him down, alive and working in hometown Detroit as a laborer! (One of the two sleuths is proud to have discovered that "Dearborn," mentioned in a lyric, is a place in Michigan.) And in 1998 the pair brought Rodriguez to Cape Town to play a triumphant concert during which, footage reveals and his three mediagenic adult daughters confirm, the lanky, soft-spoken fellow was treated like rock royalty. It's a lovely, touching sight. But it's not enough. What really stalled the man's career? What was he like to work with? Do those daughters have a mother? Interested parties might want to keep searching. B-